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Slopestyle, halfpipe and big air – what’s the difference?

Slopestyle, halfpipe and big air are events for snowboarding and freestyle skiing at the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022, which start 4 February, but what’s the difference? Olympics.com takes you through it.

6 min By Jo Gunston
Slopestyle PyeongChang 2018
(Picture by 2018 Getty Images)

Snowboard and freestyle skiing competitions have a reputation for being innovative, dynamic and exciting. And that's exactly what you can expect to see at the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022, which start 4 February.

The two comprise judged and racing and are made up of seven different events – including ski cross/snowboard cross, moguls, aerials and parallel giant slalom – but here we’re focusing only on halfpipe, slopestyle and big air, in which both snowboard and freestyle ski are contested.

First, some ground rules.

Freestyling

The main connotation of the word ‘freestyle’ is around the ‘judging’ of the competitions.

Tricks in slopestyle, halfpipe and big air aren’t scored individually, such as seen in artistic gymnastics or figure skating, but judged on the overall impression of the run. Scores range from 1-100 and are an average is taken from the judges.

It’s not a free-for-all for the panel of judges from different nations though. There's an effort to leave room for creativity and chutzpah from the athletes.

The judges are looking for form in a variety of ways throughout the run including amplitude – clean take-off, controlled flight path, landing on a sweet spot; originality – such as a new trick or taking a different route through the course if slopestyle; and quality of tricks – has the athlete grabbed the board properly, have they landed steadily.

Slopestyle
Slopestyle (2018 Getty Images)

Competition format

Athletes have two runs in qualification rounds for big air, halfpipe and slopestyle in which their highest score counts. The 12 finalists then compete in a best-of-three runs competition, which means the drama continues right to the end as someone can snatch gold in the final run.

Qualification quotas

There is a qualification standard for each freestyle skier and snowboarder taking part in slopestyle, halfpipe or big air. They must have placed in the top 30 at a World Cup event during the qualification period and also have scored a minimum of 50 points during the World Cup series or world championships on at least one run.

The qualification period for both disciplines has been disrupted due to the COVID-19 pandemic but for snowboarding, results are taken into account from the World Cups spanning 1 July 2019 to 16 January 2022. The freestyle skiing qualification period covers 1 July 2020 to 16 January 2022. Both sports also include results from the 2021 World Championships.

Quota places for each nation for Beijing 2022 are then awarded at the end of the qualification period based on the Olympic Quota Allocation List. Some restrictions do apply such as each NOC (National Olympic Committee) may only have a maximum of four athletes per event.

Once the quota places are distributed, the selection of athletes comes from the NOCs. Athletes can also qualify for more than one discipline.

Slopestyle

Slopestyle riders perform tricks and jumps on a sloping course over multiple ramps and obstacles.

If you think about the Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo 2020, it's similar to the skateboard street competition.

The top of the course features rails – like a metal handrail you hold on to when going down some stairs – while the bottom section of the course contains three huge ramps in which the athletes jettison off the top to complete a number of twists, flips and grabs.

The final ramp shows the most explosive jump, which must be landed well as it is the showstopper that – hopefully – leaves the judges with a good last impression.

Event debut: Sochi 2014
Current Olympic champions:
– Slopestyle skiing women: Sarah Hoefflin, Switzerland
– Slopestyle skiing men: Oystein Braaten, Norway
– Slopestyle snowboarding women: Jamie Anderson, USA
– Slopestyle snowboarding men: Red Gerard, USA

Halfpipe

Skiers and snowboarders execute multiple tricks one after the other down a 22 foot-high (6.7m) halfpipe.

The key here is not only performing super high, difficult twisting flips and rotations but landing them perfectly because each landing leads directly into the next flip seconds later. Oh, and the walls are super steep too at between 16-18 degrees.

There is but one name in the men’s snowboard competition that draws attention to this event – Shaun White.

The American icon is heading to his fifth Olympic Winter Games. At three out of the four Games in which he has competed, beginning at Torino 2006, White came away with gold in this event. Only at Sochi 2014 was there a Shaun White-style ‘blip’ when he finished off the podium in fourth.

Fellow American, Chloe Kim is also a stand-out performer in the women’s edition. The 21-year-old has nothing but gold medals to her name including the Olympic title at PyeongChang 2018, her debut Games. She also won two golds at the Lillehammer 2016 Youth Olympics in Norway, two World Championship gold medals and six X Games titles.

In the skiing discipline, the United States once again dominate in the men’s event, with David Wise coming away with halfpipe gold in PyeongChang 2018. Having also won gold at Sochi 2014, he’ll be going for a three-peat come Beijing 2022.

Canada’s Cassie Sharp was the only athlete to break the American stranglehold on all the halfpipe events at PyeongChang 2018, coming away with gold in the women’s event.

Event debut:
– Snowboarding: Nagano 1998
– Skiing: Sochi 2014
Current Olympic champions:
– Women snowboarding: Chloe Kim, USA
– Men snowboarding: Shaun White, USA
– Women skiing: Cassie Sharpe, Canada
– Men skiing: David Wise, USA

Big air

Big air does what it says. Skiers and snowboarders launch themselves skyward from a steeply banked ramp and complete as many twists and tricks as they can in a breath-holding dynamic whirl of skis/boards, snow, limbs and usually baggy clothes.

Imagine an athlete coming down a ramp like a ski jumper, but instead of taking off at the end of the ramp, staying in one position and focusing on distance and form, the big air athletes pile in as many flips and twists as their time in the air allows. One jump, one complicated somersault and you're done.

Grabbing board or skis mid-flip adds difficulty and the landing is super important in order to leave a good impression on the judges. Make it look easy and they can’t help but be impressed.

Event debut:
Big air snowboarding: PyeongChang 2018
Big air skiing: Beijing 2022
Current Olympic champions:
– Big air snowboarding women: Anna Gasser, Austria
– Big air snowboarding men: Sebastien Toutant, Canada

The Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 begin 4 February 2022. The snowboard competition taking place from 5-15 February with freestyle skiing going from 3-19 February (both weather dependent).

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