Industry Heavyweights: Mel Simmons, Snowboard Judge.

Being a judge in any event is tough. There will always be one competitor who feels like they were hard done by, therefore it’s essential that the judging format is open and organised so that everyone knows exactly what needs to be done to podium and complaints can be quashed. Snowboard judging is no different in that sense and this job requires not only an extensive knowledge of the sport but a clear head under pressure. Mel Simmons lives Snowboarding and travels the World judging some of the sport’s major events. Here we got to chat about her life on the contest circuit.

What exactly is your job description?
I evaluate humans who tear shit up at international pro level snowboard contests, often I am the head judge.

How did you become a snowboard judge? Were you a pro rider before?

Actually, I was just in the right place at the right time. I was hooked up for sure, but all my buddies were pro riders and judging was a way to get paid to watch them ride. At that time, SnowParkNZ was going nuts hosting some banger international events. Slopestyle was the new black and NZ/Aussie were killing it on the event front and they needed judges, so my career was pretty fast tracked. I was launched to the global Tour much quicker than most.

Do you need to have a knowledge of snowboarding before you become a judge? what is the process to become a judge?
Most definitely. You have to know your shit for sure, experience, experience, experience.

You get certified, judge a ton of events, get certified again, judge a ton more events that’s pretty much the cycle… IJC/WST Pro Judge accreditation is examined bi-annually & WST/WSF Judge Forums are held each year in Europe and North America, they’re open to anyone. You should come check one out – the EU Judge Forum is in Munich this December 😉 go on…

Inside the booth with the pannel of judges.

Inside the booth with the pannel of judges.

Is the judging the same for men as it is for women?
The evaluation criteria is the same, yes. The scale however, maybe a little more lenient on the ladies & a little less on the lads, but the criteria remain the same..

Have you ever had a rider come up to you that isn’t happy with the score you gave them?
Often. But being only one of however many judges are on panel, all you can do is explain your perspective.

Has a rider been scored only for you to watch a replay later to realise you made an error?
Yes. It happens. Especially when live scoring, judging from video feed, if/when that feed craps out we don’t get the shot. We re-run the Rider when it does. For the most though, media aside, if you miss anything minor as an individual you have the rest of the judges to set you straight.

A lot of contests were cancelled last season, do you think they will be back on now the Olympics are done or are we still in a decline?
The economic climate within the snowboarding event industry is feeling it for sure it’s definitely mellowed out a bunch. I feel like we’ll see it decline further before we see an increase again. That said, the events are determined to make it happen.


Should this podium be different?

Should this podium be different?

Do we need snowboarding in the Olympics?
WE don’t. But many of the riders do. So many nations base their government funding allocations for their high performance athletes on FIS results. That’s starting to change however.

What did you make of the judging in the Olympics, was it right?
It’s easy to weigh in on this, play armchair expert & spit shit all over the way FIS rolls, but the fact is I don’t judge FIS events. I’ve done one world cup level event a couple of years ago in NZ where I was granted an one-off accreditation that “allowed” me to be there because my nation required it of me. I’m not a FIS Pro judge & can only comment on this based on their criteria & judging regulations.

They re-wrote their playbook at Sochi. If they’d judged by the criteria that they have used at every world cup stop leading up to the Olympics, the outcome should most certainly have been different…
That said though, I’m super stoked for Sage – such a beast!”

You know most of the riders personally, how do you keep it professional and not reward extra points to a friend of yours?
Aside from a select few, I generally keep my relationships with the Riders pretty surface, we’re buddies enough to hug & high 5, how-you-doin’ & such. I’m open just enough for them to be comfortable enough to approach me about anything, but any deeper than that crosses a professional boundary. As a judge, & more importantly as a female in a male dominated part of our industry, having a Riders respect is more important to me than having their friendship. It’s key to my credibility.

Have you ever lost a friendship due to giving someone a low score?
Haha not yet!

Are doubles still getting marked higher than flat spins?

I prefer flatspins, but like anything it all comes down to execution…


Double corks, not necessarily marked higher. Seppe Smits does one anyway. Photo: Red Bull

Double corks, not necessarily marked higher. Seppe Smits does one anyway.
Photo: Red Bull


How many times have you been to a contest where the set up was so bad that you were worried for the riders’ safety?

Have you ever marked a run only to find every other judge disagrees with you?
Yes. But I was right.

Have you ever missed a hand drag or a revert because you had to sneeze or blink?
Hahaha maybe! For the most though I’ve missed a hand drag or a revert because of the way the course is built and we can’t see the landing directly but we have replay cams & spotters for that.