What to expect this weekend as snowboarders from around the world descend on Boston and take over the famed Fenway Park for a unique Big Air event.
The towering 37-foot wall in Fenway Park’s left field that grants and prevents extra bases has been affably dubbed the Green Monster longer than the existence of some Major League Baseball teams. The Citgo sign that sits behind it has made it into the majority of iconic photos of the ballpark over the years. The controversial foul pole in right field known as the “(Johnny) Pesky Pole,” close enough to home plate to turn a leaning fly ball into a home run, is named for a player who made his debut over 70 years ago. The deepest point of the 420-foot centerfield is within a triangle that has bounced baseballs around like pinballs for over a century.
Fenway Park, like any stadium its age, has many quirks. And so, during the first Big Air event in its long history, some of the world’s best snowboarders and freeskiers are going to teach Boston’s old dog some new tricks as they launch themselves off of a 150-foot jump erected in the outfield of the world-famous ballpark home to the Boston Red Sox.
The 2015-16 season has been one of Fenway Park’s busiest non-construction-related off-seasons ever. Ireland’s ancient Gaelic game of hurling returned for the first time since 1954 in the AIG Fenway Hurling Classic in November. High School football took over Fenway for four longstanding rivalry games played around Thanksgiving. Most notably, College football returned to Fenway for the first time since 1968 when Notre Dame played Boston College in the Shamrock Series in December.
On Thursday and Friday, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association and Fenway Sports Management will team up to bring a U.S Grand Prix and FIS Snowboard World Cup joint Big Air event to Fenway Park. The competition will feature freeskiers and snowboarders from around the world, including Olympic and X Games medalists and World Cup champions. Big Air at Fenway is the third stop on the FIS Snowboard World Cup tour and the second on the U.S Grand Prix tour. This event will be one of the biggest productions that the U.S Grand Prix, the longest running action sports tour in the world, has put on in its 20-year history. The same can be said of the 15-year tenure of Fenway Sports Management, which maintains and operates the Red Sox home field.
“From day one, our ownership group has challenged us to be big and bold in our efforts to bring dynamic events to Fenway Park. You know that saying, ‘Go big or go home’? Well, we don’t like to choose when it comes to bringing the very best in competitive sports and entertainment events to our fans and the community,” says Fenway Sports Management and Red Sox president Sam Kennedy. “Polartec Big Air is literally the biggest event we’ve ever hosted here, so it certainly fits that criteria.”
Big Air Fenway, given that it features only this event, will be similar to the three-leg Air+Style competitions held in Beijing, Innsbruck and Los Angeles. Tiger Shaw, President and CEO of the USSA, attended the Innsbruck stop of A+S at Bergisel Stadium in 2015. He called the experience an inspiration for this event.
“What was amazing about that night is that stadiums really lend themselves to this event. It was pouring rain the whole time and people were having a great time,” says Shaw. “They are in metro areas so you have a large potential audience to draw from. The novelty of holding it in a stadium, with seating, food, beverage; the atmosphere is already set up. All we have to do is erect a couple thousand pieces of scaffolding in the middle of a baseball field to pull it off. ”
Big Air Fenway comes during a very interesting time for the discipline of Big Air. In the spring of 2015, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) voted the snowboarding Big Air into the 2018 Winter Olympics for the first time. A ski Big Air was not added this time around, but the snowboard event, on the heels of the Slopestyle event that debuted at the 2014 games, shows continued elevation of the perception of professional snowboarding.
2015 was also the first year that the Big Air event was added to the women’s snowboard World Cup tour. It’s been a part of the men’s season since 2003. Long Island native Ty Walker, who won the first event in Istanbul, will be among the competing athletes this week alongside X Games Slopestlye favorite Jamie Anderson, who has long desired the return of women’s Big Air to the ESPN-backed event.
“I don’t think there is another stadium or sports arena that I’ve been to that has the same energy as Fenway. Not even close,” says Walker. “To be able to do my sport in such a landmark is really cool, especially at a place I’ve been to see people play baseball and football and perform in concerts. I can’t wait to leave my passion out there on the field.”
Between the 20th anniversary of the Grand Prix, the inclusion of snowboard Big Air in the Olympics and the progression signified by women’s Big Air in a major event, there are plenty of reasons to organize a special event in a special location. The fact is, though, that each party has its own things to gain from this event.
For FSM, this Big Air event is about highlighting the versatility of Fenway and a continued effort to re-energize the idea of the ballpark being a gathering place for the community. From the perspective of USSA, the Big Air event at Fenway is about the future of snowboarding and skiing events. The thing that both have in common: new fans. This event is meant to attract people coming to Fenway to watch a Big Air event despite having never before come to see a baseball game as well as people seeing their first live Big Air event because of the traditionally exclusive nature of hosting these events at ski resorts. The base desire of both parties is new eyes on a new event.
“This type of event is a first-of-its-kind for the ballpark and will appeal to a younger and broader audience than the typical fan who comes to see the Red Sox play at Fenway Park,” says Kennedy. “It’s a perfect fit for the New England Sports fan, aligns with our organizational focus on introducing a younger generation to Fenway and we feel we’ll have a great crowd on hand for both nights, possibly the biggest crowd ever for a Big Air event.”
Tiger Shaw first approached Kennedy and Fenway Sports Media with an interest in hosting an event in a major city a few years ago. The subject intrigued FSM enough that the idea was revisited internally last winter. After the Olympic announcement in the spring, the planning process to bring the event to Fenway picked up significantly.
In Shaw’s opinion, bringing the USSA events, the FIS World Cup, the Grand Prix, off of the ski resorts, out of the mountains and into more visible locations is the key to getting more eyes on their product and doing better to compete with the more mainstream sports like basketball, football and yes, baseball. Boston was a natural first choice, and while Shaw isn’t looking past executing this one coming up, the potential for Fenway and the city of Boston to become a fixed home of this event has crossed his mind.
“The ability to use crushed ice instead of fake snow on these jumps means that we can put one of these jumps pretty much anywhere,” says Shaw. “The key thing for us was to have a really good venue and a really good partnership. Fenway Sports Management is so polished at running events like this, and Boston is a Mecca of skiers and snowboarders that travel up and ski. The northeastern ski community is fed by the New England area. There are 20-plus colleges in the area. All of that combines to make this a perfect location for us.”
According to multiple participating athletes, Shaw and Kennedy have hit the nail on the head with this event. Several big names have expressed their excitement to be a part of the Fenway event. Sage Kotsenberg, the 2014 Winter Olympics slopestlye gold medalist, has been selective in the events he’s entering this season. He’s recently focused much more on street and backcountry snowboarding recently—he took part in the X Games but not in this season’s Air+Style tour—but said Big Air Fenway wasn’t one he could miss.
“I am going to be so excited! Getting to jump in the legendary Fenway Park is going to be so unreal. That was my draw to this event. I think it will be something that hopefully goes down in snowboard history and I want to be a part of it,” says Kotsenberg. “This will be a big start for the Big Air Olympic draw. Snowboarding’s roots are on the east coast, so there will be a lot of actual snowboard fans at the event.”
The Boston area received a little less than seven inches of fresh powder on Monday, so the riders at Fenway will have better conditions to deal with than ice or fake snow. It’s just another reason that Big Air Fenway is shaping up to be a major success.