Longtime snowboard star Sébastien Toutant doesn't want big air to be all about quad
Canada's 6-time X Games medallist thinks single jumps like the quad shouldn't define the sport
If social media was as prevalent in 2006 as it is now, Sébastien Toutant may have been a household name years ago.
It was then a 13-year-old Toutant introduced himself to the snowboard world by winning his first pro big air event.
Showing off an assortment of tricks that even his older competitors had trouble completing, it was clear a star was born that night.
"I didn't realize how big it was. I was just there just to ride and have fun," Toutant told CBC Sports ahead of the Winter X Games, which begins Thursday in Aspen, Colo.
"Everything started there ... it taught me that I ride at my best when I'm having fun and don't put too much pressure on myself. It was a magical moment."
Within two years of that memorable evening, the L'Assomption, Que., native turned pro and began travelling the world to compete.
In less than a month he'll be a part of a loaded Canadian team in Pyeongchang, his second Games after finishing ninth in the inaugural slopestyle competition in Sochi four years ago.
Toutant remains a threat in both big air and slopestyle, with a number of World Cup podium finishes this season. Those include victories over fellow Olympic medal threats Mark McMorris, his Canadian teammate, and Norway's Marcus Kleveland.
Toutant and McMorris go back a long way, having met on the pro circuit when both were teenagers.
They became fast friends and when they weren't on the road, McMorris would visit Toutant in Montreal, where they'd challenge each other skateboarding, wakeboarding, or snowboarding.
"I think both of us are just really happy that snowboarding brought us to where we are right now," Toutant said. "The friendship is still there. We don't see each other as much as we want to outside of the sport but we [still] travel to all the same places all the time.
"Being grown up now and having more responsibility and stuff to do with sponsors, makes it a little different than when we were 14."
Bona fide star
Now 25, Toutant has grown into one of snowboarding's biggest stars.
As an X Games rookie in 2011, Toutant stole the show in Aspen with a gold-medal performance in slopestyle, including a then-record score of 97.00 in qualifying, previously held by American legend Shaun White.
After the event, White told ESPN, "I know where the level of riding is and where I need to be. I think I've witnessed the most amazing riding I've seen today."
Over a career that's includes five more X Games medals, Toutant prides himself on being part of the sport's evolution — giving fans the unexpected by performing new tricks to continually raise the bar as his snowboarding idols once did.
"It's harder these days to bring something new to the table," he said. "Sometimes it's just trying stuff differently — changing a grab — it brings a whole new element and opens doors to a new trick you never really thought about."
Toutant attributes his slopestyle success to being a creative thinker — making use of all the elements in a snowboard/ski park during practice as course designers continue to add new obstacles and features.
He says judges reward riders who put in time incorporating those changes into their tricks.
But while Toutant is an advocate for pushing the boundaries of the sport, he insists there needs to be a balance when it comes to how much new tricks, such as the quad, are rewarded.
He fears it could slow the progression of the sport.
"Nowadays people are saying that snowboarding is all about bringing new rotations or an extra cork." he said. "The way contests work, especially big air, it's all about bringing your best two tricks to the table. So if putting an extra 180 [degrees] gives you more points, people will do it."
Toutant knows big air is more about putting on a show for the fans as opposed to slopestyle, where the emphasis is on a complete performance rather than a single trick.
But he doesn't think that bigger should always mean better.
Toutant believes there's still room for variations of older tricks that should be valued just as much as adding an extra flip or rotation.
He adds that if a singular trick becomes the so-called gold standard, it sends the wrong message as riders may neglect everything else and just practise the same thing repeatedly.
"Contests will have to change their [scoring] format. The way it is right now, riders are just trying to do whatever it takes to win. I don't want people to look at a quad cork and be like, 'this is snowboarding.' There's so much more you can do than just doing four flips on your board."
Quad could be difference
Toutant isn't treating changing his approach just because it's an Olympic year. He knows what to expect the second time around, but the quad could be the ultimate wild-card.
"In big air, some people will probably do it," he said. "[But] I think some people could win without doing the quad. Slopestyle-wise, I don't think you need a quad to take it. But it's the Olympics and everyone is going to do whatever it takes to win.
"So if that day you need a quad, then we might see a couple."