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"We Are Snowboarding" Union Established to Galvanize Rider Efforts Hot

WASChas Guldemond is well versed in making a living as an individual–competing against other snowboarders worldwide for huge purses–but now, he stands before his peers with a rallying cry for a team effort.

The 23-year-old boarder from Reno, is a key cog behind the creation of the newly minted “We Are Snowboarding” union, an amalgamation of professional snowboarders seeking to increase their say in terms of the direction the sport is headed.

A recent International Olympic Committee (IOC) decision to add snowboarding slopestyle to the 2014 Sochi Olympic schedule drew the ire of competitors already fed up with the endless hours of practice, competition and travel around the globe.

Some estimates say that a whopping 27 major snowboarding events were held between December 2010 and March 2011 – an exhausting schedule by anybody’s standards.

Double X-Games gold medalist Jamie Anderson told the New York Times, “People don’t know how hard it is to travel around the world and compete with jet lag,” highlighting the strain that these athletes are experiencing.

The Olympic event will force athletes to add additional qualification events to their already jammed calendars at International Ski Federation (FIS) sanctioned competitions considered sub-par compared to other larger, more visible tour stops.

As activist athletes like Guldemond and Anderson (including other top names like Louie Vito, Mason Aguirre, Enni Rukajärvi, Peetu Piiroinen and Sebastien Toutant) got wind of the potential IOC ruling, they began organizing, first with a meeting of roughly 50 riders at the 2011 U.S. Open to discuss the feasibility of such a union.

A March gathering at Winter X-Games Europe in France subsequently followed the U.S. Open forum. There, Guldemond personally implored his fellow riders to ban Chas_Guldemondtogether.

W.A.S. aims to capture influence in two main areas, as explained on its recently launched website, “...give riders a voice within the competitive snowboarding arena in order to help facilitate a positive, mature progression of the sport,” and “...align the interests of event organizers with those of competitive snowboarders in order to help establish a healthy competitive schedule that benefits the competition circuit, the sport, the athletes, the sponsors, the media, and also the end viewer.”

This is not the first time a snowboarder protested an IOC decision. In 1998, one of the best male competitors at the time, Terje Haakonsen, of Norway, boycotted qualifying for the Nagano Games citing that riders should control the process.

Still today, Haaksonen, no longer competing, is a driving force behind the W.A.S. movement, beseeching these young riders to gain a firmer grasp on their fate in the sport. He recently released a letter critical of F.I.S. and its organization of the sport to many news outlets around the globe.

Galvanizing the W.A.S. movement seems to be coming at a particularly critical junction as the sport of snowboarding is in the midst of unprecedented growth never experience before.

Roughly 30 million households watched the Winter X-Games in January, and with numbers like that, snowboarding is becoming more and more of a legitimate, big-time sport and business with major dollars at stake.

A rider union seems the first step to ensure that the athletes get their equal share of the pie in addition to dictating some of their own terms.

Rider safety is another major touching point for W.A.S, as the onus on going bigger and faster increases, added events will only raise the likelihood of injuries already prevalent in the sport.

Besides horrific injuries, similar to that of Kevin Pearce, nobody benefits if already tired and hurting athletes aren’t able to enter competitions because they’re overextended.

W.A.S. is expected to attend and sound off at the Ticket To Ride (TTR) General Assembly Meeting in late May.

As 2014 approaches, expect the debate between W.A.S., the I.O.C. and F.I.S. to rage on.

 

-Ryan O'Leary

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