In the 1990’s Norway’s Terje Haakonsen created the mold by which all other professional snowboarders are gauged in the modern era. In 1990, at the age of 16, Terje placed fifth at the World Championships in Breckenridge, Colorado and then proceeded to dominate the world freestyle contest circuit for the next decade, winning three US Opens, three World Championship titles, the Innsbruck Air & Style, and an unprecedented seven Mt. Baker Banked Slaloms with the most recent coming in 2012. Within the video realm, Subjekt Haakonsen is the most highly-regarded biopic in our sport’s history. Then, there is the matter of his 9.8 meter backside 360 quarterpipe air at his own Arctic Challenge event in 2007, which not only still stands as a world record, but quite literally reminds everyone that when it comes to snowboarding talent, Terje was, is, and will always be head and shoulders above the rest.
Terje has never been a person to solely let his riding do the talking, yet it may be the time he chose not to strap in that may be the statement he is most remembered for making. In 1997, seemingly without a serious competitive rival, the inventor of the Haakon flip decided to boycott snowboarding’s halfpipe debut at the 1998 Nagano Olympics in Japan due to ideological differences he had with the FIS and IOC. This important stance still resonates a decade-and-a-half later, where Terje is infallible proof that a rider with conviction can make supreme sacrifices and still maintain their position at the pinnacle of our sport. While generations of riders mimic Terje’s tricks and style on the slopes, none have been prompted to follow his lead when it comes to self-governance, or for that matter, going fuckin’ huge on quarterpipes.
- Pat Bridges
What are some of the ideals that led you to start The Arctic Challenge 15 years ago?
Progression. I was over going to contests being organized by non-snowboarders. These were, for the most part, not good events. Some were straight up embarrassing to be a part of. In the nineties, the pipes were mostly made by shovels and a lot of manpower, with no real standards to adhere to. There was a huge variation in quality. I wanted to contribute to better infrastructures and competition formats for snowboarding to progress. We all knew that snowboarders could go bigger than skateboarders, for instance, but we were limited. Independence. I always thought snowboarding must be run by the guys doing it. All sports should be led by the athletes performing them. They know their sport best. In the late nineties, the skiers took over snowboarding with the advent of the Olympics. It was a disaster, and still is. Snowboarding can only thrive if it’s led by snowboarders. That will never change without action. Instead of just complaining, we decided to create a good example that others could be inspired by.
How did The Arctic Challenge evolve over the years?
From small to big. From the beginning, we wanted to be the laboratory of snowboarding. That’s our mission. We are totally independent and don’t have to wait for an annual congress to make decisions. So we dived into all kinds of development projects, like the TTR, superpipes, quarterpipes, judging systems, and the World Snowboarding Championships. Along the way everything grew bigger and more expensive, and paradoxically we might have ended up more mainstream than we planned, but I think we made a couple of contributions to snowboarding along the way.
Why did The Arctic Challenge move away from having quarterpipe as an equal draw to the halfpipe?
We were pushed out of all possible quarterpipe arenas in Oslo. We did all three disciplines in 2003 (slopestyle, halfpipe, and quarterpipe), but it was not possible to find any resorts that were willing to take the costs with such a huge event. After a terrible weather year in 2005, we moved the event to Oslo and started focusing solely on the QP. It’s a coliseum kind of event with great spectator value–if you have the right location. We started out digging our own arena in a ski jump that had not been used for twenty-five years (Midtstuen). After the successful event in 2007, we got upgraded to the Holmenkollen in 2008, but kicked out by the ski jumpers again in 2009 to a smaller arena. We tried to get back to Holmenkollen, but in 2010 they were rebuilding it for the ski World Championships, and that’s why we decided to change the recipe. So we did a slopestyle in Oslo Vinterpark (Wyller). We were in the middle of preparing the World Champs then, so it was natural for us to make a halfpipe event when the in-ground pipe was ready.
It hasn’t been a plan, really. We have just been following the opportunities. We have always been dependent upon getting access to great arenas, and that has kind of led the way.
Why have you chosen now to revamp The Arctic Challenge format?
This upcoming winter, over half of all of the top events disappear. In turn, half of the prize money disappears. This is happening because it’s an Olympic season. It’s a catastrophe. I believe snowboarders have contributed to this development themselves. There are two main problems. One, of course, is that there is no room for two or three competing world tours. And when all top riders go to crap events like the Czech World Cup this winter, they dig their own grave. The other is lack of creativity, fun, and progression. Now, all events, infrastructures, and competition formats are the same. It’s against all the fundamental values of action sports. The standardization of contests is the biggest challenge of the snowboarding competition scene. All halfpipes are the same, all riders do the same tricks, and they all practice their winning run. If they all land their planned runs, we know the results before the contest even starts. And now this is happening in slopestyle as well, even before the Olympic debut of the event. The Olympics has such a huge standardization power that it creates a one-headed monster. Shaun White builds his own monster pipe in Australia. The Norwegian National Team buys the riders into a copy of the Olympics Slopestyle in Austria, four months before the event. Just the term “copy of a slopestyle” makes me sick. Where did creativity and freestyle go? I think going back to the roots, if you can call it that, will bring the fun, progression, and creativity back. We need to play around with the infrastructure, contest formats, and presentation. Halfpipe is not supposed to be an elite event for eighty national team riders financed by the state. It started out as a grassroots movement. It must go back to that in order to be interesting for the masses. Now it’s like, “who has money for an airbag and superpipe cutter?”
Who are some of the riders you will be working with to move The Arctic Challenge in this new direction?
We are working on it. We will try to get a mix of riders that are interested in making a difference for their sport. There is no perfect format so we have to experiment with different ideas. For the pilot event in 1999 we invited twelve guys we thought could contribute to the idea. We look for guys that can ride both transition and park, and we need riders that can speak their minds and want to have fun while doing it.
Will The Arctic Challenge remain aligned with the TTR Tour?
Yes, but not as a ranking event.
What are your thoughts on Shaun White becoming part of the ownership of the Air & Style?
If he helps get snowboarding back on a better path, it’s good. He has the name, experience, and resources. It takes a lot to do snowboarding events over the long term. If he really means it and helps in creating more good contests, increasing prize money, and presents snowboarding in a good way, I hope he succeeds. But if he’s only gonna show his face at the opening ceremony, it really doesn’t have much value.
What is your view on the inclusion of Real Snow–both street and backcountry–in the X Games?
I like the fact that snowboarders focusing on filming can enter a contest with prize money and not just get recognition with a trophy at the TransWorld Riders Poll Awards. But I don’t like the endless voting rounds tailor-made to get more web page hits to sell more commercials. If the X Games split the commercial income with the riders it would have been really good.
In the decade-and-a-half since you chose not to participate in the Nagano Games what effects has the post-Olympic era had on snowboarding–both good and bad?
It’s hard to see any other good effects beyond those for the top three guys. It’s not only my opinion. Just look at the surroundings. Most good events are gone, the prize money is gone, and halfpipe has become as mainstream of a sport as all others. Now, the exact same thing has started happening with slopestyle. I also believe all snowboard companies getting involved in the Olympics spend much more money than they will ever get back on their involvement. So it’s hard to find any good effects for anyone.
Has the linear progression and reliance on stock runs possibly eroded the emphasis on skill in halfpipe competition?
Yes and no. Of course, they do some amazing stuff, but it’s all the same. It isn’t about style anymore. The creativity is limited to what you can develop on an airbag or trampoline. And there are hardly any halfpipe riders left. We can look into history and see similar developments in other sports. Gymnastics was a huge sport in the seventies. They had global mega-stars and all TV stations were locked down. It was a creative sport. Now it is standardized, extremely boring, and has no names and no TV interest. It has interest every four years at the summer Olympics. Opposite example: biathlon skiing. Absolutely no interest in the seventies. Athletes took out loans at their local banks to go compete abroad. Rules were so complex that no one knew the results until a day after the event. Then the athletes changed the recipe to fun, progression, and excitement. Now, it’s the biggest winter sport on TV in Europe. They have their own federation, they run all major decisions by the athletes, and they stick to their sport. Snowboarding should obviously follow the biathlon example and we should take charge over our own sport. But we seem to be risking falling into the gymnastics pot–literally.
Could the homogenization of halfpipe riding in terms of stock runs and regulated halfpipe dimensions have the same stagnating effect on slopestyle, where every park has the same jumps and jibs creating less of a need for creativity?
Yes. What’s happening now is that the FIS is fusing freeskiing and snowboarding. They will connect everything to the Olympics. They will makes rules and formats that are decided for every four year Olympic period. Within these four years, there will not even be a change in a comma in their rulebook. This is what we asked for, and this is what we get. It’s already happening. The FIS doesn’t have any connection to either snowboarding or freeskiing, but they have the Olympic power. And we all play along in their game.
What are your thoughts on the Ultra Natural?
Great event, but it takes a lot to make it happen. It’s good to have one of these signature events, but it’s more important that we create rider-driven and fun events on a grassroots level.
What are some of the other major events around the world that still maintain the “by riders, for riders” mentality?
That is very hard to answer with Travis’s event gone. I hope he can get it back. And let’s hope Shaun puts some real effort into his new property.
Which other current icons do you believe have the spirit and the will to take ownership and affect change within the top ranks by making the hard stance to keep snowboarding from being corrupted by outside influences?
No one has stepped up so far, except Chas [Guldemond]. But it was hard for him doing it all alone. It’s a flock of sheep. Even the freeskiers have more balls. Last winter forty-two freeskiers boycotted a World Cup due to risks they were not willing to take. We have never seen anything like that in snowboarding. And that’s what it comes down to. Riders have all the power in the world…if they want to. But you need to step out of kindergarten and take responsibility for your own sport. It’s only gonna benefit them, and hopefully snowboarding.
How do you feel about the current state of the TTR?
Lost in translation. Caught between a rock and a hard place. Riders all over the world are doing their own thing. Maybe we have a federation of independent, creative, and progressive snowboard events in the near future? Neither TTR nor the riders are doing enough to make TTR good enough. There is snowboard know-how in TTR, and it can be a credible organization, but it’s not possible without the full commitment of the riders. Once that happens then you will have a tour, like the surfers do in ASP. This will benefit the riders more than anyone.