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Shaun White launches new halfpipe league in hopes of bringing more prizes and visibility to action sports

Shaun White waves after competing in the men’s halfpipe final during the 2022 Winter Olympics in Zhangjiakou, China, on February 11, 2022.
Francisco Seco/AP

Shaun White is launching a halfpipe league that will offer more than $1.5 million in prizes over the course of a season in the hopes of rebuilding the long-disorganized action sports calendar.

The 37-year-old three-time Olympic champion, who will end his career after the Beijing Games in 2022is calling the new venture “The Snow League.” The first season will begin next March and extend beyond the 2026 Winter Olympics. There will be five events centered around snowboarding, with plans to introduce freeskiing mid-season.

“At the end of the day, we really want to be at the top. It’s great to be at the Olympics and win a medal, but this is like winning Wimbledon or the NBA finals. It’s almost more prestigious,” White said.

Although snowboarders capture the public’s imagination at certain times – especially during the Olympics – keeping track of the sport’s biggest stars – Chloe Kim, Scotty James and Ayumu Hirano – has always been an arduous task, as most halfpipe competitions are standalone events with irregular television and streaming schedules: Winter X-Games, Dew Tour and a series of Grand Prix stops that are not always connected.

White remembers competing for a $50,000 top prize in competitions in Japan as a child. Such prizes are rarer these days, and his league plans to reinstate them, along with a bonus for riders who win the season standings.

“It seems like a real need at the moment,” said Ian Warda, a former Burton executive who will serve as the league’s COO. “The sport is in an interesting transitional period, a critical juncture so to speak. Where do we go from here? I couldn’t be more grateful that Shaun is taking ownership of this and seeing it as something that is important to him, to nurture the next generation and build a better platform.”

White made it clear that he is not looking to displace the X-Games or any other event or tour – he just wants to give the sport a more reliable calendar with more lucrative prize money. He also wants to integrate the league into a complex Olympic qualification process.

Snowboard icon Shaun White hangs out and chats with people before the final of the World Polo Championship on Snow on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2022, at Rio Grande Park in Aspen.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

All of this fits well with what White has accomplished in his unique career.. As a teenager, he began essentially creating the game that is now played on halfpipes around the world. For decades, snowboarders struggled with the concept of competing for big money or even Olympic medals. White made that the norm, and now that he’s retired from competitive racing, he hopes to give his fellow riders a bigger canvas to perform on.

“If I could leave this sport in better shape than I found it, that would be great,” White said.

The league is still finalizing contracts with resorts and looking for the best possible media distribution model. US Ski & Snowboard director Sophie Goldschmidt supports the concept. Kim, the two-time Olympic championis one of the drivers White approached to support the new league.

“It will be great to have competitions that put more emphasis on the athletes and give us more opportunities to shine and do what we do best: snowboarding,” she said. “I’m grateful to Shaun for giving back to the sport and working tirelessly to improve it.”

Snowboarders are not unlike many professional athletes, where endorsements typically make up a larger portion of their income than prize money, but White would still like to see them holding bigger checks at the end of the events that have them flying all over the world for.

“A lot of athletes say, ‘Man, I just don’t want to fly to New Zealand and compete where I’m making $5,000 when the flight there and the hotel cost more,'” White said. “And who’s going to see it? I can post it on my social media page, but that’s it.”

The Snow League plans to send 20 men and 16 women to the competitions, which will be decided on a “championship day” with quarterfinals, semifinals and finals.

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