The Style of Women's Snowboarding — and We Mean Technique, Not Fashion
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Women snowboarders are upgrading their skills and catching up with men without losing their style.
By Ryan Wallerson
Dew Tour isn’t known for its stellar weather conditions, but on a Friday in December 2018, the athletes in the event’s women’s snowboard slopestyle final competed under bluebird conditions: a cloudless sky with no wind. The shredders did not waste these rare conditions at Breckenridge, Colorado, putting the progression of women’s snowboarding on display like we haven’t seen before.
Traditionally, the rails and jumps are together on one complete course, and a total score between one and 100 is awarded for the whole thing. At Dew Tour in 2018, both sections were awarded separately, and the highest combined scores decided the winners. But the unfamiliar format of the competition didn’t stop the contestants from showcasing a cavalcade of technical riding complemented by the style that has long been the backbone of women’s snowboarding.
Austrian Anna Gasser won the overall event with a score of 96.67 in the jumps and 81.00 on the rails. American Julia Marino placed second with a 79.00/90.00, and Finland’s Enni Rukajarvi earned third. Gasser’s performance in the jump section, where she put down back-to-back double cork 1080s (two flips, three rotations) and a cab double 900 (two flips, two-and-a-half rotations), was the highlight of the competition. But it was only the latest example of the huge uptick in technical skills women snowboarders have been showcasing since 2015, when the World Cup snowboarding tour and Winter X Games brought back the women’s big air competition after a 12-year break.
I personally think the girls are going about their progression in a better way than the guys did — they don’t forget that they are snowboarding.
Kyle Mack, 2018 Olympic silver medalist
Spencer O’Brien landed the first 900 by a woman in a slopestyle competition in 2015. Halfpipe rider Chloe Kim, who also won at Dew Tour 2018, became the first woman to land back-to-back 1080s in a U.S. Grand Prix competition in 2016. Gasser did the same slopestyle in 2018. Young Japanese riders like Kokomo Murase and Reira Iwabuchi have shown mastery of the double cork, and experts believe they are likely working on triples right now. Six weeks before the Dew Tour, Gasser made history while training on the Stubai Glacier in Austria when she became the first female snowboarder ever to land a documented triple cork. In bad weather at the Olympic women’s slopestyle final in 2018, Gasser had failed while pursuing back-to-back double cork 1080s and a cab double 900. At Dew Tour 2018, she found redemption, successfully performing the exact same routine.
“I think we were all pretty surprised by Anna’s run,” Marino said in a post-competition interaction. “That was insane. We weren’t expecting that. I think the level of riding was higher at this event than at any stop last season.”
Gasser’s triple cork in Austria was during a practice session, but her historic feat is reverberating across women’s snowboarding. It may eventually have the same effect that Norwegian Torstein Horgmo’s first triple cork had on men’s snowboarding when he won the X Games Big Air competition with it in 2011. Two years after that event, the triple cork was the currency of the men’s podium; it was tough to earn a medal with a run that didn’t feature the new technique. Men have now moved on to the quad — and with Gasser’s success, women may not be too far behind.
Yet there is a difference — one that makes the fast-evolving women snowboarders even superior to their male counterparts in some ways. Male snowboarders struggle at times to maintain the style in a spin-to-win philosophy that has seen multiple guys progress to 1800 quad corks (four flips, five full rotations) but with little room for personality. Style still remains extremely important in women’s snowboarding, on the other hand. Every member of the eight-woman field in the Dew Tour slopestyle final featured elements in their runs that showed serious style, whether doing so in decisions made on different areas on the course or the plethora of grabs added to the tricks they executed. That’s something even top male snowboarders acknowledge.
“I personally think the girls are going about their progression in a better way than the guys did — they don’t forget that they are snowboarding,” says 2018 Olympic silver medalist Kyle Mack. “It’s about making sure you get a trick but also learning all the tricks that lead to it. When the arms race started with the guys, it was all about learning that new trick first.”
Unlike the men, Mack adds, women snowboarders have “gone about things at their own pace, not trying to always catch up to the next person.” That, he says, has “helped them keep their style more.”
(Anna Gasser at Dew Tour 2018. Credit: Dew Tour)
Some of the patience that women snowboarders are showing in balancing fancier tricks with style has been thrust upon them. The run Gasser pulled off at Dew Tour is one she says she “wanted to do” for “such a long time.” But canceled finals or windy conditions meant that she couldn’t unveil the cab double 900 last year, she says. At Dew Tour, she was focused on what she wanted to do. “I wasn’t thinking about the triple at all during the competition.”
There’s also deep — and very evident — mutual respect that top women snowboarders share, which allows them to upgrade their technical skills without a win-at-all-costs attitude. Sitting next to Gasser after their Dew Tour face-off, Marino credited Gasser with elevating the sport.
“Women’s snowboarding has progressed a lot in the last two years, but now Anna has set the bar extremely high. Now we all have to learn these crazy tricks to keep up with her,” Marino said. “I feel like no one thought it could progress to this point.”
Gasser blushed and shook her head at Marino, whispering, “That’s not true” under her breath. But the constant technical upgrades in women’s snowboarding is indeed sparking excitement even among their male counterparts. Just two or three years ago, says 2014 Olympic silver medalist and Norwegian rider Stale Sandbech, a run from women stars like Jamie Anderson or Silje Norendal would invariably lead to wins for them. No one can take the sport for granted anymore.
“It’s cool because you no longer know what to expect from them,” says Sandbech. “Now, the competitions are deeper, anyone in the final can be the winner. You can see the change.”
One thing the women have going for them is that the guys have already fought for the jumps that make it possible to realize ambitious dreams. In 2015, Max Parrot told the event builders for X Games that an 80-foot jump would allow for the tricks he had in his head.
At the end of January, Gasser will stand at the top of that same hill, a reality at X Games since 2016. What she’ll decide to do in that moment is anyone’s guess, but remember: Once a woman puts a triple cork down in competition, there’s no putting that cat back in the bag. Even as is, her practice triple cork has set the bar. And that standard is only going to get higher. “Now Anna has done a triple, the trick that the guys do most often,” says Marino. “That shows that we aren’t too far behind you guys anymore.”
- Ryan Wallerson, OZY AuthorContact Ryan Wallerson