What Is Slopestyle? | Winter Olympic Guide For Pyeongchang 2018
Slopestyle explained. What is it? What are the judging criteria? When's it on at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang?
Both the skiing and snowboarding versions of slopestyle became Olympic events for the first time at Sochi 2014, meaning that Pyeongchang 2018 will be only the second time in history that the discipline has featured at this level.
The reigning Olympic champions in the ski slopestyle are Team USA's Joss Christensen, for the men's event, and Canadian Dara Howell, in the women's. Sage Kotsenburg and Jamie Anderson, both American athletes, are the reigning Olympic champions in the snowboard event. Famously, from a British perspective at least, Jenny Jones' 2014 Slopestyle bronze was GB's first ever Olympic medal on snow.
Slopestyle involves riders taking it in turns to go down a course consisting of obstacles such as rails, jumps, and various other park features. Points are scored for originality, amplitude, and the execution of the tricks.
History of Slopestyle
Slopestyle was developed as a snowboarding competition format in the late 90s and early 2000s at the Burton Open Series and other events that formed part of the Ticket To Ride (TTR) world tour (now known as the World Snowboard League) as well as the X Games. The terrain parks of the era increasingly began to include rails alongside jumps and halfpipes, and the idea was to create a contest format that reflected how most ordinary freestyle snowboarders actually rode the mountain.
As twin-tip skis (first released by Salomon in 1997) made it possible for skiers to land backwards, they too started competing in slopestyle events. The first X Games slopestyle contest was run in 2002 and was won by the legendary American skier and weed enthusiast Tanner Hall. Hall would later try to take on Jamaican citizenship in a bid to compete at the Olympics.
The other freestyle skiing and snowboarding events that feature at the Winter Olympics are moguls, Big Air, halfpipe and ski cross/boardercross. There are also older skiing events that predate the twin tip revolution, like moguls and aerials.
How is Slopestyle Judged?
As with any judged sport, the process of judging slopestyle in the Olympics has come in for some criticism. Riders and skiers who score low are routinely hacked off. But when you look at the process and the criteria used to judge slopestyle, it actually makes a lot of sense.
A panel of six scoring judges each write down their scores, deducting points if they think a rider has fallen slightly short on any of the obstacles. The highest and the lowest scores are then discounted to avoid any outliers or bias. The final score is an average of the remaining four judges scores.
"Sometimes when there’s a very tight decision, the head judge will leave you a little bit more time so you can compare the runs."
A head judge, who doesn't give his own score, oversees the process. Iztok Sumatic, a Slovenian who worked as a scoring judge on the last Olympics at Sochi, explained to our sister title Whitelines: "Sometimes when there’s a very tight decision, the head judge will leave you a little bit more time so you can compare the runs.
"So you have your memory board, where you put down all the tricks, all plusses and minuses and stars and smileys and whatever you put down, and you look back at that and compare the runs."
This is why judges sometimes spend longer deliberating, although they never talk to each other or compare notes. Sumatic also said: "At the end of the day it’s a subjective opinion but if the highest and lowest scores drop out then you get an objective score at the end. It's a democracy."
What are the Slopestyle Judging Criteria?
The points given by the six scoring judges are out of 100 and are awarded for overall impression, based on six key criteria.
Amplitude - How big a rider or skier goes over the jumps or off the rails. However unlike halfpipe, bigger is not always better. If a rider totally overshoots a landing for example, they won't be scored as highly as if they land right on the sweet spot.
Difficulty - It goes without saying that some tricks are more difficult than others. So for example a 1620 will score higher than a 1440 over a jump, and a 270 onto or off a rail will score more highly than hitting it straight.
Execution – How well a skier or rider executes a trick. Broadly speaking, this equates to "style". Landing cleanly will score you more than putting a hand down. Similarly holding a grab for the whole spin will get you more points than just tapping your board (or skis).
Variety - How different a rider's tricks are. Judges like to see riders and skiers mixing it up and showing they can spin all four ways. As a snowboarder if you do three identical 1620s off the three kicker features, you won't score as highly as someone who mixes it up by spinning frontside on the first one switch backside on the second and backside on the third. Similarly with skiers and leftside or rightside spins.
Progression - If a trick is brand new ie. has never been landed in competition before, it will score more highly. Sage Kotsenberg's 1620 with a unique holy crail grab in Sochi is a great example of this. Judges want to see the sport being pushed forwards.
Combinations or flow - This is closely linked to variety. Riders will score higher if they link features in a fluid manner. Reverting between obstacles (changing from regular to switch) is frowned upon. Creativity, or using the features in an unconventional manner, is rewarded. This could be particularly interesting given Pyeongchang's unusual Olympic slopestyle course.
The Slopestyle Course At Pyeongchang 2018
The Pyeongchang 2018 Slopestyle Course has been a hot topic of discussion since the plans for it were unveiled in November 2017. From a distance, it looks like your standard three rail sections followed by three kicker sections fare but on closer inspection it's clear that it's a far more complicated, and creativity-inducing, course than we're used to. It's got a lot of people excited. Including us.
The course has been designed by Schneestern, an Austrian company who are widely-recognised as among the best park shapers in the world.
For a brief overview, see the pictures and captions below. For something a bit more in-depth, be sure to check out this Pyeongchang 2018 Slopestyle Course analysis over on our sister site Onboard.
Key Slopestyle Terminology
If you're new to slopestyle, chances are you'll hear a lot of words and phrases you're not familiar with. Common names for snowboard grabs, for example, include mute, indy, nose, melon, stalefish and tail. Ski grabs names get even crazier - the UK's James 'Woodsy' Woods has a signature trick which features an octograb, and there's even one called the screaming seaman.
Spins over jumps or rails are measured in degrees 180, 360, 540, 720, 900, 1080, 1260, 1440, and 1620 are the digits to listen out for. This Olympics we may even see an 1800 degree spin, something that only a handful of riders (including the UK's Billy Morgan) have landed so far. Sometimes, trick names are shortened to just the first number and a grab name. For example, athletes may land a "backside 9 tail" or even just a "back 9 tail".
Corks might bring to mind those two bottles of fizz that you've been holding back for a special occasion, but in slopestyle they refer to spins that are off-axis, which orientate the rider sideways or upside-down with their head and shoulders dropping below the level of their feet. A double cork spin involves the rider's head dipping twice, a triple cork three-times and so on.
The frontside/backside stuff is easy to remember. If the rider has their back to the direction of travel on take-off, this is backside. Chest forward on take-off is frontside. On rails, it's about whether you approach the rail with your chest closest to it (frontside) or your bum - it's not about which direction you slide down the rail. Instead of frontside and backside, skiers talk about leftside and rightside spins.
You'll often find commentators talking about riding switch. In skiing this means going backwards, in snowboarding it means riding with your un-natural foot forward. So a "switch back 10 double" is a trick that involves riding the wrong way off a jump, spinning 1080 degrees, and dipping your head below your board twice. Still following?
Just to make things even more confusing, switch frontside spins are more commonly known as cab spins.
The Competition Format for Slopestyle at the Olympics
To get to the final, 30-32 competitors will throw down two runs. The best scoring of these two runs is the athlete's final score. In the men's ski format at the Sochi games of 2014, the top 12 skiers qualified for a final two runs. Joss Christensen took the gold with a best run score of 95.8.
In the men's snowboarding version of the event at Sochi 2014, the top eight qualified for the final with an additional four finalists coming through a semi-final heat. Billy Morgan, of Team GB, qualified for the final in Sochi via the semi-final route.
Where and When to Watch the Olympics in the UK
The Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics will be shown live on BBC One and BBC Two in the UK. You'll be able to stream the winter Olympics online in realtime and catch up with full broadcasts on BBC iPlayer.
Mens' snowboard slopestyle qualifiers will take place on February 10th starting at 10.00 Korean time which is 1.00 in the morning UK time.
The mens' snowboard slopestyle final will kick off on February 11th at 10.00 Korean time or 1.00 in the morning UK time.
Women's snowboard slopestyle qualifiers are on February 11th at 13.30 Korean time, or 4.30am UK time.
The women's snowboard slopestyle final is on the 12th February at 10.00 Korean time or 1.00 in the morning UK time.
Ski slopestyle qualifiers and finals will be held on the same day in Pyeongchang, with the women's ski slopestyle qualifiers kicking off at 10.00 Korean time (1.00am in the UK) on 17th February, followed almost immediately by the finals.
The men's ski slopestyle qualifiers and finals are start at the same time on the following day (February 18th).