From a room packed with three of the most powerful players in their respective industries -- Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association CEO Bill Marolt and freeskier Bobby Brown -- came an announcement Monday that could have long-term implications in the winter sports industry.
On January 25 and 26, 2011 -- the Tuesday and Wednesday preceding Winter X Games 15 -- Colorado's capital city will host Denver Big Air presented by Sprint, a World Cup snowboard and FIS-sanctioned ski competition on a 101-foot ramp in the heart of downtown Denver. The event will be a joint production involving local entities as well as USSA and FIS, and will also coincide with the annual SIA trade show.
The big-air skiing competition is set for Tuesday, Jan. 25, with the snowboarding contest slated for the following day. It will mark the first time a FIS World Cup Snowboard Big Air event takes place in the U.S.
After joking that he'll be the first person to drop in on the giant ramp -- erected a few hundred yards from the golden-domed state Capitol building -- Mayor (and gubernatorial candidate) Hickenlooper encouraged the crowd to "imagine in real space seeing athletes flying hundreds of feet through the air ... We will have a chance to make history with a truly international spectacle."
Marolt, whose organization has long supported alpine racing but only recently began to embrace park-and-pipe-based disciplines, spoke next. "Much of what we've done in the last few years as a national governing body is to look at how we can change our landscape and connect with the younger generation," Marolt said.
As he talked, Mayor Hickenlooper, wearing a suit and sitting next to Brown behind the podium, quietly pointed out a hole in Brown's sneaker (which Brown explained was from skateboarding), a gesture that made the two share a smile. It also symbolized a merger that seems destined to take place between people like Hickenlooper and people like Brown, as freestyle skiing eyes a more mainstream future.
Marolt, who believes halfpipe skiing will be included in the 2014 Olympics, said the event represents a commitment by USSA and FIS to "try to bring our sport to the city." He added: "What this event is all about is youngsters and athletes."
Brown, who grew up in Denver and lives in Breckenridge, told the 40 or so attendees about metropolitan big-air events he's competed in overseas, in cities like London and Stockholm. If he had seen an event like the one planned for January when he was growing up, he said, he would've been inspired. That's what he hopes Denver Big Air -- which will be broadcast on NBC and Versus -- will do.
Brown started to explain the "mind-blowing" tricks likely to be thrown on the jump, including double corks. Then he paused and grinned. "Sorry," he said. "A double cork is a multi-spinning, flipping maneuver where you hopefully land on your feet."
He was clearly excited to compete in his hometown, on a jump so large and visible. "Big air is the best event," he said. "It's right there in your face, and you either land it or you don't."
He added: "This is going to put skiing and snowboarding on a level we've always wanted it to be on." Then he let out a whoop and everyone cheered.
Organizers expect a crowd of 20,000 people to watch the men-only event, for which they'll begin selling tickets Nov. 5. Although no field has been set, they are hoping athletes like Shaun White and others in Colorado for the X Games, which take place Jan. 27-30 in Aspen, will compete.