Speed, jumps, drops, and the occasional collision—that’s the essence behind boardercross (also referred to as snowboard cross), a team sport that pits four to six snowboarders against one another as they navigate their way through a fast, narrow course all with the same goal: to be the first to pass the finish line.
You’ll see boardercross at the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi—here’s what you need to know about the sport.
Born in Whistler, British Columbia
In the early ‘90s, American snowboard filmmaker Greg Stump was making a series, “Greg Stump’s World of Extremes.” While filming an extreme ski contest on Blackcomb Mountain in Whistler, BC, Greg and his partner, Steven Rechtschaffner, were stumped on what to cover for the final episode of the series. They decided to build a motorcross-style course in the snow, and spent the night shaping the course with a snow cat.
And so, on a spring day in 1991, boardercross was born. The jist: send seven snowboarders down the makeshift course and see who would come out first.
Let the Competition Begin
The X Games is the Big Kahuna of extreme sports competition, and boardercross was part of the first Winter X Games in 1997. In fact, it was the longest running Winter X‑Games event until it was cut from the roster in 2013, a “business decision” that was supposedly made due to the waning popularity of the sport.
On the Olympics side, boardercross is still going strong (though it is called snowboard cross in the Olympics). It made its debut in the 2006 Winter Olympics.
Every boardercross course is a little different. They all slope downhill and are usually quite narrow. Since multiple riders (usually four) compete at a time, the narrowness of the course means getting competitive with your opponents to get–and stay–in the lead.
Courses include several features—steeps, flats, drops, berms, gap jumps, and so forth. Riders need to stay in control while navigating these obstacles, without losing any speed.
What You Need
The main piece of equipment needed for boardercross is, of course, a snowboard. The best boards for the sport are typically a little larger and heavier than your everyday freestyle board. You’ll want something with a relatively stiff flex that is fast and responsive. Grab a full-face helmet (it can be a contact sport, after all), some tighter outwear (perhaps less stylish than traditionally baggier snowboard garb, but it helps minimize wind drag) and perhaps some protective gear to wear underneath your outerwear.
Oh Yes—You’ll Also Need Skills
Boardercross is a lot of fun—the course is built for speed, and the ups, downs and turns can feel a little bit like a roller coaster ride. If you consider yourself a skilled snowboarder who likes going high speeds and can straight-air 15 foot jumps, you’ll probably have quite a good time playing around on a course.
But it’s a whole different ballgame when you add a few other competitors to the course. Normally snowboarding isn’t done with other riders immediately beside you, so the feeling is a little unnatural at first. Crashes at high speeds and collisions are part of the sport. Impeccable control on the board is an absolute must.
Who to Watch For
There are strong athletes from several countries in boardercross, making it an especially exciting sport to watch. USA’s Scott Wescott has claimed gold in the men’s snowboard cross in both the 2006 and 2010 Winter Olympics, and he will definitely be one to watch in Sochi. Canada, France and Switzerland are also quite competitive—Maëlle Ricker of Canada places first in the women’s snowboard cross in 2010 (on her home mountain, Whistler) and will be competing once more in Sochi.
Boardercross is a fantastic sport for spectators, so be sure to check out the races in the 2014 Winter Olympic Games!