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Heliskiing at the next Winter Olympics?

As you watch this year’s London Olympics you might catch BMX bike racing and think: I wonder how the ancient Greeks kept their tires inflated back then? Well, maybe that won’t be your initial impression, but you might wonder when BMX managed to squirm its way onto the roster of official Olympic sports. And you might also ask what happened to baseball and softball. Aren’t those sports internationally popular enough to keep their places as Olympic events?

Just how do sports come and go at the Olympic level? Finally, your imagination might get the best of you as you recall the inclusion of snowboarding back in Nagano’s 1998 Winter Games and think: will heliskiing ever become an Olympic sport?

Let’s start at the beginning – you’ve got time – there’s still a few months before it starts snowing in the northern hemisphere. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is in charge of admitting new sports and dropping others from year to year.

There a several regulations to be met before a sport be can be considered for inclusion. Perhaps the largest hurdle for any sport to overcome on its way to the podium is the formation of an international federation, or governing body, which regulates competition across borders.

Heli Take-Off, Photo by: Dave Silver

The sport must also have enough athletes and nations willing to compete in order for the IOC to even consider admitting the sport. And then there’s the problem of a 28 sport cap. If the roster is full already, a current sport must be booted before a new one can arrive. The entire process is lengthy, with the shortest possible time from application to Olympic competition at seven years! But heliskiers fear not, there are loopholes to be threaded.

International federations can be eschewed if the sport in questions can be admitted as a discipline of an already recognized Olympic sport. This is how BMX entered the Olympic scene so swiftly. It is a discipline of cycling – a sport with a well recognized and credible international governing body. This inclusion of disciplines of existing sports dramatically reduces the red tape blocking pure new sports like surfing or skateboarding. Additionally, this fast track of admitting new disciplines is how snowboarding got its foot in the Olympic door in 1998 – it had been accepted by the International Skiing Federation (ISF).

So where does this leave the sport of heliskiing as a potential Olympic sport? It’s easy to see that it would need to seek inclusion in the ISF first. International heliskiing competitions like the upcoming World Heli Challenge in New Zealand and King of the Hill in Alaska then would come under ISF jurisdiction.

There would also need to be enough competitors from enough difference countries looking to compete. This may be the largest obstacle. It stands to reason that enough countries will be represented, but will there be enough skiers? It’s a question only the IOC can answer, if in fact the sport of heliskiing ever arrives on its table. One thing is certain, however. Not more than 30 years ago snowboarders were ostracized and barred from many mountains. Now they complete for Olympic gold. Could the tide not turn for heliskiing as well?

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