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It’s ‘Jackass 3’ for U.S. in slopestyle skiing

Updated: March 15, 2014 6:22AM

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – Before he became a crusader for pink-eye eradication, Bob Costas was a broadcaster. And one day last month, when asked about the new Olympic sport of slopestyle, he broadcast his opinion.

“I think the president of the IOC should be Johnny Knoxville,” he said jokingly on the “Today’’ show. “Because basically this stuff is just ‘Jackass’ stuff they invented and called an Olympic sport.”

The reaction from the skiers and snowboarders who compete in the sport was immediate. The NBC personality was old, out of touch and quite possibly addled, they said. In short, he was “Bad Grandpa.’’ Costas got criticized as much anyone can get criticized by a group of people who use the word “stoked’’ a lot.

Can he and the rest of us be forgiven for implying that the sport’s roots probably can be traced back to a bar bet? Or, dare I say it, a “medical marijuana” gathering? Yes. A thousand times yes.

But we’ll have to acknowledge that Americans are pretty good at the “Jackass’’ stuff. The United States swept the podium in men’s slopestyle skiing Thursday, with Joss Christensen getting gold, Gus Kenworthy silver and Nick Goepper of Lawrenceburg, Ind., bronze.

It was only the third time in Olympic history that the U.S. has swept the medals in a Winter Olympics event – the others being men’s figure skating in 1956 and men’s snowboard halfpipe in 2002.

But put that aside for a second and ponder the basic philosophical question that I believe Costas was getting at, however indelicately: Who was the first nominally sane person who said to himself or herself, “Let’s ski down some railings and then risk killing ourselves as we do spins on some very steep hills!”?

It seems like a natural question for us non-daredevil types.

To true believers, it’s ignorant to suggest that the sport seems to be made up, literally, on the fly.

For the sake of peace, let’s agree that slopestyle looks very, very fun. Competely insane, but fun. Competitors ski down a series of railings at the start of the course, the way skateboarders slide down railings along flights of stairs. Then they face a series of hills, off which they do soaring acrobatic tricks. Much of the skiing is done backward at a fast rate of speed. Some of it leads to spectacular crashes.

“When we’re done competing, we go out the next day and for fun, we go skiing,’’ Goepper said. “… NFL players, I don’t think for fun they go out on an off day and smash into each other.’’

The sport has its own language. Listen to Goepper describe the tricks he did on his second run Thursday.

“Switch-2, back-2 on the first dump down into a cork-3 hand-drag on the bonk and then a front swap pretz-2 on the down rail into a switch-2 misty-6 out of the wall ride and then a left-side double cork tall blind into a switch ride side double radio-9, a screamin’ seaman and then a right-side double cork-10 mute to Japan.’’

That’s how I saw it too.

Costas merely brought out the generation and culture gaps that exist, and although he ruffled the free birds’ feathers, it could end up being a good thing.

“I think it got more people’s attention about slopestyle skiing,’’ Goepper said.

At the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Lindsey Jacobellis was leading the snowboard cross when she tried to “style’’ on a small hill near the end of the course and fell, costing her a gold medal. That’s when the culture clash between old and new came most brightly to light. Those of us who think the Olympics are about doing everything you can to win were stunned at the stupidity of her move. Jacobellis didn’t understand the criticism that followed. Why (ital) wouldn’t (end ital) she try a trick? It’s what snowboarders do.

The X Games crowd has come around.

Swedish slopestyle skier Henrik Harlaut might have baggy pants and dreadlocks down to his shoulders, but he got his first ski equipment sponsorship when he was 11. It would seem to be an inherent conflict, as the countercultural snowboarders and skiers feed at the trough of the corporate world. It takes an amazing amount of dexterity to project the image of being against The Man when you have a zillion endorsement deals.

Times have changed. Maybe.

“There are definitely guys that are in the gym, dieting, doing stuff like that, and there’s definitely guys that are kind of just partying and having fun,’’ Kenworthy said, sitting with his fellow Americans. “And I think the three of us are kind of a good mix of that.’’

Party on, dudes. And win on, too.

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