Ski slopestyle preview: Friendship trumps competition, even at the Games
Even on the eve of their sport's debut at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, it is as much about having fun with friends as it is about competing to win a gold medal for the men of ski slopestyle competition.
Blowing by the assembled media hungry for quotes and insight, the skiers reconvene in groups at the chairlift, laughing, fist bumping, and sharing war stories of the last run, before piling on to the chair in groups (often with no discernable national allegiance) and smiling in the sun on their way back up to do it all over again.
2013 and 2014 X Games winner and 2013/14 world cup leader Nick Goepper (USA) typically puts down the most laps of any skier, usually trailed closely by one, two or all of his US slopestyle teammates Bobby Brown, Gus Kenworthy, or Joss Christiansen.
Even for Goepper, who is one of the most competitive athletes in the field, the time spent on the slopestyle course is as much a representation of his love of the sport as it is a dedication to best his fellow skiers.
"The one time we are all competitors is when we drop in and for the 45 seconds that occurs during our runs," Goepper commented recently after a training session in Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, "And then we get to the bottom (and watch the next skier on course) and we're like, 'Oh, he had a sick run'."
For Jossi and Beau-James Wells, the camaraderie runs deeper than friendship. The brothers ski, live, and travel together on both the slopestyle and halfpipe world tours, often accompanied by the rest of the sizable Wells clan, including their brothers Byron and Jackson and their father and coach Bruce.
"Beau and I came in and we've been hanging for a week now just having the sickest time," Jossi said, "We have a hotel room that we hang out in, we go out and eat food, come up here and hit a sweet course with all the homies that are here. It's pretty rad."
The sense of inclusion and border-defying friendship that runs through ski slopestyle has helped create a Sochi 2014 competition start-list that features potential medallists from most corners of the world.
Goepper is from the US midwest, the Wells boys are from New Zealand's south island, Russell Henshaw (AUS) is from Sydney, and James Woods (GBR) grew up skiing on a dry slope in Sheffield.
Follow the action on Thursday, 13th February at 1:30 pm (local time)!