Freestyle 101

2014 is a very big year for British Skiing and Snowboarding. From the 6th to the 23rd of February the Winter Olympics will be taking place in Sochi, Russia with freestyle at the very heart of the action. These games will see the debut of three new freestyle disciplines: Ski Halfpipe, Ski Slopestyle and Snowboard Slopestyle (with Snowboard Halfpipe having been present for the past four games) each of which Britain, despite having very little real snow, are in contention to win medals. It has been predicted that these new, exciting disciplines are likely to be the most watched of the games. Despite this prediction, I cannot help but wonder how many people will actually be able to understand the mind boggling complexity of freestyle snowsports. I myself have been snowboarding for over seven years now and it still hurts my head when I watch these sports and attempt to name each individual trick before the rider hurtles themselves off the next feature. It is for this reason that I’ve put together this guide to Freestyle Skiing and Snowboarding to help battle the jargon that commentators will be throwing at the nation during the 18 days of competition. So here goes; this is all you need to know about freestyle snowsports…

The Disciplines
As I said above, Slopestyle and Halfpipe have now been brought into the Games but these terms are very hard to understand without a proper explanation and viewing so below is a quick description of each discipline as well as a few pictures of the courses which will be used in Sochi.
Halfpipe – a U-shaped ditch in the snow; the pipe is 6m tall, 18m wide, 160m long and at a gradient of 18 degrees. Competitors ride diagonally up the sides of the halfpipe’s walls, take off at the top of the wall, perform a trick and then re-enter the same wall. Competitors have an average of 6 *airs out of the pipe in each judged run.
Sochi Halfpipe
Slopestyle – This is a course consisting of kickers* and rails*. Most courses – including the Olympic course – consist of three rail banks at the top followed by three kickers at the bottom. At each *rail bank there is an option of features to use to perform a trick on (one of which in Sochi is a giant Russian doll!). The kickers range from 20-25m from *take off to landing giving the rider plenty of airtime to perform their intended trick.
 Sochi Slopestyle 1Sochi Slopestyle 2
Scoring
 
Sadly when it comes to freestyle snowsports, determining a winner isn’t quite as easy as in running or cycling events. The judging of these sports are out of 100 and done in regards to 7 key areas:
  •  The execution of the trick e.g. was the trick performed properly with a correct take off and landing
  • The difficulty of the trick – Usually, but not always, the more spins and flips the harder the trick
  • The Amplitude – how much time the rider spends in the air (only applies to *kickers)
  • Variety – riders who show that they can spin clockwise and anti-clockwise will be rewarded higher than those who only spin in the one direction
  • Creativity – Does the competitor use the features in a unique way?
  • Flow – How well the rider is able to link trick together e.g. if they *revert during a run their flow score will suffer.
  • Progression – If the trick has never been done in competition is will receive extra points
 
Points are deducted for:
  • *Hand Drags
  • Sitting down and touching the snow with any part of your body
  • falling over completely
  • Incomplete execution of tricks e.g. under rotating a spin
  • falling of a *rail before reaching the end
 
Sochi Jumps
Naming Tricks
 
Naming freestyle snowboard and ski tricks is another difficult area to master but here are a few important points that will help you distinguish between a BS rodeo 720 and a FS triple cork 1440…
  • Spins are counted in degrees so a ‘360’ means they did one full turn. A ‘720’ means they did two full turns. A ‘900’ means they did two and a half full turns (meaning they would land *switch) and so on
  • It is likely that you will listen to the commentators shouting some rather odd words when calling a trick such as ‘stalefish’ or ‘melon’. These refer to the *grabs that are being performed. When someone invents a new grab (which rarely happens today) they are given the right to name it whatever they want and that’s why the names are so strange e.g. a ‘stalefish’ was named by skateboarder Andy MacDonald who apparently named it while on a skateboarding camp during which the only thing to eat was stale fish. Anyway, since I don’t have enough time to explain every grab in snowboarding and skiing I’ve found two websites (one for skiing and one for snowboarding) which explain the basic grabs pretty well – Snowboarding Skiing
  • When it comes to rail tricks it would probably be easier to be taught rocket science in Mandarin Chinese so I’m sorry but that is one part of freestyle snowsports that you’ll have to pick up as you watch it.
  • The final key point that you need to know about tricks is the word cork. Corking a trick refers to performing a spin while doing part of a flip at the same time. One cork is usually counted if the rider’s head is below their waist. If you don’t understand what I mean just search ‘cork 720 ski’ and there will be plenty of videos. At the moment most professional skiers and snowboarders are performing double and sometimes triple corks on the jumps so keep an eye out for them (especially in the halfpipe as no one has ever landed a triple cork in competition but rumor has it that Shaun White is hoping to try it…)
The Ones to Watch
Of course we will be cheering on the 12 British Freestyle Riders who will be at the games – full list of the team can he found here –  but as well as these riders there are a few who you should keep your eyes peeled for:
Snowboarders

Shaun White

  • Shaun White – Having won back to back gold medals at the last two winter Olympics in Halfpipe and 13 gold medals at the X-Games, White is a clear favourite to win the Halfpipe in Sochi. But the Halfpipe medal is not the only one he’s looking
    for. White has also decided to compete in slopestyle and has openly stated he wants the gold. He is one of very few riders to be competing in both freestyle events.
  • Ayumu Hirano – This 15 year old from Japan has been making some serious waves in competitive halfpipe riding over the past few years. Hirano is known for his big airs and smooth style making him one of White’s top competitors.
  • Mark McMorris – This Canadian has dominated slopestyle snowboarding for years now and is definitely the one to beat in Sochi. But while competing in the X-games just over a week ago he broke a rib meaning he will now be going into the Olympics with an injury.
  • Torah Bright – Torah was born in Australia and is looking to make a bold statement in Russia by competing in thee different snowboard disciplines – Slopestyle, Halpipe and Border cross (a race event which includes jumps and banked turns). Torah won gold in Halfpipe in Vancouver in 2010 but she has already said she wants more than one medal in Sochi.

Skiers

  • Henrik Harlaut
  • Henrik Harlaut – This quirky Swede has definitely made his mark on slopestyle skiing particularly with his signature *butter triple cork 1620. You never really know what Harlaut is going to do in his runs but you can always be sure that his post run interviews will make you chuckle.
  • David Wise – Having won every X-Games Halfpipe competition he’s competed in, Wise is the current favourite to win the Gold medal in Sochi
  • Lisa Zimmermann – Lisa  – having famously pulled out of an X-games final to return home for her English Exam – was born in Germany and is only 17 years old. Despite her young age  she is the only woman skier to ever land a double cork 1260 – a trick which most male competitors struggle to grasp. If the young German is able to put down the double cork in her slopestyle run in Russia she will almost certainly claim the gold but she has never attempted the trick in competition so anything could happen.
So that’s it, everything you need to know to watch Freestyle Skiing and Snowboarding at this year’s Winter Olympics. Hopefully this has helped clear thing up a bit and you’ll now be able to get the most out of the Games. Make sure you send the British riders a bit of support using #backthebrits and check out the schedule  to make sure you don’t miss the chance to show of your new freestyle knowledge…
Freestyle Team
Glossary
Airs – Time spent in the air after taking off a jump or Halpipe
Kicker – jump/ramp made of snow
Rail/Jib – a piece of metal or plastic which riders slide across. The rails come in all different shapes and sizes.
Take-off – the end of a kicker
Backside – This is a snowboard term referring to the directions in which they are rotating. Backside means they will be leaning on their toes and spinning clockwise if they are regular and anticlockwise if they are goofy(see below). It is called backside because your back is the first part of your body to be facing forwards when you start the rotation. An abbreviation for backside is BS
Frontside – This is the same as above except *regular riders will be rotating anti-clockwise and *goofy riders will be rotating clockwise. With frontside the first part of your body to be facing forward when you’re rotating is your front. An abbreviation is FS.
Revert – Skidding 180 degrees. This causes a decrease in their flow score
Hand Drag – Placing your hand on the ground on landing showing instability.
Butter – Putting pressure on either the front or back of the riders ski/board and pre-rotating before fully leaving the jump.
Stoked – Very Happy
Sick/Rad – cool
Grab – when a rider holds onto their board (different grabs have different names, see ‘naming tricks’ for details)
Goofy/Regular – All snowboards have a leading foot, goofy refers to someone who has their right foot as being dominant and regular refers to people who are left foot forward (it’s called ‘goofy’ because when Goofy went skateboarding for the first time in a Disney movie he was right foot forward).
Switch – this is either when a skier rides down the slope backwards or when a snowboarder rides down using their weaker foot (this is obviously harder so is marked higher in competition)
Bail –  falling over
Amplitude – how high the rider is in the air.
Stomp – Landing a trick in a very good position, with now hand drags or unbalance.
X-Games – arguably the biggest competition on the freeski/snowboard calender
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