Joss Christensen competes in the snowboard & AFP freeski big air finals during the Winter Games NZ at Cardrona Alpine Resort on Aug. 30, 2015 in Wanaka, New Zealand.
BOSTON – Fenway Park has expanded well beyond baseball in the past decade, hosting concerts, hockey, soccer and other non-Red Sox events. On Feb. 11-12, 2016, the venerable old ball yard will, quite literally, reach new heights.
That’s when Fenway plays host to Big Air at Fenway, a snowboarding and freeskiing event that will feature a snow ramp 14 stories high, chuting athletes from high above the light towers in center field to a resting spot near home plate. In between, they will perform tricks they hope will elicit the same response as a David Ortiz home run.
“I think if anything it will give you more adrenaline, give you that push to do a bigger, better trick or land a trick that you haven’t landed in a while,” said Sage Kotsenburg, the gold medalist in slopestyle snowboarding’s Olympic debut at the Sochi 2014 Winter Games, while standing down the right-field line Tuesday at Fenway.
“It’s stuff like that that is special and unique to the event. You put it in a stadium, you put it somewhere like Fenway Park, you’re going to have that adrenaline. You’re going to have a cool crowd at the bottom. I think it will be a pretty knowledgeable crowd, too, people that know skiing and snowboarding … a pretty organic crowd. It will definitely give you that juice to do something bigger and better.”
That extra juice is what prompted the Fenway Sports Group, which is organizing the event along with the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, to arrange the two-night showing in February that is sure to stretch the cozy park to its absolute limit.
“This is bigger and bolder than anything we’ve tried before at Fenway Park,” said FSM President Sam Kennedy.
Big air snowboarding will make its Olympic debut at the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, and skiing might soon follow suit. USSA Chief Marketing Officer Michael Jaquet, who called the event at Fenway a “coming-out party” for big air, identified Boston as one of the best skiing and snowboarding markets in the world and the park itself an opportunity that could not be passed up.
“When you add in Fenway Park and the magic that exists between these walls, we knew we were onto something, and that’s why we pursued it so vigorously,” Jaquet said.
|(L-R) Joss Christensen, Sage Kotsenburg, Ty Walker, Michael Jaquet and Sam Kennedy pose next to a schematic of the big air ramp at Fenway Park on Sept. 22, 2015 in Boston.
During Tuesday’s announcement at Fenway, Kennedy and others had to dodge baseballs hit by the visiting Tampa Bay Rays. He joked that it added to the atmosphere of the event, a summer sport being played where soon a mountain of snow will sit and some of the world’s finest snowboarders and skiers will wow onlookers.
That contrast is not lost on the competitors. They feel it will present the perfect stage to further the growing popularity of the sport.
“This will be huge just to showcase what we’re doing, to showcase our sport, to showcase big air,” said Joss Christensen, the slopestyle skiing gold medalist in Sochi. “It has been a sport in skiing and snowboarding for a long time, but people haven’t really watched it. It’s really spectator friendly.”
The Fenway event will be an officially sanctioned stop on the U.S. Grand Prix tour and FIS Snowboard World Cup tour. Athletes will compete for a grand prize purse of $150,000. It’s much more than the average tour stop, unique not only for its use of a baseball stadium but also for its position on the East Coast. Most of the athletes have performed primarily in Europe or on the West Coast.
The location puts the event close to where snowboarding has its roots, on the hills of Vermont. Ty Walker, a 2014 slopestyle snowboarding Olympian who won the first world cup big air competition, hails from Stowe, Vermont, and is excited to showcase her passion close to home.
“Just to be able to have this event in Fenway in a place that holds such tradition and significance and kind of a sports culture on the east coast, it’s such a landmark,” Walker said. “It really is special to me to have the opportunity to compete here.”
A video presented at Fenway on Tuesday featured clips of Kotsenburg, Christensen, Walker and others performing at various venues around the world. It was spliced with images of cheering Red Sox fans and shots of Fenway’s many famous features, allowing one to imagine the historic stadium as the backdrop for a blossoming sport that figures to be one of the more popular events in South Korea in three years.
“I think it’s perfect timing, just having the Olympics coming up,” Kotsenburg said. “I think it’s gonna bring a rad audience here and bring some buzz to the Olympics. I think big air will be one of the most talked about sports or events at the Olympics. We saw what slopestyle did last Olympics, and this is far more exciting.”
Thousands inside Fenway Park will discover that fact over two wild nights in February.