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Freestyle skiing 101: Rules, competition formats and judging

David Wise competes in ski halfpipe at the 2014 Olympics
Sarah Brunson/U.S. Freeskiing

Freestyle skiing 101: Rules, competition formats and judging

How does judging work in halfpipe, slopestyle, moguls and aerials?

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Halfpipe
Slopestyle
Moguls
Aerials
Ski cross



Halfpipe at the 2014 Olympics

Freeski halfpipe will make its second appearance at the Olympics in PyeongChang. Credit: Guy Rhodes/USA TODAY Sports

Halfpipe
 

What it is
A halfpipe, also known as a superpipe, is a U-shaped course with 22-foot walls. Skiers traverse through the halfpipe, executing multiple tricks on both walls of the pipe. Freeski halfpipe was added to the Olympic program in 2014.

Competition format
The Olympic ski halfpipe competition consists of a qualification round and a final round.

The qualification round, which will include 30 skiers in the men’s competition and 24 skiers in the women’s competition, will consist of two runs, with each competitor’s best single run counting. The top 12 skiers from the qualification round will advance to the final. Scores from the qualification round do not carry over to the final.

The final will consist of three runs, a change from past Olympics which used two-run formats. Again in the final, only each competitor's best score will count towards the final results. The start order for all three runs will be the inverse of the results from the qualification round (the athlete with the lowest score in qualifying goes first and the athlete with the best score goes last).

Judging
Each halfpipe run is scored by a team of five judges. All five scores will be averaged together to get the final score.

All judges score the runs based on overall impression, with each judge gives a score ranging from 1 to 100. In giving their marks, judges consider several different criteria, including:

  • Amplitude
    This is basically another word for "height." Skiers can add a lot of energy to their runs by boosting big airs out of the superpipe. Judges will reward athletes who can not only go big on their first hit, but can also maintain good amplitude throughout their entire run.
  • Difficulty
    The technical difficulty of tricks is assessed. Generally speaking, tricks with more rotation are considered more technically difficult and will be rewarded as such. But there are other ways skiers can increase the difficulty of a particular trick. For example, an athlete may decide to take off switch (backwards) or spin uphill (known as an "alley-oop" spin) when executing a trick, or they may decide to do a more challenging grab to differentiate themselves from other skiers in the field.
  • Variety
    Skiers are expected to showcase a diverse mix of tricks. One of the most important ways a skier can show variety is in the way they spin when executing tricks. There are four possible directions in which a skier can spin: leftside, rightside, switch leftside and switch rightside. (In other words, athletes can either spin to their left or to their right, and they can do this while skiing either forward or switch.) When mapping out a run, athletes will often plan it in such a way that allows them to perform as many of those spins as possible. Another way that skiers can show variety is in their grabs. Rather than doing the same grab on every single trick, athletes will frequently mix it up.
  • Execution
    This refers to the stability, fluidity and control of the tricks performed. Were the grabs held properly and for a long enough period of time? How smooth were the landings? Did the skier drag their hand across the ground at any point? How much "style" was evident in the run? These are all among the considerations of the judges.
  • Progression
    Skiers are rewarded for introducing new tricks or for linking together tricks in a way that has never been done before.

There is no true universal consensus on "deductions" or how to determine an exact score. More than anything, scores are a means to an end – a way for judges to accurately position athletes on the leaderboard. Scoring is based on how athletes stack up against each other on that particular day, rather than being based on a strict mathematical formula or even past history.

For example, the very first athlete to compete might sometimes receive what's deemed to be a "low" score, relatively speaking. This is simply because judges, who have to evaluate the run they just witnessed against theoretical runs they think might occur later on, need to leave themselves cushioning to account for other competitors. (In other words, you will never see a skier score a perfect 100 unless they are the final athlete to take a run.) Because of this, scores from two different contests will never truly be comparable, whether it's the qualifying round vs. the final, or Sochi vs. PyeongChang.

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Nick Goepper at the 2014 Olympics

Slopestyle courses feature a wide variety of obstacles for riders to take advantage of. Credit: Rob Schumacher/USA TODAY Sports

Slopestyle
 

What it is
A slopestyle course has a mix of jumps and rails that skiers must execute tricks on as they make their way down the course. The slopestyle course in PyeongChang has a total of six features — three jumps and three rail sections. Freeski slopestyle was added to the Olympic program in 2014.

Competition format
The Olympic ski slopestyle competition consists of a qualification round and a final round.

The qualification round, which will include 30 skiers in the men’s competition and 24 skiers in the women’s competition, will consist of two runs, with each competitor’s best single run counting. The top 12 skiers from the qualification round will advance to the final. Scores from the qualification round do not carry over to the final.

The final will consist of three runs, a change from past Olympics which used two-run formats. Again in the final, only each competitor's best score will count towards the final results. The start order for all three runs will be the inverse of the results from the qualification round (the athlete with the lowest score in qualifying goes first and the athlete with the best score goes last).

Judging
Each slopestyle run is scored by a team of judges. FIS rules allow for either five or six judges, plus a head judge who supervises and controls the scoring procedure. In the case of five judges, all five scores will be averaged together to get the final score; in the case of six judges, the high and low scores will be dropped, and the remaining scores will be averaged together.

All judges score the runs based on overall impression, with each judge gives a score ranging from 1 to 100. In giving their marks, judges consider several different criteria, including:

  • Amplitude
    In slopestyle, amplitude is not just gaining the most height or distance possible, but landing at the decided “sweet spot.” To have too much or too little amplitude on kickers can be dangerous and will be taken into account by the judges.
  • Difficulty
    The technical difficulty of tricks is assessed. Generally speaking, tricks with more rotation are considered more technically difficult and will be rewarded as such. But there are other ways skiers can increase the difficulty of a particular trick. For example, an athlete may decide to take off switch (backwards) when executing a trick, or they may decide to do a more challenging grab to differentiate themselves from other skiers in the field.
  • Variety
    Skiers are expected to showcase a diverse mix of tricks. One of the most important ways a skier can show variety is in the way they spin when executing tricks. There are four possible directions in which a skier can spin: leftside, rightside, switch leftside and switch rightside. (In other words, athletes can either spin to their left or to their right, and they can do this while skiing either forward or switch.) Most slopestyle courses feature 3-4 jumps, so athletes will often map out their runs in such a way that allows them to perform a different spin on each jump. Another way that skiers can show variety is in their grabs. Rather than doing the same grab on every single trick, athletes will frequently mix it up.
  • Execution
    This refers to the stability, fluidity and control of the tricks performed. Were the grabs held properly and for a long enough period of time? How smooth were the landings? Did the skier drag their hand across the ground at any point? How much "style" was evident in the run? These are all among the considerations of the judges.
  • Progression
    Skiers are rewarded for introducing new tricks or for linking together tricks in a way that has never been done before.

There is no true universal consensus on "deductions" or how to determine an exact score. More than anything, scores are a means to an end – a way for judges to accurately position athletes on the leaderboard. Scoring is based on how athletes stack up against each other on that particular day, rather than being based on a strict mathematical formula or even past history.

For example, the very first athlete to compete might sometimes receive what's deemed to be a "low" score, relatively speaking. This is simply because judges, who have to evaluate the run they just witnessed against theoretical runs they think might occur later on, need to leave themselves cushioning to account for other competitors. (In other words, you will never see a skier score a perfect 100 unless they are the final athlete to take a run.) Because of this, scores from two different contests will never truly be comparable, whether it's the qualifying round vs. the final, or Sochi vs. PyeongChang.

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Olympics: Freestyle Skiing-Ladies' Moguls Qualification

Skiing moguls requires more than just speed if athletes want to earn a medal. Credit: Nathan Bilow/USA TODAY Sports

Moguls
 

What it is
Athletes ski down a course populated by rounded bumps known as moguls. Twice during the run, athletes will hit a jump, which they must execute a trick off of. While speed is a component in each athlete's score, this is not a race — it's a judged event that also evaluates each athlete's ability to ski through the moguls and execute tricks.

Competition format
The Olympic format for moguls consists of qualifications (two rounds) and a knockout-style final (three rounds). Each round consists of just one jump per athlete.

In the qualification round, each athlete completes one or two runs. All 30 skiers complete the first run (Qualification Round 1) and are then ranked according to their scores; the top 10 skiers advance directly to the final. The remaining 20 skiers complete a second run (Qualification Round 2), then are ranked again (each athlete's single best score from either Qualification Round 1 or Round 2 is used); the top 10 skiers after the second run advance, for a total of 20 skiers in the final. Start order for qualifications is determined by a random draw. Qualification Round 2 will use the same start list as Round 1, except that any skiers who qualified directly out of Round 1 will be omitted.

In Final Round 1, the 20 athletes will complete one run, and the top 12 scores advance. In Final Round 2, the 12 athletes will complete one run, and the top six scores advance to Final Round 3, also known as the "super final." The results of the super final will determine all three medal winners. Scores never carry over from one round to the next.

In Final Round 1, the start order is the reverse order of rank from the qualification runs: The 10 athletes who qualified from Qualification Round 2 will go first (20-11), followed by the athletes who qualified directly from Qualification Round 1 (10-1). In the remaining final rounds, competitors ski in the reverse order of their finish in the previous round (the athlete with the lowest score goes first and the athlete with the best score goes last).

Judging
Each run will be judged on two components by a panel of judges, with five judges determining the score for turns and two judges determining the score for air. In addition, each run will be timed, with speed making up the third and final component of a competitor’s score.

Components
Turns: 60%
Air: 20%
Speed: 20%

The maximum number of points a competitor can receive is 100.0. The score will be calculated based on the following formula:

Score (max 100.0 points) = Turns (max 60.0 points) + Air (max 20.0 points) + Speed (max 20.0 points)

Turns (60%)
The "turns" score refers to a technical evaluation of how well a competitor turns through the moguls. Five judges independently evaluate the competitor’s turns based on the following points of criteria:

  • Fall line
    Skiing in the fall line is considered the shortest way from the start to the finish. To achieve the maximum points for fall line, the competitor should stay in the selected fall line out of the start gate. Deviating from the fall line will result in deductions from the competitor's score.
  • Carving
    All turns should be initiated by carving. Carving means efficient use of edging to control speed in and out of the turn throughout the whole run. Carving is the result of correctly-timed weight shifting. Skidding or sliding laterally through a turn can result in a deduction from the competitor's score.
  • Absorption and extension
    The skier should follow the shape of the mogul through absorption from the start until the top of the mogul. Extension starts right after the top of the mogul and follows the shape of the mogul. Pressure between skis and snow should remain the same during absorption and extension, absorbing as the skier moves up and extending as the skier moves down. The legs should be together or in a consistent position throughout the run. Additionally, the skier should aggressively utilize the moguls to assist initiation of turns, rather than waiting for the moguls.
  • Upper body
    The head should remain still, facing downhill. The chest should also stay straight and natural. Hands stay in front of the body in a natural position.

Each judge gives two different scores: the "turn score" (a positive value) and "deductions" (a negative value).

The turn score is evaluated as follows.

18.1 – 20.0: Excellent
16.1 – 18.0: Very good
14.1 – 16.0: Good
12.1 – 14.0: Above average
10.1 – 12.0: Competent
8.1 – 10.0: Below average
4.1 – 8.0: Poor
0.1 – 4.0: Very poor

Deductions are assessed based on the following errors in a competitor's run.

  • 6.0: Any complete stop
  • 4.1 –5.9: Complete fall without stop or interruption/significant sliding down fall line or across hill to nearly a complete stop
  • 2.9 – 4.0: Hard touchdown or front roll without stop or interruption/sliding significantly reducing downhill momentum
  • 2.1 – 2.8: Medium touchdown without stop
  • 0.1 – 2.0: Light touchdown without interruption, small stumbles, fall line deviations, speed check, double pole plant, shooting

The high and low scores for both "turns" and "deductions" are discarded, and the six remaining scores are added together to total a maximum of 60.0 points.

Air (20%)
There are two main components of a competitor's air score: a subjective evaluation of the form and an objective degree of difficulty.

First, two judges independently evaluate the competitor’s two jumps based on form. The judges consider the quality (an athlete’s form and landing), the air (height and distance) and fluidity (an athlete’s ability to maintain the rhythm of turns prior to the jump) to determine the competitor’s form score. The maximum score for form is 10.0 points.

8.1 – 10.0: Excellent jump
6.1 – 8.0: Good jump
4.1 – 6.0: Average jump
2.1 – 4.0: Poor jump
0.1 – 2.0: Very poor jump

The form scores determined independently by the two judges are averaged together, then multiplied by the degree of difficulty for each jump. Each maneuver in moguls is assigned a specific degree of difficulty score.

The air score for both jumps will then be added together to get the total air score. Skiers must perform different maneuvers on each jump in order for both jumps to count toward their score. The maximum total air score is 20.0 per run.

Speed (20%)
Speed makes up the remainder of a competitor’s score. Competitors are timed from the moment they leave the starting gate through the finish line, and that time is compared to the pace time to determine points.

The pace time is determined by standards set by the FIS Freestyle Committee and depends on the length of the course. The pace time for a specific course is then calculated by taking the length of that course (in meters) and dividing it by the established pace time (in meters per second) listed above.

Based on that calculation, the pace time is given a specific point value, and a competitor’s speed score increases or decreases from that standard value proportionately to their time.

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Aerials at the 2014 Olympics

Each run in aerials consists of just one trick done off a giant kicker. Credit: USA TODAY Sports

Aerials
 

What it is
Skiers launch off large jumps and perform precise maneuvers while in the air. Each maneuver consists of flips (single or multiple), with or without horizontal twists included. The competitors are judged based on their take-off, execution and landing.

Competition format
The Olympic format for aerials consists of qualifications (two rounds) and a knockout-style final (three rounds). Each round consists of just one jump per athlete.

In the qualification round, each athlete completes one or two runs. All 25 skiers complete the first run (Qualification Round 1) and are then ranked according to their scores; the top six skiers advance directly to the final. The remaining 19 skiers complete a second run (Qualification Round 2), then are ranked again (each athlete's single best score from either Qualification Round 1 or Round 2 is used); the top six skiers after the second run advance, for a total of 12 skiers in the final. Start order for qualifications is determined by a random draw. Qualification Round 2 will use the same start list as Round 1, except that any skiers who qualified directly out of Round 1 will be omitted.

In Final Round 1, the 12 athletes will complete one run, and the top nine scores advance. In Final Round 2, the nine athletes will complete one run, and the top six scores advance to Final Round 3, also known as the "super final." The results of the super final will determine all three medal winners. Scores never carry over from one round to the next.

In Final Round 1, the start order is the reverse order of rank from the qualification runs: The six athletes who qualified from Qualification Round 2 will go first (12-7), followed by the athletes who qualified directly from Qualification Round 1 (6-1). In the remaining final rounds, competitors ski in the reverse order of their finish in the previous round (the athlete with the lowest score goes first and the athlete with the best score goes last).

Judging
The total score is calculated by adding together the air, form and landing scores, then multiplying by the jump’s degree of difficulty. The maximum number of points for the air, form and landing is 30.0, and the maximum degree of difficulty is 5.0, so the maximum possible score for one jump is 150.

Total Score (max 150.0 points) = [Air + Form + Landing (max 30.0 points)] x Degree of Difficulty (max 5.0 points)

Air, form and landing will be evaluated by a panel of five judges. The high and low scores for each component will be dropped, and the remaining scores get added together.

Components
Air: 20%
Form: 50%
Landing: 30%

Air (20%)
A competitor's air score is divided into two components, with each component accounting for half of the score. The maximum number of points for air is 2.0 per judge.

  • Technical take-off (50% of air score)
    Judges evaluate the manner in which the competitor initiates the jump by extending the body at the right moment while leaving the kicker. Take-off is judged from the moment the competitor enters the transition, until the feet leave the kicker.
  • Height and distance (50% of air score)
    Judges assess the competitor's speed into the jump and the force of the take-off. It shall be evaluated according to the skier's trajectory through the air and the optimum landing point of the kicker.

Points are awarded for the take-off as follows.

0.7 – 1.0: Good take-off
0.4 – 0.6: Non-optimal take-off
0.0 – 0.3: Bad take-off

Points are awarded for height and distance as follows.

0.7 – 1.0: Good height and distance
0.4 – 0.6: Non-optimal height and distance
0.0 – 0.3: Bad height and distance

Form (50%)
Form denotes the position of the body, skis, arms, hands, and/or poles while the competitor is in the air. Form shall be evaluated based upon each competitor's precision of performance (i.e. tightness of body, economy of motion), balance, mechanics, stability (or control) in the air, separation and the timing of the maneuver in relation to the apex of the jump.

The maximum number of points for form is 5.0 per judge. Judges will deduct points for form breaks, which occur when a competitor misses components of their planned maneuver.

Landing (30%)
A proper landing involves a balanced, stable and controlled body position throughout. The competitor should demonstrate precision and grace with minimal interruption upon contact with the landing surface. Absorption should be made primarily with the knees and lower body with only a slight bend at the waist.

The maximum number of points for landing is 3.0 per judge. Points are awarded as follows.

  • 2.6 – 3.0: Excellent landing, good balance with little or no compression
  • 2.1 – 2.5: No touch of hand(s) but some imbalance on landing or while skiing away; hard compression with no touch
  • 1.6 – 2.0: No body contact but hand or hands dragging with hard compression, heavy imbalance
  • 1.1 – 1.5: Light back slap, severe turn to 45 degrees or more to landing hill, turn around no fall or touch, severe imbalance
  • 0.6 – 1.0: Landing with immediate body contact; hard back slap or punch front with snow contact back to skis; severe over- or under-rotation
  • 0.1 – 0.5: Minimal weight on skis, sliding on back or side; immediate crash
  • 0.0: No weight on skis

Degree of difficulty
After the high and low scores for each component are dropped, and all remaining scores are added together, the resulting total will then be multiplied by the maneuver's degree of difficulty. The FIS maintains a list of each allowed maneuver and its corresponding degree of difficulty.

The maximum value for degree of difficulty is 5.0.

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Ski cross at the 2014 Olympics

With four athletes on the course at one time, ski cross always provides some thrilling moments. Credit: USA TODAY Sports

Ski cross
 

What it is
Four skiers at a time race on a downhill course, with the top two finishers each advancing to the next round. The course and its features are heavily inspired by motocross courses and includes obstacles such as jumps, banked turns and rollers. Ski cross has been in the Olympics since 2010.

Competition format
The competition format for men’s and women’s ski cross consists of two portions: seeding runs and elimination rounds.

Each skier takes just one seeding run, and the top times determine the seeding for the final brackets. Since there are only 32 athletes in each of the men’s and women’s events, all athletes qualify for the elimination rounds.

In the elimination rounds, competitors are divided into heats, each consisting of four skiers. Each skier wears a bib color that corresponds to their seeding run ranking. The top skier in the heat wears a red bib, No. 2 a green bib, No. 3 a blue bib and No. 4 a yellow bib. Based on their bib colors, skiers choose which of the four starting gates they will use in the heat (the skier with the red bib gets first pick, followed by the skier in the green bib, and so on).

The eliminations start with the Round of 32. There will be eight heats of four skiers, divided up so that higher seeds will not be able to meet until later rounds. The top two skiers from each of the eight heats (16 athletes total) advance to the quarterfinals. The third and fourth place skiers from each heat are ranked from 17th to 32nd according to A) their finish in the heat and B) their seeding results.

The top two skiers from each quarterfinal (eight athletes total) advance to the semifinal heats, and the top two skiers from each semifinal heat (four athletes total) advance to the final, which determines first through fourth place. The skiers ranked third and fourth in the semifinals (four athletes total) are relegated to the small final to determine fifth through eighth place.

If two or more skiers appear to cross the finish line at the same time, the official results will be determined after examining the photo finish to see the first part of the body – skis and equipment do not count – that crossed the finish line.

In a case where more than one competitor does not complete the course nor cross the finish line, the rankings in that heat will be based on the location where the competitor(s) have completed the course. Whichever skier passed more gates further down the course will be ranked higher.

Rules
Throughout all rounds, intentional contact by pushing, pulling or any other method that causes another competitor to slow down, fall or exit the course is grounds for an automatic disqualification. Unavoidable casual contact may be deemed acceptable. All contact infractions are at the discretion of the course judges and race jury.

The race leader has the right to choose their line through the course, but is not allowed to intentionally block an opponent from passing. Such obstructions may be penalized by the course judges and race jury.

If a competitor feels that a rule violation occurred during their heat, they can make a request to any member of the race jury for the alleged incident to be reviewed. The request must be made before the next heat starts.

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Freestyle Skiing

Everything you need to know about freestyle skiing at the 2018 Olympics

Basics | Judging | Glossary | Equipment | Qualifying | Olympic history

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