What is ski cross? What is bordercross? There are a lot of disciplines in the Winter Olympics that you probably don’t come across a lot during the four years between the Games, but ski cross racing and boardercross racing can actually be two of the most exciting disciplines to watch when they're on.

Inspired by Motocross racing, Ski cross is a sport which pits four skiers against one another in a race. Its older cousin boardercross does the same for snowboarders only with six running the course at once instead of four - a change that was made ahead of the 2014 Olympic games in Sochi. Each of the racers start the course at the same time, firing out their allocated gates when the starting gun bangs and battling it out on a course that includes banked turns, jumps and other obstacles. The first one across the finish line wins.

As Canadian Olympic ski cross star Brady Leman (who came in an agonising fourth-place at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi) told us recently: “It’s super fun and exciting to watch. I love watching alpine racing but without the clock you can’t really tell what’s going on. It’s hard to tell sometimes. The 30 racers all look pretty similar.

Brady Leman in action on World Cup duties... Photo: Wikipedia Commons

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“In our race it’s really easy to tell what’s going on. The first guy to the bottom wins. It’s super spectator friendly. The races are short so the events are sort of short and sweet, and they’re just really exciting to watch. They pull you in and grab your attention.

“You find someone you like and start cheering for them throughout the race and the next thing you know they’re in the finals. It’s really engaging!"

Ski Cross Rules, Boardercross Rules and Format

Let's look at the rules of ski cross and boardercross competitions in a bit more detail.

It's a bit like a mix of slopestyle skiing/snowboarding and BMX racing at the same time.

Watching some footage of ski cross and boardercross is a great way to get to understand either sport quickly. Here’s a clip from the men's 2014 Winter Olympic ski cross and women's Olympic boardercross in Sochi to get you started.

And here's a video from FIS which should help you understand it even better. It gets right into the action!

So, that’s what it looks like, and that should give you a pretty good handle of the race, but what’s the format of ski cross and boardercross?

Well, they both start with one big seeding round. That’s where every athlete in the field competes alone on the course against only the clock, and their times are ranked against one another. The fastest person in the seeding run will be seeded number one, the second number two, and so on.

Torah Bright of Australia in action at the Sochi games. Although the freestyler was highly fancied she failed to make it far through the boardercross competition. Photo: Nick Atkins

At Sochi in 2014, there were 32 men in the ski cross and 28 women. There were 39 men in the boardercross and 24 women.

Using the men’s ski cross as an example, when each of the 32 athletes had completed their seeding run, they were then sorted into eight races of four in which to compete.

In each of these races, the competitors compete on the same course at the same time as their rivals, and the top two finishers from each race progress to the next round. After the seeding round in the Olympics, you've first got the 'last 16 race', then the quarter finals, the semi-finals and of course the finals, where the medals are won.

"The first guy to the bottom wins. It’s super spectator friendly. The races are short and sweet, and they’re just really exciting to watch"

In the Winter Olympics, this means that the final race is extra exciting, as it’s completed between four athletes, but of course there are only three medals up for grabs. It really is an all or nothing scenario, and thanks to this, the nature of the sport and the knockout format of the Olympic competition, it’s easy to follow as well.

Zoe Gillings-Brier of the UK racing in Sochi. Photo: Nick Atkins

Of course, when you put four skiers or snowboarders side by side on a course, racing at the same time, there's going to be collisions and crashes. Anyone who has skied on a busy piste will know that - and that's part of the excitement of ski cross and boardercross, but there are rules when it comes to contact.

Intentional contact by pushing, pulling or holding another competitors’ arm, leg or pole, and as such deliberately causing them to crash or slow down, is an automatic disqualification.

Ski cross and Boardercross Terms and Words to Know

FIS World Cup, Ski Cross. Image shows Brady Leman (CAN). Photo: GEPA pictures/ Oliver Lerch

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When Brady Leman tells you: “just having four guys on the course at once makes for a lot more action on the way down with all the jumps and rollers and banked turns" you'll probably either get immediately excited or confused.

Here are some ski cross and boardercross keywords, including rollers and banked turns, explained:

  • Air time: The time spent in the air after jumping, between take off and landing.
  • Banked turn: A turn which is inclined at an angle.
  • Bib: The big worn by each racer, featuring number for easy identification.
  • Big final: The final race of a ski cross competition, to determine the positions 1-4.
  • Small final: The consolation race in a ski cross competition, to determine positions 5-8.
  • Blocking: Deliberately getting in the way of a competitor.
  • Corner jump: A jump where the landing requires an immediate turn.
  • DQ1: Disqualification 1. For missing a gate - meaning you will be ranked last for the heat.
  • DQ2: Disqualification 2. For unsportsmanlike behaviour. Competitor will not be ranked.
  • Fall line: The imaginary line which follows the steepest gradient down the slope.
  • Heat: Each individual race in ski cross or boardercross can be called a heat.
  • Holeshot: The race to the first turn in a ski cross or boardercross race. Whoever gets to the first turn first will hold the leading position. It’s the best place to be for the rest of the race!
  • Kicker: A jump.
  • Rollers: A series of rolling, small jumps in the course. Competitors try to take these while maintaining speed, and so often fly over some of them and use others to jet them on to the next part of the course.
  • Seeding run: The time trial at the beginning of the event to decide each skier’s seeding for the heats/elimination rounds.
  • Step-up and Step-down: A jump where the landing is higher than the starting point is a step-up, and a step-down is a jump or drop onto a lower part of the course.
  • Table: A jump where the landing is on to a box-shaped feature at the same level or higher up.
  • Vertical drop: The total difference in elevation between the starting gate and the finish line.

What is the Course for the Ski Cross and Boardercross on at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics?

Here are the essentials behind any ski cross course or boardercross course:

  • It must be 800 to 1200 metres long
  • With an 150-250 vertical drop
  • The ladies and men use the same course
  • The course is a series of features - rollers, jumps etc
  • 50% turns of differing sizes and speeded between features
  • 25% traverses bumps and rollers
  • 25% jumps which must be 1-4 metres high and have appropriate landings
  • A drop down start gate must be used
  • The timing system is used for qualification/seeding run, and a photo finish for the final

And here are the courses for the ski cross and boardercross at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics! The left run is the ski cross course and the right run is the boardercross course:

Favourites for the Ski Cross and Boardercross 2018 Winter Olympic Gold

Zoe Gillings-Brier of the UK in action in Sochi. She will be representing the UK in Pyeongchang as well. Photo: Nick Atkins

The best place to look for a sign of who is going to excel at the Winter Olympics in ski cross and boardercross are the FIS World Cup rankings for either sport. The professional athletes from both ski cross and boardercross compete year round in their own respective world cup series, regularly meeting around the world to race it out.

Currently in the rankings, Swedish Sandra Naeslund is head and shoulders above the rest of the field in women's ski cross. Second behind her is German Heidi Zacher, and then it's tight between the rest of the field with Fanny Smith of Switzerland, Canadians Georgia Simmerling, Kelsey Serwa and Brittany Phelan and French skier Marielle Berger Sabbatel.

Swiss skier and 2018 medal hope Marc Bischofberger. Photo: Wiki Commons.

Swiss skier Marc Bischofberger. Photo: Wiki Commons.

The men's ski cross rankings put Swiss skier Marc Bischofberger first, Jean Frederic Chapuis of France second, another Swiss rider, Alex Fiva, third, and a multitude of riders in the near numbers below. Of course, Brady Leman will be one to watch as well having just missed out on the medal spots last time around.

In women's boardercross, Italian Michela Moioli is top of the rankings followed by French riders Nelly Moenne Loccoz, Chloe Trespeuch and Charlotte Bankes. American riders Lindsey Jacobellis (who has a famous Winter Olympic past featured in the video below) and Faye Gulini are also at the right end of the table.

The men's boardercross, if the leaderboards are to be believed, will be fought out by France's Pierre Vaultier, Aussie Alex Pullin, Austrian Alessandro Haemmerle and Italian Omar Visintin.

As far as Team GB goes, we've got Emily Sarsfield competing in the women's ski cross and Zoe Gillings-Brier to cheer on in the women's snowboard cross.

Of course, what makes boardercross so exciting to watch though is the pure unpredictability of the sport. Anything can happen at any time - whether that be an unexpected overtake, a slip on the slopes or a mass pile-up crash which lets an underdog stroll to the win. Just watch this...

When is the Ski Cross and Boardercross on at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics and Where to Watch?

The men's boardcross takes place on the 15 February, starting at 11am local time, which is - ahem - 2am UK time with the seeding runs. The big final is then scheduled for 14:45pm, or 5:45am UK time.

The women's boardercross takes place the next day on 16 February, kicking off at 10am local time, which is 1am in the UK. Lovely. Set your alarms. The big final is then scheduled for a much more reasonable, and very specific, 12:56pm, which is 3:56am in the UK.

The men's ski cross will take place on the 21 February, kicking off at 11:30 local time for the seeding run, which is - ahem - 2.30am UK time. The big final is scheduled to be raced at 14:35 local time or 5:35 UK time.

The women’s ski cross takes place at the same times but on the 23 February two days later.

You can watch all of the Winter Olympics on the BBC, on your television, red button or online.

Ski Cross Training and Boardercross Training

When it comes to ski cross training, we thought we’d better later Brady Leman do the talking. While the more you ski or snowboard the better you’re going to be at ski cross or boardercross, there’s also some pretty specific things you can work on to help you prepare for the kind of things you’ll experience in a race.

Ski Cross, men, award ceremony for the overall World Cup. Image shows Brady Leman (CAN). Keywords: medal. Photo: GEPA pictures/ Matthias Hauer

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The Canadian ski cross star told us: “We train a lot in the gym. Like for alpine skiing as well, but we probably do a little more gymnastics and acrobatic training. Just because we have to be in the air and know how your body is going to move and try and be balanced and that kind of thing.

“We build starts that we can use all year round. We use ski matting like you have in the UK, and we’ll put a start gate on it so we can practise our starts during the summer back home, and then obviously we’re all on the hill and practise skiing in groups so that we're comfortable being right next to someone or having someone right on your tail."

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