‘Just pull your pants up and hit it’
VAIL – The gray flecks in Greg Johnson’s bushy beard represent years of snowboarding wisdom.The competition director of The Session has been around the sport’s competitive scene almost since its genesis. He used to judge pioneers like Kevin Delaney and Craig Kelly in renegade competitions back in the mid-80s when snowboarding was still a sport relegated to the fringes.As a true historian – authentic beard and all – Johnson sees The Session, now in its third year, as the apex of the sport’s competitive evolution.”In Transworld Snowboarding, the riders rated this the fifth-best event in the world just after two years,” Johnson said. “I think the reason for that was the progression. The X Games has the coverage, the TV stuff. The U.S. Snowboarding Open has the history.”The Session’s progression continues this year with a new competitive format, an improved slopestyle and rails course, an innovative judging system and a never-done-before compensation structure.The most noticeable change is the elimination of the women’s slopestyle competition. That tough decision was made, Johnson said, to make the slopestyle course more challenging for the men.
“The course is built for snowboard progression,” he said. “When you go to X Games, when you go to the Gravity Games, when you go to the other places, they have to have it blended for the common denominator of whoever is there. Here, we build it big and the very best shine.”Johnson said the changes in the pay structure of the women’s rail jam should make amends for nixing the slopestyle. Instead of paying out the top-three competitors at the completion of both men’s and women’s rail events, this year the top five riders will be awarded cash payouts every 15 minutes.The first-place rider pockets $2,000, second place gets $1,000, third gets $500, fourth gets $250 and fifth gets $100. Johnson designed the concept to keep riders busy for the entire jam session and to spread around the wealth a little more. The rails purse is the largest ever in the history of women’s snowboarding – something Johnson said was progressive in itself.”Last year, there were so many good riders that I wanted to get more people in play,” he said. “I kind of thought, ‘What if we pay everyone like every 15 minutes depending on how they stack out for those top five spots?’ Hopefully, a lot of people can win some money doing that.”The men’s slopestyle format has also been overhauled. Instead of letting all 30 riders compete in a final, the top 10 riders will be selected in a Saturday qualifier from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. They will be paired with the top-five finishers from last year’s slopestyle final in the Saturday night headliner on the revamped slopestyle course.”The concept that I had with The Session was to have multiple runs on the slopestyle course,” Johnson said. “Last year with the field size, they only got like three or four. I definitely want to get these guys six or seven runs on the course. That’s going to be outstanding.”
The course With the women’s slopestyle eliminated, Oregon-based course designers Ryan Neptune and Pat Malendoski of Planet Snow Design were able to construct a bigger, more challenging course for the pro men. The course is more compact than previous editions to speed up lap times, Malendoski said, but the four kicker jumps featured are the biggest in the history of the event. “We’re really catering to the guys this year for the slopestyle,” Malendoski said. “Obviously, those are the guys we want to please. We know most of the guys and you want your friends to have fun. On the landings, I want to make them nice and steep and have big wide takeoffs, so there’s just no stress. You just pull up your pants and hit it. It should be good.”The rail island used in both rail jams and the slopestyle is also improved. Malendoski and Neptune took the basic structure of last year’s island – a skate park for snowboarders – and added even more urban-influenced elements. The 8-foot-high quarterpipe returns with a 10-foot gap between the two 20-foot-long sections of pipe as does the big 50-foot and 40-foot kinked rails. Two 30-foot C rails have been added on the sides of the island and a 4-foot-high tombstone has been added to the top corner of the right side of the quarterpipe. “We’ll have twice as many features,” Malendoski said. “There’s a lot more skate influenced stuff. We’re just trying to mix it up a bit. But, really, the same thing just kind of times two.”
Linked upTo go along with its other innovations, Johnson said The Session’s judging format is one of a kind. Instead of scattering judges along the course, as in other big-name events, the panel of judges gets to dissect the action up close on TVs by watching through a live feed.”The judging is all very high tech,” Johnson said. “All the judging is done off of video inside and all the judges sit together. Traditionally, on other slopestyles they’re all broken up coming down the course. Here, we do something completely different.”Staff Writer Nate Peterson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 608, or via e-mail at email@example.com.Vail Colorado