What is Halfpipe? | Winter Olympic Guide and Preview For Pyeongchang 2018

We run through the basics, essentials and Olympic favourites for the ski and snowboard halfpipe

What is halfpipe? Is there a difference between snowboard halfpipe and ski halfpipe? Where can you watch the snowboard halfpipe and ski halfpipe if you’re in the UK?

Halfpipe at the Winter Olympics is quickly becoming one of the most hotly anticipated events of the Games. It’s still a relatively new discipline but it’s short, action-packed and easy to follow.

The Basics of Halfpipe

Torah Bright sending it in Sochi. Photo: Nick Atkins

A halfpipe is a U-shaped ramp or course which has been purpose-built for sporting use. It’s typically used by skateboarders, BMX riders, snowboarders and skiers, who use the ramp to propel themselves into the air, where they’re able to pull tricks before landing again and continuing on to do the same on the other side of the pipe.

We’re going to focus on the snowboarding and skiing halfpipe events as we approach the Winter Games.

The term ‘superpipe’ is used to describe a halfpipe built of snow with walls 22ft/6.7m high, and this is what the measurements will be for the Olympic halfpipe.

FIS snowboard world cup rules recommend a width of 64ft for 22ft high halfpipes. 22ft superpipes are commonplace for all major events, and the same halfpipe is used for both the halfpipe snowboarding and halfpipe skiing events in the Winter Olympics.

It’s great fun to watch. Each athlete drops into the halfpipe individually and completes a run down the length of the pipe, doing as many jumps and tricks as he or she can manage, to the best of their ability, and then whoever comes out the pipe at the bottom with the best score wins.

The scores are decided by a panel of judges, who judge the halfpipe athletes on a range of things – namely their style, skill and the difficulty of their run.

Origins of Halfpipe and Inclusion in the Winter Olympics

Ben Kilner gets some serious air on the half-pipe in the 2014 Olympics. Photo: Nick Atkins

The first halfpipe was built was back in California in the early 1970s. Skater Tom Stewart wanted to recreate the experience of riding on water pipes in the central Arizona desert in a more convenient location. He spoke to this brother Mike, who was an architect, and the rest if history.

Halfpipes started popping up in snow resorts in the middle of the 1980s and were primarily used by snowboarders, but they tended to be rough to ride in those days and were hard to maintain before the invention of the halfpipe grooming machine.

A farmer called Doug Waugh created the Pipe Dragon in the 1990s to solve that problem, and his machine would be innovative in the future of the halfpipe on snow. It was basically a huge bit of farming equipment that cut huge pipes out of even bigger piles of snow. Now that it was possible to maintain a quality halfpipe, a lot more ski and snowboard resorts started to bother building one.

The Pipe Dragon would go on to be used in both the 1998 and 2002 Winter Olympics. The machine used to cut halfpipes now is called a Zaugg Pipe Monster. Zaugg are a company based in Switzerland and their Pipe Monsters have been used to build WInter Olympic halfpipes for years now.

Snowboarding halfpipe as a sport was first included in the Winter Olympics in 1998 in Nagano in Japan. Skiing halfpipe didn’t follow until much later – making its Olympic debut in the 2014 Winter Olympic games in Sochi, Russia.

Snowboard and Ski Halfpipe Rules and Format for Winter Olympics

Kaitlyn Farrington of the USA in Sochi. Photo: Nick Atkins

In the halfpipe, each contestant drops into the pipe, completes the best run they can, and then comes out the otherside.

When they are finished a panel of six judges allocated them a score ranging from 1 to 100, with 100 being the best possible mark. They are ranked on a range of things, including amplitude/height, difficulty of run, variety of tricks, execution of tricks and progress of the run

Each athlete competing in halfpipe has the chance to do two qualifying runs in the Winter Olympics. The top 12 scoring athletes from qualifying then go through to the final.

No scores are carried through from qualification but each athlete gets the chance to do three runs in the final – a newly introduced rule, it was previously only two – and whoever has the best individual run at the end wins.

Expect snowboarders and skiers to put down a solid but slightly easier run in the finals with their first run, to get a score on the board, before trying to build on that by doing more difficult and extreme tricks in their next two runs.

The athletes with the top three scoring individual runs from finals take bronze, silver and gold.

Favourites for the Winter Olympic Halfpipe 2018

The one and only Shaun White in action! Photo: Nick Atkins

For men’s halfpipe, it’s tough to look past Shaun White, who is coming back for his fourth Olympic Games and who recently scored a perfect 100-point run in qualification for the Olympics. Of course, he’ll have to be on the very top of his game to beat Ayumu Hirano – the Japanese 19 year old who took the silver medal at Sochi and has upped his riding in all sorts of ways since then.

In the women’s halfpipe, it looks like Chloe Kim will again be the favourite. Born in the year 2000, she was too young to compete in the Sochi Winter Olympics at just 14 years old, but now she’s 17 and won the women’s SuperPipe event in 2015, 2016 and 2018 at the Aspen X Games. She also cleaned up with two golds in halfpipe and slopestyle at the 2016 Lillehammer Winter Youth Olympic Games.

Gold-medal favourite Chloe Kim. Photo: Adam Moran / Burton

Her coach Ricky Bower has gone as far as saying: “Even on [another snowboarder’s] best day ever and Chloe on one of her worst days, she would still probably win.”

For the mens’ halfpipe skiing, David Wise of the USA will be the favourite, followed by fellow Americans Alex Ferreira and Aaron Blunck. Team America is looking strong on this one.

In the women’s halfpipe skiing, Canada’s Cassie Sharpe is leading the ranks with French experienced skier Marie Martinod close behind, and America’s Maddie Bowman and Brita Sigourney are also right there in the mix. The results of the women’s ski final in halfpipe should be close, but we reckon Cassie will edge it.

When are the Women’s and Men’s Snowboard Halfpipe and Skiing Halfpipe on and Where to Watch?

The women’s snowboard halfpipe qualifying takes place on 12 February. Qualification for the ladies halfpipe starts at 13:30 local time or an alarm-clock-setting 04:30 UK time. Finals are at 10:00/01:00 the next day.

The men’s snowboard halfpipe qualifications also kick off on 13 February, with the finals the next day. Qualification starts at 13:00/04:00 on the 13th and finals start at 10:30/01:30 on the 14th.

The freestyle skiing women’s halfpipe starts with qualifying at 10am local time, or 1am UK time, on Monday 19 February, and is followed by the women’s final at 10.30am/01.30am the next day.

The men’s halfpipe ski qualification process also starts on the 20th February. They get going at 13:00 local time or 04:00 UK time and are followed by finals at 11.30 / 02:30 the next day.

As with every Winter Olympic event, you can catch all the action live on BBC, on TV, the red button or online.

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