Boston's Fenway Park has some experience with big air events. There's the home run by Ted Williams on June 9, 1946, for example, which sailed 502 feet before it plonked a napping construction engineer on the head—a monster blast commemorated by the stadium's famous Red Seat, in Section 42, Row 37, Seat 21.
The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association wants to make their own mark on Fenway: last week, it announced that the ballpark will host the "biggest and best big-air competition in the history of the sport" this February, to be aired on NBCSN. This announcement comes a month after the IOC's decision to include big air snowboarding as a medal event in the 2018 Winter Games. With all due respect to the USSA, though, we think big air athletes will have a hard time outdoing Williams.
Big air requires a big ramp: 110 feet tall, to be exact—at Fenway, it will tower 73 feet above the Green Monster. The ramp will run from centerfield, where Mookie Betts has been fun to watch in an otherwise dismal Red Sox season, to home plate.
For the athletes, Fenway provides a high-profile venue and a welcome change to their usual on-mountain circuit. Michael Jaquet, chief marketing officer of the USSA, told Sports Business Daily that the NHL's decision to play the Winter Classic at Gillette Stadium rather than Fenway opened the schedule for the big air event. Skiers and snowboarders say they're stoked.
"City big airs are tight," says Vinnie "Cash" Gagnier, the big air gold medalist at the 2014 Winter X Games. "The crowd is always at its best, and the invite list is usually small and very strong."
Urban big air events are not new. As one of the only forms of snow sports that can be hosted in enclosed spaces, they are likely candidates for stadiums looking to host events during the off-season. From 2005 to 2007, the Icer Air event took place at AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants. The Air + Style ski and snowboard competition series, of which snowboarder Shaun White is a majority owner, began in Innsbruck, Austria, in 1993 and has held events in Beijing, Munich, and Los Angeles.
Big air can happen in stadiums, but the nature of the competition changes when it's not held on a mountain. "With city big airs, the snow is basically a thin layer of manmade shaved ice on top of wooden boards being suspended in the air by scaffolding," says Gus Kenworthy, who won Air + Style's big air skiing event at the Rose Bowl earlier this year. "[They] present a different set of challenges to other big air events, such as limited practice time, since the snow melts so quickly."
Fenway Sports Management, the ballpark's resident marketing agency, reports that it's expecting slightly fewer attendees than for a baseball game but more people than for any other non-baseball event. Although the USSA and the Fenway Sports Management team are hoping for a big turnout, East Coast venues in the U.S. have traditionally struggled with poor weather and middling crowds.
"The organizers need to be prepared for the generally unpleasant weather," says Alex Kaufman, communications director for Ski the East, a retail and media outlet for the East Coast ski community. "It has the potential to be fantastic. Watching that thing from the top of the Green Monster would work out pretty well. These events in the past have a bit of a checkered history—skiing was never meant to be done on scaffolding. That said, we're rooting for this thing to do well, and we'll probably be down near the venue drinking beers and selling swag."
Urban big air events allow people to see the sport who don't live near a ski hill or might not otherwise have access to snow-sports competitions. As the USSA continues to promote the various disciplines within skiing and snowboarding, you can count on other large-scale venues in the country hosting similar events.