Don't know anything about freestyle skiing? No problem. Here are all the basics you need to know before the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang.

By Daniel Rapaport
December 05, 2017

The 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea are right around the corner! That means it's time to watch sports you might not have seen in four years. To help you feel at least a little more informed—either to impress your friends or fake your way through a conversation with an actual expert—SI will be providing rookie's guides to each of the 15 sports. These will be published daily, Monday through Friday, from December 4-22.

As far as pure aesthetic value is concerned, freestyle skiing may be the most visually pleasing sport of any at the Winter Olympics. No other discipline—no offense to snowboarding—offers the same combination of speed, huge air, danger and difficulty that freestyle skiing does. 

What is it?

Just like alpine skiing, which refers to all the downhill ski races at the Olympics, freestyle skiing is not one specific event. It's an umbrella term that encompasses five different ski terrain events on both the men's and women's side (for a total of ten). Those events are: aerials, halfpipe, moguls, ski cross and slopestyle

From the IOC's official website: "Freestyle skiing combines speed, showmanship and the ability to perform aerial maneuvers whilst skiing." 

Is the U.S. any good?

Yes, yes indeed. While alpine skiing has deep roots in Europe, where the sport remains one of the continent's most popular, freestyle skiing gained traction in the United States first. This is because American ski resorts put more resources into building terrain parks before those in Europe did, which resulted in young Americans having access to the kinds of jumps and courses that eventually became Olympic events starting in 1992. 

Olympics
2018 Winter Olympics: Freestyle Skiing Schedule

Our neighbors to the north, Canada, have also been remarkably successful in freestyle skiing's relatively short history. 

What are all the different events?

Because each individual event is so distinct—aerials is a competition of one 2-4 meter jump, while ski cross is a race with jumps sprinkled in—it makes most sense to break this rookie's guide into five mini-guides, with one for each terrain event. 

Aerials 

Rules: Aerials is a judged event where skiers take off from one jump that's between two and four meters in size. They are propelled up to six meters in the air, and the landing area is often well below the base of the jump. 

Skiers do not use poles, as the goal is to obtain as much speed as possible before the jump and have maximum flexibility once in the air.

World-class male aerialists can perform three backflips with four or five twists in a single jump. 

Format: There are two qualification rounds and a knockout-style final three rounds. All 25 skiers participate in the first qualification round, with the skiers receiving the highest six scores automatically moving to the final round. The other 19 skiers then participate in the second qualifying round, and the six highest finishers (skiers use their best score from either the first or second run) advancing to the finals for a total of 12. 

In the first final round, all 12 skiers jump, and the nine best scores advance. In the second final round, the nine remaining skiers jump and the best six advance to the third and final jump, known as the "super final." The top three finishers in the super final receive the medals. 

Scores do not carry over from one round to the next, so each skier just has to advance before he/she starts with a clean slate. 

How it's judged: Scoring for Aerials is more standardized than any other Freestyle Skiing event. In simplest terms, competitors are scored by combining their air (20%), form (50%) and landing (30%) scores then multiplying that number by the jump's degree of difficulty. The competitor's air score is derived from adding technical takeoff score (50%) with height and distance (50%). The maximum air score is 3.0, the maximum form score is 5.0 and the maximum landing scores is 2.0. Thus, the highest possible score for a jump is 10.0. 

Deductions are made for falling or imperfections in the jump, whether that occurs during the takeoff, in the air or during landing.

History: Aerials made its debut at the 1992 games in Albertville, Canada. 

2014 Medal Winners: Men: Gold—Anton Kushnir (BLR), Silver—David Morris (AUS), Bronze—Zongyang Jia (CHN) Women: Gold—Alla Tsuper (BLR), Silver—Mengtao Xu (CHN), Bronze—Lydia Lassila (AUS)

Current World Champions: Men: Jonathon Lillis (USA), Women: Ashley Caldwell (USA)

Halfpipe

Rules: As the name might suggest, skiers make jumps out of a course that looks like a pipe cut in half. A halfpipe, known as a "superpipe" is shaped like a half-circle with 22-foot high walls. Skiers build up speed before entering the pipe then alternate jumping off one side and the other. 

Format: Both the men's and the women's competition feature two rounds, one qualification round and a final round. Thirty men will compete in the qualifying round while 25 women will give it a go. Each skier will get two runs in the halfpipe in the qualification round, with each's best score counting. The top 12 men and women will qualify for the final round. 

Each qualifier for the final round will get three attempts at the pipe; that's a change from the 2014 games, during which finalists only got two runs in the final round. Again, only the top score from each competitor will be scored. The top three finishers in the men's and women's competition will receive medals. 

How it's judged: A panel of five or six judges will score each run, and the panel will be supervised by a head judge. Competitors are judged based on five components: amplitude (height), difficulty, variety, execution and progression (which rewards skiers for creatively linking tricks/maneuvers). Additionally, there is no standard for how to score a specific trick or sequence of tricks. The principal use of the scores is to accurately rank the competitors. This makes trying to compare scores from within a specific competition (qualifying rounds vs. final rounds, for example) or across competitions futile. It also might actually be a disadvantage to go first, as the judges must estimate how much room to leave above the first skier's score in anticipation of more impressive runs by later competitors.

History: The halfpipe competition made its debut at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia. 

2014 Medal Winners: Men: Gold—David Wise (USA), Silver—David Morris (AUS), Bronze—Kevin Rolland (FRA) Women: Gold—Maddie Bowman (USA), Silver—Marie Martinod (FRA), Bronze—Ayana Onozuka (JPN)

Current World Champions: Men: Aaron Blunck (USA) Women: Ayana Onozuka (JPN)

Moguls

Rules: In this event, skiers navigate down a course filled with bumps known in the winter sports world as moguls. Twice during the run skiers will go off jumps, and they must execute a trick while in the air. 

Format: Similar to aerials, there are two qualification rounds and a knockout-style final three rounds. On both the men's and women's side, 30 skiers participate in the first qualification run. The top 10 men and women automatically move on to the final round. In the second qualification round, the remaining 20 skiers compete for 10 remaining spots in the final round (the skier's best score is used, whether it's from the first or second qualification round). Scores do not carry over from the qualification rounds.

The 20 remaining skiers are narrowed down to 12 in the first final round, and those 12 narrowed further to six in the second final round. Those six qualifiers for the "super final" make one last run, and the top three finish with the medals. 

How it's judged: While each competitor's speed is factored into the judging process, it is not a timed event; the skier that completes the course fastest does not necessarily receive the highest score. Speed is merely factored in with the skier's grace in navigating the moguls and his/her execution of the tricks. 

History: The moguls event made its debut at the 1992 Olympics in Albertville, Canada. 

2014 Medal Winners: Men: Gold—Alexandre Bilodeau (CAN), Silver—Mikael Kingsbury (CAN), Bronze—Alexandr Smyshlyaev (RUS) Women: Gold—Justine Dufour-Lapointe (CAN), Silver—Chloe Dufour-Lapointe (FRA), Bronze—Hannah Kearney (USA)

Current World Champions: Men: Ikuma Horishima (JPN) Women: Britteny Cox (AUS)

Ski cross

Rules: Unlike the other freestyle skiing events, ski cross is a timed event rather than a judged one. That is, the winner of the race is the skier who crosses the finish line first, plain and simple. Skiers race on a course that's heavily influenced by motocross courses. There are jumps, banked turns, rollers and other obstacles riddled throughout the track. 

Skiers may not take any deliberate action to impede, block or bring down any of their competitors. If a skier is determined to have purposefully impacted a fellow competitor, that is grounds for disqualification. The skier in first place has the right to chart his own path through the course, but he may not block other racers. Incidental or accidental contact is acceptable, but skiers are allowed to request a panel to review an incident should he/she feel it crossed the line. 

Format: Both the men's and the women's competition have the same format, which consists of a seeding round and knockout rounds. On both the men's and the women's side, 32 skiers compete in the seeding round, where they'll be divided into eight heats of four skiers each. Skiers get one timed run on the course in the seeding round before all 32 skiers are seeded based on their time. All 32 skiers advance to the Round of 32, in which they will again be split up into eight groups of four, with the higher seeds being separated from each other so they will not met until the final rounds. The top two skiers from each heat (16 skiers total) will advance to the quarterfinal, then the top two skiers from each of the four quarterfinal heats (eight skiers) advance to the semifinal heats. The top two skiers from both semifinal heats (four total) advance to the final, which determines first through fourth place and, thus, who gets the medals. 

In the case that two or more athletes do not complete the course, the official result will be determined based on how far each athlete got on the course. The further you make it, the better, naturally. 

History: Ski cross made its debut at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. 

2014 Medal Winners: Men: Gold—Jean Fredric Chapuis (FRA), Silver—Arnaud Bovolenta (FRA), Bronze—Jonathan Midol (FRA) Women: Gold—Marielle Thompson (CAN), Silver—Kelsey Serwa (FRA), Bronze—Anna Holmlund (SWE)

Current World Champions: Men: Victor Öhling Norberg​ (SWE) Women: Sandra Näslund (SWE)

Slopestyle

Rules: In this writer's humble opinion, Slopestyle is the most badass and visually pleasing event at the entire Winter Olympics. Slopestyle is a judged event in which competitors go down a course filled with a mixture of jumps and rails. The course in PyeongChang has six obstacles—three jumps and three rail sections. The event's name derives from its resembling a terrain park you might find on a run at a mountain.

Format: Slopestyle consists of a qualification round, which will feature 30 skiers on the men's side and 24 on the women's, and a final round. Each skier will get two runs in the qualification round, with the top 12 men and women progressing to the final round (skiers use their best score of the two runs). Scores do not carry over from the qualification to the final round, so all a skier needs to do is advance before he/she gets a clean slate. 

Each skier that qualifies for the final round will get three runs, which is a change from 2014, when each only got two cracks at the course. The skier's best score from the three runs will be used, and the top three finishers will get the medals. 

How it's judged: A panel of five or six judges will score each run, and the panel will be supervised by a head judge. Competitors are judged based on five components: amplitude (height), difficulty, variety, execution and progression (which rewards skiers for creatively linking tricks/maneuvers). Additionally, there is no standard for how to score a specific trick or sequence of tricks. The principal use of the scores is to accurately rank the competitors. This makes trying to compare scores from within a specific competition (qualifying rounds vs. final rounds, for example) or across competitions futile. It also might actually be a disadvantage to go first, as the judges must estimate how much room to leave above the first skier's score in anticipation of more impressive runs by later competitors.

History: Slopestyle made its debut at the 2014 games in Sochi. 

2014 Medal Winners: Men: Gold—Joss Christensen (USA), Silver—Gus Kenworthy (USA), Bronze—Nicholas Goepper (USA) Women: Gold—Dara Howell (CAN), Silver—Devin Logan (USA), Bronze—Kim Lamarre (CAN)

Current World Champions: Men: McRae Williams (USA) Women: Tess Ledeaux (FRA)

You May Like