Freestyle Skiing at the Winter Olympic Games

There is just one month to go until the greatest festival of winter sports on the planet. Here we look at one Olympic discipline, freestyle skiing. To the uninitiated it can be seen as a bamboozling world of jib-jargon, but once broken down into hopefully bitesize chunks, could come to be widely appreciated as the glamorous showpiece of the entire Games.

Published on Tue 02 Apr, 2019

The Growth of Freestyle Skiing at the Olympics

As early as the start of the 20th century, there are records of people performing somersaults on skis in Europe. However it was in America, where flips and spins started to be attempted in the 1920s that freestyle skiing would really grow. In the 1960s developments in ski technology allowed for more progressive skiing styles, and a new approach known as ‘hotdogging’ emerged.

In 1979 the International Ski Federation acknowledged Freestyle as a discipline, and the first FIS Freestyle Skiing World Cup was staged the following year.

Freestyle skiing first crossed paths with the Olympic Games at Calgary in 1988, when it was contested only as a demonstration sport, with mogul, aerial and ballet events for men and women. Mogul skiing would gain medal status at Albertville four years later, as would Aerial skiing at Lillehammer in ‘94. Ski Cross joined in 2010, and for Sochi 2014 the IOC approved the addition of Slopestyle and Half-pipe to complete the 5 freestyle skiing events which are now featured in the games…

Aerial skiing
Aerial Skiing

 Freestyle Skiing Events at PyeongChang 2018

  • Aerials – Aerialists ski off 2-4 metre jumps which propel them up to 6 metres in the air, performing flips and twists. Judges score them based on jump takeoff (20%), jump form (50%) and landing (30%). A Degree of Difficulty is then factored in for a total score.

  • Moguls – A 250 metre course of artificially created bumps of snow (moguls), interspersed with 2 jump sections. Scores are judged based on turning technique (50%), air manoeuvres (25%), and time taken (25%).

  • Ski Cross – 4 racers descend the same slope at the same time, which features jumps, rollers and sharp turns, for a high octane race event – first to the bottom wins.

  • Ski Half-pipe – Skiers get 2 runs down the distinctive half-pipe to show as much skill and style as possible. An average is taken of 5 judges’ scores out of 100 based on difficulty and execution of tricks performed.

  • Ski Slopestyle – A mixed terrain course of rails, boxes, tables, walls and jumps gives the most expansive canvas for creativity on the freestyle circuit. Athletes can choose which obstacles to hit, and will try to execute the most difficult tricks with absolute perfection, again aiming for a score of 100 based on the average of 5 judges’ marks.

Olympic Ski Cross
Ski Cross

Team GB’s Freestyle Skiing Athletes to Look Out for at PyeongChang 2018

  • James Woods – Simply one of the premiere freestyle skiers in the world, Woods was carrying an injury in Sochi yet still managed to place fifth in the Ski Slopestyle final. He will be hoping to stay fully fit for PyeongChang, and on his day could be Team GB’s best hope for Gold on snow this year.

  • Lloyd Wallace – The Aerial skier from Shaftesbury has an amazing story, having overcome a brain injury received in a training accident which left him in a coma as recently as August. He is now back on snow and hoping to push for a medal in South Korea.

  • Leonie, Thomas and Makayla Gerken Schofield – GB have a triple threat in the Mogul skiing, with three Gerken Schofield siblings all competing. The family originally from Chelmsford moved to Chatel, France when the children were still young, setting them on the track to potential podium finishes at this Olympics.

  • Emily Sarsfield - In 2010 Emily created British skiing history by becoming the first British female skier to win a Europa Cup event in Ski Cross. She missed out on Sochi in 2014, so will be looking to prove she deserves to compete with the world’s best in PyeongChang this year.

  • Molly Summerhayes – Younger sister of already established GB Park and Pipe star Katie, Molly will be looking to continue her great form from the youth circuit on to the top level of Ski Half-pipe. She placed 1st in the Junior World Championships in 2015, so is well set to challenge the leaders in Korea.

Freestyle Trick Terminology:

Other names for freestyle skiing - freeskiing, freeriding, new school skiing

Switch – Riding backwards on skis, e.g. ‘riding switch’, ‘a switch 360’ – a 360 started from a backwards facing position.

Natural/Unnatural – A riders preferred way of spinning, either to their left or right, is their natural side. The opposite way is their unnatural side, e.g ‘natural 360’.

Cork/Misty – A spin which is performed ‘off-axis’, i.e rather that standing up straight whilst spinning, a skiers body will be on a 45 degree angle whilst spinning, e.g. ‘cork 360’.

Double/Triple/Quadruple – The number of times a skier rotates on an up/down axis in the air, whilst simultaneously spinning on a lateral axis. E.g ‘Double 1080’ 2 spins on a linear axis, whilst spinning 3 times on a lateral axis.

Grab – Placing a hand (or hands) on specific places on the ski (or skis). Some grabs are more technically difficult than others and would be rewarded with higher points in competition.

Pretzel – A complex move where a skier spins one way onto a rail, stops that rotation whilst on the rail and begins spinning in the opposite direction.

Stomped – A perfectly completed jump with a smooth, clean landing e.g ‘she stomped it ’.

Identifying Features of Freestyle Ski Events:

Kicker – Large ramp of snow which when skied up propels the skier into the air.

Landing – Area after a kicker with a steep gradient to allow skiers to return to earth smoothly.

Knuckle – The flat area in between the upward sloping kicker and the downward sloping landing, which skiers aim to jump over.

Lip – The very edge of the kicker.

Rail – A metal feature on a Slopestyle course, resembling a common railing with a flat or rounded top, which riders use to perform stylie smaller scale tricks.

Box – A flat surfaced feature on a slopestyle course, usually wider than a rail, which a rider can do tricks onto, on top of and off of to accrue points.

So if we said ‘James Woods just stomped a Tail Grab Switch Double-cork 1080’, you would now know exactly what we mean, right?

Maybe not so soon. However as with many sports, although things can seem overly complex at first, the more you watch, the deeper your appreciation of these incredible athletes grows. In the complexity and minute detail lies the fascination which is captivating more and more new fans each year. Could 2018 be the year Freestyle skiing really hits the mainstream for UK sportsfans?

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