Kristi Leskinen
Jan 17th

Olympics. A few things you probably haven’t heard.

Posted by Kristi Leskinen in blog

I’m extremely anxious to watch freeskiing and snowboard slopestyle make their Olympic debuts.  I certainly believe that the overall effect the Olympics will have on our sports will be a positive one.  It will certainly mean bigger endorsements, more sponsors and more participants world wide, and that’s never a bad thing.  However, for those that are interested I’d like to take a chance to explain some of the darker sides of the Olympics that the average spectator probably won’t hear about.  I think it’s important to know as much as you can to be an informed observer, and that means hearing the good, and the bad. There are concerns about the long-term effect it may have on our sport, the venues themselves, and even the effect the qualifying process will have on the competition itself.

I’ve been envolved in freeskiing since athletes started leaving mogul skiing in 1998 to create something new out from under the authority of the FIS.  Freeskiing in part was created because FIS was too busy placing limits, where we didn’t see any, and rules where athletes didn’t want or need them.  In the sports infancy it wasn’t uncommon for an athlete to show an “FIS SUCKS’ sticker on their skis.  We were rebelling from the organization and it’s antiquated attitude. Fast-forward ten years, FIS is our road to the Olympics, and all seems to be forgiven.  “If you can’t beat them, join them” Right?  Was there a better way?  One thing is for sure, our sport would not exist today if earlier athletes hadn’t rebelled and formed it out from under their control.  It’s yet to be seen what the total effect FIS’s involvement in the sport will have down the line.  Change is inevitable, my only hope is that the sports roots are remembered, and that the athletes always stand up for what they believe in, and continue to shape the sport into the future.

When thinking of our sports in the Olympics, it would be remiss not to mention the effect the qualifying process will have on the events themselves.  The Olympics is widely regarded as the pinnacle of sport, but as it will be in many of these events, the world’s best won’t all be there.  In fact, many of the events will have moderate fields by top level competition standards. There are up to 4 spots available for each country in each event, but as is with our sports, a handful of countries have an overwhelming majority of top athletes.  For instance, in some events like women’s snowboard halfpipe, the United States may have 8 or more of the top 10 ranked athletes in the world.  I struggle thinking that many serious medal contenders have to be left behind.  I’m not looking forward to seeing which one of my friends they will be. (Stay tuned, we’ll know in just a few hours.)  If they were only from another country, they would very easily meet the qualifying criteria. 

Next are the safety concerns,  and not just the well-known worries about terrorism and human rights, something as simple as course and athlete safety.  Sochi’s tropical climate saw that last years slopestyle Olympic “test event’ was canceled due to lack of snow.  At this point there is nothing to give us confidence that Sochi is capable of building a world-class course.  How was the build team chosen, and why aren’t they held to the same qualifying process as the athletes?  Build teams should be rider ranked based on their past work.  Maybe it’s a bit idealistic, but surely the best-ranked builder should get the job.  Hopefully the Olympic course will be the best course anyone sees this year, but it’s fingers crossed they can pull it off.  As far as athlete safety goes, it was less than a year ago that a friend of mine almost lost his leg after he suffered a fall near Sochi.  He broke his leg and was taken to a hospital that didn’t have something as critical as soap or ice.  It was days before he was transferred to Germany, were he spent weeks ensuring he’d be able to keep his leg.  I know Sochi has come a long way in a year, and that with the Olympics comes national team doctors, but it’s still hard to believe that this is the place the world’s best will converge at the top of the sports world.  If you’re planning to travel to Russia in any capacity, my best advice is to buy travel insurance and make sure it includes medical evacuation.

Even given these Olympic dark sides, the good will certainly outweigh the bad.  It’s important to support the games for all the positives they will bring our sports.  The Olympics will surely give the sports the recognition they deserve, and the money they help bring in, will help ensure that many more athletes get to live their dreams like I have.  Friends of mine will have Olympic medals that will help shape the rest of their lives.  The Olympics have their dark sides, but they are above all the greatest gathering of nations the world ever sees, and for more than two weeks this February the world will be united in awe and celebration of sport, and that is a wonderful thing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apr 1st

Focus on Progress

Posted by Kristi Leskinen in blog

A large portion of the ESPN article had to be cut out because of space constraints.  I didn’t change it myself, and I think it lost a bit of clarity.  (For my full version scroll down.) The Slopestyle survey took me several months to complete.  I didn’t do it to benefit myself,  I did it for the current, and next generation of athletes’, it’s for the sport I love, and was lucky enough to be part of from the very beginning.  The results will help make contests immeasurably better in the future, and will hopefully help shape the Olympic course.  Knowing and actually understanding the median opinion on questions like how much practice time is needed, to prize money, course lengths, and jump shapes, will certainly improve things.  Unfortunately I think most of those details have been lost in the gender debate.   While the idea to do the survey came from what I perceived to be amiss in the sports, I wanted to find out everything.  I didn’t know what stats I would discover, and I promised those involved, that I’d deliver them.  My personal opinions, have nothing to do with the results. Please look at the survey results for yourself, and make your own decisions.

 In response to our ESPN article Spencer O’Brien wrote eloquently about her belief that women need to ski the same slopestyle jumps as men.  I have the utmost respect for her, and her riding.  She makes several legitimate points that I agree with 100 percent, like the observation that the top women are riding contests better than ever.  She had an amazing year, and is certainly one of them.  In making her argument though, she has misstated some of the survey’s conclusions.  To be clear, I stand behind everything I’ve written, but it’s because of the results of the survey, that I am the one speaking up.  I’m advocating to make sure that the MEDIAN opinion of the best riders in the world is heard.  The results are the advocate.  Based on the results, the conclusion that no change in jumps for women is needed is, simply, and demonstrably, wrong, and the belief that hitting the same jumps is what brings financial equality to women is just wishful thinking. There are obviously some women that are happy with things the way they are, but the survey results are not just the collective wisdom of the top eighty-seven male and female slopestyle competitors in the world, many of the results are also supported by an absolute bedrock foundation of facts.

Women slopestyle riders are injured two and one half times to five times as often as men in competition. That is the problem that is holding back the progression of women’s slopestyle.  When numbers in the sport are small already, and as many as half of the top competitors are out with injury, the women’s side of the sport cannot progress at the same rate as the mens. 

This is something everyone should know.  Mentally women and men are equal.   We can be smarter, train harder, and want to win even more than the men, but there are fundamental biologic differences that make women much more susceptible to injury.  According to the Cleveland Clinic women are up to 8 times more likely to tear their ACL as opposed to men.  The American Journal of Sports medicine says that there are at least 3 scientifically proven reasons why.  The first reason is the difference in the anatomy of women’s hips.  The 2nd is that regular spikes in women’s hormone levels alter the composition of the ligament leaving the ACL more prone to tearing and the 3rd is an anatomical predisposition in the shape of our knees.   Because of the difference in how women build muscle, women are more likely to break bones, and for reasons to be determined, actually more likely to suffer a concussion.  At the University of Montreal they are studying why female athletes suffer as many as 3 times the concussions as men while playing sports.  This is not to say we should stop what we are doing. We’ve worked our asses off to get here, and we absolutely love the sports as much as our counterparts.  But, male and female athletes a like should be educated in, and have respect for the differences.  Understanding them will help, not hinder the sport.  It’s not as easy as saying “women can do what men can do, let’s break down the door.” I really wish it was.

While bigger and bigger jumps, are not helping, Speed is the main issue.  Women’s primary concern is their inability to gain enough speed to clear the longer jumps.  I agree, that men have the same issue, but it’s not close to the same extent.  The average woman is forty pounds lighter than the average man, and even an exceptionally well-conditioned woman has a lower percentage of lean muscle mass than the average male athlete.  So, given the same course and the same distance to gain speed, simple physics dictate that women cannot generate the same speed.  Without enough speed, they land on the knuckle and that’s where the injuries occur. When women have to focus on making enough speed to clear the jumps, they can’t focus on doing their best tricks. When many of the elite women are out injured, there is no competitive excitement.  The winners are the ones that merely survive. (Take Women’s Snowboard Slope in this year’s X Games as an example.  Very few girls even completed a run) Is that good for the sport? 

Women are capable of riding better. I’ve been extremely impressed with the top women at competitions this season.  They are competing better than ever, and they are stepping up to the challenging courses, but, “better than ever” doesn’t mean they are riding their best, and 8-10 girls does not represent an international sport.  As 67% of the top women said in the survey,  women will do harder tricks if they have smaller jumps.  Events like 9 Queens showcase what women are truly capable of.  

There will be a SIMPLE SOLUTION.  Here’s my idea.  The survey results showed that the men wanted an average/middle jump size of 69 feet.  Considering this, the men’s jumps should range from 60 to 80 feet in length. Based on the women’s ideal average/middle jump length of 55 feet, women’s jumps should range from 45 to 65 feet in length.  Women do not need or want separate courses or tours, but some courses would call for separate takeoffs.  Remember, the men are actually asking for the jumps to be bigger than they are now!  When designing a course for both sexes, if the jump length is in the women’s range there only needs to be one takeoff, but if the jump length goes beyond 65 feet, there should be separate takeoffs or as Kaya Turski says move the takeoffs after men have competed.

Separate takeoffs will resolve speed issues.  Given the same distance to gain speed, and a slightly smaller jump, the women’s speed issue will disappear, injury rates should go down, tricks will be better, and more women will participate in and watch the sport.

Equality does not require an equal course. Male athletes make more money, because more men participate in and watch sports.  The secret to equality is equal participation.  We need to get more women involved.  If we want to grow our sport it requires competitive events where the best riders show their best tricks.  It requires that we don’t scare off the 14 year-old girl, or her parents, with injuries before she gets the chance to turn pro.  The sport should be defined by the difficulty of the tricks completed, not by the course.  I appreciate the macho approach, every girl in this sport needs to use a bit of it.  I also appreciate the desire to compete on the same jumps as the men, but the tricks are what impress people, and the small difference in jump size that women need and have now asked for won’t even be noticed when girls take their riding to the next level.

 Slopestyle in the Olympics! I’d love to see women impress the world and showcase their best on sports biggest stage.  This survey is not only about what women want. This survey has shown judges and course designer’s what the majority of all slopestyle competitors feel highlight their abilities best.  It has shown the different preferences of snowboarders and skiers and is the combined opinion of the world’s best.  Let’s focus on the positives that can come from this. Let’s be Progressive. Let the discussion continue…

Mar 28th

Extended Slopestyle Survey Results

Posted by Kristi Leskinen in blog

ESPN.com/action

Slopestyle Safety Survey

By Alyssa Roenigk / Kristi Leskinen

 

In 2009, freestyle skier Kristi Leskinen started a women’s-only ski slopestyle competition called the Kristi Leskinen Homecoming Invitational at her hometown mountain of Seven Springs in Pennsylvania. Her motivation for hosting the event was a desire to see if a contest featuring smaller jumps built specifically for women, where women felt comfortable throwing their toughest tricks, would encourage progression or stymie the sport. Three years in, she had her answer: “I’ve seen some of the most progressive women’s skiing ever during that contest,” she says.

But last season, she says more than half the invitees were unable to participate because of serious injuries sustained mostly at other contests. That made her question the long-term sustainability of her sport. “I wondered if there were other sports where so many top performers were unable to compete by midway through the season,” she says. “I think that would make any sport untenable, let alone a sport like ours, with so few world-class participants.” Shortly after the contest, Leskinen sat down with fellow competitors Sarah Burke and Kaya Turski and began creating a survey to send to the top slopestyle riders in the world to gauge their feelings about the current state of slopestyle courses. With the help of WAS (We are Snowboarding) and the Association of Freeski Professionals, Leskinen sent the anonymous survey to more than 100 top athletes and received 87 responses. Her findings? “A comprehensive survey of the best slopestyle skiers and snowboarders in the world shows that men and women would benefit greatly from having separate jump takeoffs in competition,” she says.

We’ll leave the breakdown of the survey to Leskinen, who has spent nearly a year working on this project with the hopes it helps improve her sport for the next generation of female athletes.

 

 

KRISTI LESKINEN:

 

Last fall, this survey was sent to the top 25 male and female athletes in ski and snowboard slopestyle. In the end, 87 athletes voiced their opinions, with nearly an equal number of skiers, snowboarders, men and women responding to the anonymous survey. The survey had a couple of goals. The first was to find out exactly what athletes wanted to see at competitions and if there were any discipline and/or gender-specific course preferences. At contests, we have riders’ meetings, but no one ever asks us what we want to see before we arrive. And once we arrive, it’s too late to voice our opinions and concerns. So in all reality, the competitors have very little influence on course design. Also, the riders meetings do not provide a welcome audience for those athletes with contrary opinions. I wondered if, given the chance to voice their thoughts anonymously, riders would make changes to the current course setups.

The second goal was to glean information that allowed us to compare injury rates among male and female skiers and snowboarders that would allow us to see if there were discipline or gender-specific variations. We wanted the empirical evidence, and the voice of the majority, to say that we know exactly what athletes wanted in their sport.

           A huge amount of data came out of this survey. We collected stats on how much practice time athletes’ want and how many runs should be in a final. We found that 75% of athletes would like to see three-run finals. We asked what shape jumps they want to see at competitions. Only 10% said their favorite jumps were step-downs, while 74% prefer the safer true tables. We asked how many features they want to see in a course and the majority answered six- to seven.  We also asked riders how important it was that courses were unique (very), and what their biggest concerns were. While we collected useful information on general course design, the survey results were most interesting when comparing disciplines and genders.

In comparing skiers to snowboarders, both male and female snowboarders say their biggest concern is being unable to generate enough speed, which may be why they both said contests reflect their best riding capabilities less often than their skier counterparts. Skiers have a greater capacity to gain and reduce speed, but the ability to gain enough speed to clear the jumps should never be a concern for either group of athletes. Perhaps course designers need more time to perfect their work, or a crew to test the jumps for adequate speed before the competitors arrive. More consideration could be given to the unpredictable weather that often causes the speed problem. Snowboarders also prefer narrower rails than skiers. This goes along with the fact that 97% of those polled think it’s important to have rail options.

The most dramatic differences, however, were found when comparing the course preferences and injury rates of men to women. Men say their ideal jump size is 69 feet, while the women say their ideal jump size is 55 feet. These numbers are significant, as they mean women feel most comfortable on jumps 20% smaller than the men. The majority of women polled (67%) said the jumps at current contests are a little big, or too big, and they would be more likely to attempt harder tricks if they were given smaller jumps. The majority of men had the opposite opinion, saying the jumps were typically on the small side. Presumably, this is why women also say that competition runs reflect their best riding capabilities less often than men. They are of course, typically smaller and lighter than men, so it’s no surprise their biggest concern is being able to generate enough speed to clear the jumps. This may also explain why women say they need nearly 20% more practice time.

We also found a compelling difference in injury rates between men and women. The women surveyed say they were injured 3.5 times more often in competition than the men, though the out-of-competition difference is negligible. This may be attributable to women being pushed further past their normal training limits in competition than men. If you observe only the skiers, the female-to-male injury ratio is more significant still. Female skiers seem to be five times more likely than male skiers to get hurt during competition, though the out-of-competition difference is marginal.  Add in the fact that women say they compete less often, and the pattern very clearly suggests that at current competitions, women are placing themselves at a significantly increased risk of injury relative to the men.

With the anecdotal evidence I’ve collected over the more than 13 years I’ve competed in the sport, coupled with the findings of this survey, I strongly believe that there should be separate takeoffs for men and women in competition. I think it would be hugely beneficial to the future of our sport. It would allow men to complete their doubles and triples, and at the same time allow women to progress their tricks with less risk of injury, and less fear to hold them back.

Nearly every other sport in the world has come to the conclusion that making adaptations for women is better for the sport. The women of the LPGA don’t hit from the same tees as the men of the PGA. Female gymnasts compete in different events, and use completely different equipment. Female basketball players use a smaller ball and play shorter games. Women play softball, not baseball. The women’s championship surf tour is separate from the men’s and every time Lindsey Vonn wins a World Cup race event, she does so on a women’s-specific course. These sports have been around decades longer than ours, and I believe it’s time we learn from them. Female skiers and snowboarders would progress their sports more quickly given a more suitable field on which to compete. 

There’s no question these sports are dangerous. It’s part of the allure. But my hope is that the information found by this survey helps develop our sports into the future, and that the next generation of athletes will be happier, and safer because of it.


Mar 7th

Homecoming 2011

Posted by Kristi Leskinen in blog

Homecoming 2011

I can’t believe this was already the 3rd year for Homecoming, hosted by Seven Springs.  This years planning process was a little crazy, with tons of injuries just before the event.  I have to say I was really worried up until the week before.  I had to make some major last minute changes to the format, which transformed this years Homecoming from a contest to a photo/film shoot.  Luckily for me all the girls were down, the results were fantastic and I think, the event was as successful as ever.

The line up:

Keri Herman, Kaya Turski, Ashley Battersby, Devin Logan, Keltie Hansen, Anna Segal, Erica Durtschi, Shanny Cohen, and myself.

All the girls arrived in Pittsburgh Thursday night, and the shuttle delivered them directly to Seven Springs.

Day 1

We woke up Friday to a gloomy day.  I’m talking some of the worst conditions I’ve seen in a long time.  It rained all night and just as we were customizing our garbage bags it turned to snow and the jumps to solid ice.  We all took a tour of the mountain and the set up.  I’d been telling the girls how amazing the park looked, and I was anxious for them to see it for themselves.  We took several runs laughing the whole time, and then in true Seven Springs fashion made our way to afternoon activities!  First, we headed to The Seven Springs Shooting Academy for the 3rd Annual Skeet Shooting Competition.  The first round ended in a 3 way tie, but in the end it was Shanny Cohen who left with the trophy.  There is something about 10 girls getting together to shoot guns that never seems boring, and I love that each year one of the girls gets to shoot for the first time in her life.  After the skeet competition, Anna Segal and I helped with the evening weather report for WTAE

(ABC) Pittsburgh.  Luckily for us the weather was about to take a dramatic change for the better.  Next up, the seafood buffet, where we had a competition to see which side of the table could stack up the biggest pile of snow crab.  We finished the night in the game room, where some of the girls worked to hone their skeet skills with Big Buck Hunter.

Day 2

After a dismal first day, Saturday brought sunshine!  This time Keri and I got to help deliver the weather report, and we were stoked the sky was blue.  After an amazing, and I mean amazing breakfast buffet, we headed to The Spot to start hitting the jumps.  The bottom jump was epic.

Highlights included.  Keri’s switch cork 5’s, Devin’s Cork 7’s, Anna’s Rodeo 5, Erica’s 9, and the list went on.  It really is awesome to ski with a big group of girls in a fun environment.  The rest of the crew headed to North Park, where Kaya, Ashley and Keltie worked on their switch spins.  Switch Un-natural!  I was so stoked to see all the girls having a blast.  We ordered Pizza on the hill and stayed until the light gave out.  We headed back to the

lodge for a break and to watch the fireworks show, but we weren’t done yet. Seven Springs has night skiing!  Kaya, Anna and I took the opportunity and went back for more.  I definitely did a penguin slide down North Face for old times sake, and Kaya and Anna hit up the jumps and rails.  We finally made it in for dinner just after 9.  It was a full and productive day!

Day 3

More sunshine!  Sunday started out with all the girls giving back.  We had a ski with a pro event, where all the local kids were invited to come take some runs with us. Anna and Erica headed to the jump and the rest of us went to The Foggy Bowl, for an amateur rail jam.  We skied along with all the kids and handed out prizes for the best tricks.  Ashley and Kaya were killing the course. The rail set up was awesome and I even did some tricks for the first time! There is some real talent coming out of PA right now.  I think we were all blown away by some of the tricks the guys were doing. Ashley has a new crush. Sorry girl, Jimmy is a little too young for you! Congratulations to Dan for taking home the grand prize.  After the rail jam, it was time to jump some more.  We hit the jump until the sun went down, early dinner and bed, all exhausted from the weekends festivities.

Big thanks to everyone at Seven Springs and especially Ales Moser, Melissa Cullin and Joel Rerko and his staff for building an incredible park.  You guys killed it again this year. Proving that you don’t have to be on the west coast to have one of the best parks in the world!