Op-Ed: Film Segments vs. Competitions

Clayton Vila sounds off on the importance of film segments over competitive skiing

PHOTO: COURTESY OF CLAYTON VILA

Ed’s Note: Clayton Vila, a K2-sponsored skier, recently released “The Creep”, an all-encompassing video part of his footage from Teton Gravity Research, Poor Boyz Productions, and Stept Productions.

Words: Clayton Vila

My sport, as I know it, is called freestyle skiing. According to the Oxford American College Dictionary, “free” is defined as “not under the control or power of another; able to act or be done as one wishes.” The second part of the adjective is “style”—defined as “a manner of doing something.” Combing the definition within the context of “freestyle skiing” is: “a manner of skiing in which one is not under the control of another; able to act or be done as one wishes.”

I am not a writer. I am a skier. However, the reason I am writing this is to explain to people why I do what I do—I make video segments. However, my issue is that the average professional skier and typical up-and-comer are not focused on creating movie segments. They’re focused on competing, and I believe this is limiting the progression of our sport.

For competition skiers, the definition of freestyle skiing doesn’t apply. One enters a competition to win. To win, a skier has to satisfy a panel of judges. To satisfy a judge, a skier has to do exactly what they want to see to obtain a higher score than the others. What the judge’s scorebook considers to be as close to “perfection” as possible. But how do you define perfection in freestyle skiing? There is no perfection, so the circuit has to pay somebody to define perfection that day.

Competition skiing and making video segments have reached a fork in the road. They have branched off so drastically that each has become a separate discipline and sport all together. This a serious problem. I believe that every skier, competitor or not, should be at least somewhat focused on making video segments to show how they really wish to ski.

I admire skateboarding for their professionals’ focus on making segments. If you look at the skater list for the 2012 Street League, you will find that all 24, with the exception of Chaz Ortiz and Nyjah Huston, established their career by creating a great video segment. More importantly, all 24 of them still dedicate a majority of their efforts to making segments. It is no mystery why their sport has progressed in so many directions.

It’s a huge, highly respected accomplishment to win an event such as Street League, but your video segment is what defines you as a skateboarder, to the involved viewers and from professional to professional. There are hundreds of professional skateboarders who only make video segments, and are, or have been, monumental influences to skateboarding without competition. Now, take a look at the Winter X Games ski slopestyle invite list. You will find that only two out of the 10 dedicate any portion of their career today to creating a segment in an uncontrolled environment. In halfpipe, zero out of 16. And no, a few dub 10s in a park segment doesn’t count as a segment.

Competition skiing is sick, but as a result of the mass of skiers trying to impress the same judges following the same scorebook, everyone is going to ski in the same manner if they want to win. This is turning a sport that used to be about freedom of expression into a sport of robotic calculation. Competition skiing is getting more and more stale every year. It’s often difficult to distinguish one skier from the other these days.

“That is a huge reason why I don’t compete,” says Level 1 film skier Parker White. “My style of skiing doesn’t fit into that mold that X and Dew have created. Not only do I not fit, I also don’t agree that the style of skiing that has become so popularly commended is necessarily better.

“When Henrik [Harlaut] didn’t win Winter X Games Big Air with his never-been-done before [single corked] rodeo 1440 blunt… It’s far easier for judges to justify their scoring mathematically, which is why style and creativity becomes so unimportant in competition. In a segment, success relies almost solely on style and creativity,” White says.

Ski movie segments have always been such a powerful inspiration to our sport. In order for a segment to be successful, it needs to be something that people have never seen before. Sometimes, one trick can be enough to make a segment valuable. Often, someone will do tricks that they could never land again. The point is the athlete needs to make change somehow for it to be notable. Whether it is through new tricks, new locations, new style—a great segment must progress the sport. This is why segments provide a superior level of progression. Furthermore, the segment’s release is not the only time it has an impact on our sport. To a skier, they are timeless.

“When I was working at a Salomon Jib Academy, I was asking the kids trivia questions for product,” says Nick Martini. “When I asked, ‘Who won X Games Slope in 2003?’ there was no response. Then I asked, ‘Who had the opener in [Poor Boyz Productions’ 2003 film] Session 1242?” and everyone raised their hand, saying ‘Tanner Hall!’”

Ten years later, I still watch that segment, and skiers still do variations of five bunts just like Tanner. When a revolutionary segment is created, it sends the industry into a hundred directions, and these directions maintain for years, even decades.

I’m not telling competitors to stop competing. I’m asking them to refocus their efforts. There’s so much badass shit happening in the film side of our sport. The more people who are trying to make a great segment, the more the companies will support ski movies, and the more styles of having fun on skis will be discovered.

To all you kids trying to make a name for yourselves right now, don’t feel like being the number one competition guy is the only way to do it. To the professional athletes in our sport: Let’s stop focusing the majority of our efforts to just one of the thousands of ways to use your skis. Creating film segments has no limits. Let’s assure that our sport’s future is endless. Grab your cameras, and go ski however the f*ck you want.

Posted In: First Chair

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  • http://twitter.com/johnnystifter John Stifter

    I back this. Although competitions certainly exist for good reason and allow a bunch of people to evolve their skiing, they do seem to look rather robotic now. That doesn’t mean evolution is stunted. Instead, it appears monotonous, comparatively.

  • BroBomb

    Burn the Dew Tour to the ground!

  • Paul

    Such truth! The Henrik example is so on point. With so many riders putting down the same dub 10/12 high mute, it’s time to at least try a different grab.

  • http://paulprins.net Paul Prins

    There was a time we as a sport needed the exposure these events bring. We needed to expand the understanding of how people viewed skiing (a problem that snowboarding did not have). That was a decade ago, and today Clayton nailed it. We have let competitions become the sport.

  • calvin

    is this a gopro ad? just kidding that was a really well written article. Videos aren’t nearly as profitable as the x games and dew tour so the industry resists it. Kids want to get hooked up with the big companies, and the big companies want money. Of course kids will naturally head straight to freeflow tour if it could mean free pairs of skis, and of course companies are interested in the kids who do the best at competitions because they will make them the most money when people at home watching x games see some kid riding they’re skis and getting medals. You cant blame the kids for wanting fame and free shit, and you cant blame the event organizers because they have no problem draining all the creativity out of a sport for profit. Its the big ski companies that are have killed “freeskiing” by selling out of skiing. its the fucking man, man. stop buying salomon, stop buying atomic. they’re draining the “freedom” and they’re draining the “style” out of skiing.

  • ABM

    Well said and totally true! But the filming exposure or the exposure of a true freestyle skier is not available to everyone and it’s so hard to get if you are not filming with the big companies or simply do not have someone to film you! That’s why even if some people would like to only film urban parts, do new stuff and be creative they need to do competitions to be able to get some support from sponsors and be able to ski some more!

  • http://twitter.com/kaufmanwithak AK

    They’re both fine. And yes different. Makes sense that those who are better at the creative film side prefer it. Those that make bank through high exposure comps, prefer those. But CV wrote up the point well. Props to that. Now ski. However you like.

  • HJ

    I am a huge fan of Clayton, and a fellow K2 skier, but If it wasn’t for this article being posted on my news feed I probably would have never seen his online part (which by the way, is the best thing I have seen in a long time!)

    While I agree with everything Clayton points out in his article, I have a serious problem with how ski movies are made and edited. The movies are boring!!! I would love to see more movies with solid segments, where people dont talk about how fun skiing is, how “gangster” they are, how much snow they got that particular year, how fast the sports is progressing, or where 2-5 people share every single “segment” in the movie… I would like to see stand-out performances by individuals who have enough footage to fill their own segments.

    To me, ski movies have become mediocre travel documentaries which emphasises more on the locations than the skier(s) in the segment… they certainly no longer feel like an outlet for creative/good skiers to show what they can do.

    I feel like the real problem right now is that the level of competition skiing far surpasses the quality of the video parts that are put out. I am not saying that the competition skiers are better then the filmer guys, but I do feel like the filming skiers spread themselves too thin. E.g. why would Clayton not just film one good segment instead of trying to film with 3 different companies..? If a video part is what defines you as a skier (or skateboarder) why wouldn’t you film a (read one) video part that you feel reflects you a person/athlete, instead of trying to film 3?

    Maybe the problem isn’t the focus on competitions, maybe it’s the lack of quality movies which fail to inspire both up-and-coming skiers and the skiing professionals.

    I am sure film companies will start making more money once they start making good movies and are able to inspire skiers again.

    side-note: Compared to snowboarding, skiing is up there when it comes to competitions. compared to snowboarding, skiing is lagging way behind when it comes to online edits and full length videos.

    • HJ

      The biggest problem on the competition side of skiing is without question the judging… The focus on doubles is ridiculous. If you can make a 1080 look as cool as a double cork 1080, I think they should be scored about the same…

  • Brent Hahn

    Why is progression so important? I know a hell of a lot of 65+ skiers out there who haven’t tampered with the left, right repeat formula and are still having a grand ol time out there. Just because you can do a triple whosewhatzit with a cherry on top, doesn’t mean you’re out there curing cancer. Skiing is just fun, always has been, always will be, regardless.

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