Snowboarding 101: Rules, competition formats and judging

Shaun White at the 2014 Olympics

Jump to a section:
Halfpipe
Slopestyle
Big air
Snowboard cross
Parallel giant slalom

Halfpipe

 

What it is
A halfpipe, also known as a superpipe, is a U-shaped course with 22-foot walls. Riders traverse through the halfpipe, executing multiple tricks on both walls of the pipe. Halfpipe has been in the Olympics since snowboarding was added to the program in 1998.

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

The qualification round, which will include 30 riders in the men’s competition and 24 riders in the women’s competition, will consist of two runs, with each competitor’s best single run counting. The top 12 riders from the qualification round will advance to the final. If the organizers choose to divide the qualification field into two separate heats, then the top six riders from each heat (for a total of 12 riders) 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 six judges. After dropping the highest and lowest scores, the four remaining scores are averaged together for each run.

All judges score the runs based on overall impression, with each judge giving 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.” Riders 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 or more inverts are considered more technically difficult and will be rewarded as such. But there are other ways riders can increase the difficulty of a particular trick. For example, an athlete may decide to take off switch 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 riders in the field.
  • Variety
    Riders are expected to showcase a diverse mix of tricks. One of the most important ways a rider can show variety is in the way they spin when executing tricks. There are four possible directions in which a snowboarder can spin: frontside, backside, switch frontside (most commonly called “cab”) and switch backside. (In other words, athletes can either spin frontside or backside, and they can do this while riding either forward or switch.) When mapping out a run, athletes will often plan it in a way that allows them to perform as many of those spins as possible. Another way that riders 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 rider 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
    Riders 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 likely never see a rider 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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Slopestyle

 

What it is
A slopestyle course has a mix of jumps and rails that riders use to execute tricks 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. Slopestyle was added to the Olympic program in 2014.

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

The qualification round will consist of two runs, with each competitor’s best single run counting. The top 12 riders from the qualification round will advance to the final. If the organizers choose to divide the qualification field into two separate heats, then the top six riders from each heat (for a total of 12 riders) 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 departure from the two-run format used in Sochi. 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
The method used to judge Olympic slopestyle contests has changed since Sochi.

Each slopestyle run is scored by a team of nine judges. Three of those judges are responsible for evaluating each run based on overall impression. The remaining judges are split into three groups of two, with each group responsible for evaluating tricks done on specific sections of the course. Final scores are out of 100, made up of the following components:

60% trick scores
40% overall impression

Although FIS rules allow different sections to be weighted disproportionately, it is common for contests using this method to value all sections equally. (The maximum number of points that can be awarded would be the same for a rail section at the top of the course as it would be for a giant booter at the bottom, placing emphasis on a well-rounded run, rather than one or two big jump tricks.)

Because many slopestyle courses, including the one in PyeongChang, have six sections (usually three jumps and three rail sections), that would make each section worth 10% of the overall score, with each trick in the run receiving a score of up to 10.0 points.

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 riders can increase the difficulty of a particular trick. For example, an athlete may decide to take off or land switch when executing a trick, spin a frontside rotation off their toes instead of their heels, or do a more challenging grab to differentiate themselves from other riders in the field.
  • Variety
    Riders are expected to showcase a diverse mix of tricks. One of the most important ways a rider can show variety is in the way they spin when executing tricks. There are four possible directions in which a snowboarder can spin: frontside, backside, switch frontside (most commonly called “cab”) and switch backside. (In other words, athletes can either spin frontside or backside, and they can do this while riding either forward or switch.) Most slopestyle courses feature 3-4 jumps, so athletes will often map out their runs in a way that allows them to perform a different spin on each jump. Another way that riders 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 rider 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
    Riders 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 likely never see a rider 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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Big air

 

What it is
Big air is new to the Olympics for 2018. A big air setup features just one single jump. On each run, riders have one shot to land one of their biggest or most difficult tricks. In the final round, each rider must land two different tricks over the duration of the contest, as a best-two-of-three format will be utilized.

Competition format
The Olympic big air competition consists of a qualification round and a final round.

The qualification round will consist of two runs, with each competitor’s best single run counting. The top 12 riders from the qualification round will advance to the final. If the organizers choose to divide the qualification field into two separate heats, then the top six riders from each heat (for a total of 12 riders) will advance to the final. Scores from the qualification round do not carry over to the final.

The final will consist of three runs. The scores from each competitor’s two best runs will be added together to get the final results, and athletes must spin their tricks in different directions on those two runs. For example, if a rider spins a frontside rotation on one of those runs, they will need to spin a backside, switch frontside or switch backside rotation on the other run. If a rider performs the same rotation more than once, then only the highest score will be counted. 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 big air run is scored by a team of six judges. After dropping the highest and lowest scores, the four remaining scores are averaged together for each run.

All judges score each attempt on a scale ranging from 1 to 100. Scoring for big air contests is based off the D-E-A-L criteria:

  • 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 riders can increase the difficulty of a particular trick. For example, an athlete may decide to take off or land switch when executing a trick, spin a frontside rotation off their toes instead of their heels, or do a more challenging grab to differentiate themselves from other riders in the field. Progressive tricks that other riders aren’t doing will be rewarded.
  • Execution
    Control should be maintained throughout the whole trick, from take-off to landing. Grabs should held properly and for as long as possible.
  • Amplitude
    In big air, amplitude is not just about how “big” the athlete goes, but also landing the trick in the decided “sweet spot.” To have too much or too little amplitude on the jump can be dangerous and will be taken into account by the judges.
  • Landing
    Riders must land with full control, with the trick already completed (i.e. no reverts, no hand drags).

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Snowboard cross

 

What it is
Up to six snowboarders at a time race on a downhill course, with the top three finishers each advancing to the next round. The course and its features are heavily inspired by motocross tracks and include obstacles such as jumps, banked turns and rollers. Snowboard cross, also known as boardercross, has been in the Olympics since 2006.

Competition format
The Olympic snowboard cross competition consists of two portions: seeding (for men)/qualification (for women) and elimination rounds.

In the seeding/qualification rounds, competitors take individual runs through the course, and the top times determine the seeding for the final brackets. In the men’s event, all 40 riders will advance to the elimination heats, hence the term “seeding” round. In the women’s event, only the top 24 (out of 30) riders will advance to the elimination heats, hence the term “qualification” round.

In the elimination rounds, competitors are divided into heats. Each athlete wears a bib color that corresponds to their seeding/qualification run ranking. The top-ranked rider in the heat wears a red bib, No. 2 a green bib, No. 3 a blue bib, No. 4 a yellow bib, No. 5 a white bib and No. 6 a black bib. Based on their bib colors, riders choose which of the six starting gates they will use in the heat (the rider with the red bib gets first pick, followed by the rider in the green bib, and so on).

The men’s eliminations start with the 1/8 finals. In that opening round, there are eight heats of five riders, divided up so that higher seeds will not be able to meet until later rounds. The top three racers from each of the eight heats (24 athletes total) advance to the quarterfinals. The fourth and fifth place riders from each heat are ranked from 25th to 40th according to A) their finish in the heat and B) their seeding results.

The women’s eliminations start with the quarterfinals, and from this point on, the format is identical for the men’s and women’s events.

In the quarterfinals onward, each heat consists of six athletes. The top three riders from each quarterfinal (12 athletes total) advance to the semifinal heats, and the top three riders from each semifinal heat (six athletes total) advance to the final, which determines first through sixth place. The racers ranked fourth through sixth in the semifinals (six athletes total) are relegated to the small final to determine seventh through 12th place.

If two or more racers 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 each rider’s body or snowboard 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 competitors have completed the course. Whichever athlete 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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Parallel giant slalom

 

What it is
Two snowboarders at a time race side-by-side down parallel courses, with the fastest rider ultimately advancing onward. The lone Alpine snowboarding discipline represented at PyeongChang 2018, parallel giant slalom has been on the Olympic program since 2002. Past Alpine events have also included giant slalom (1998) and parallel slalom (2014).

Competition format
The Olympic format features a qualification round and head-to-head elimination rounds.

In the qualification round, competitors each take two runs — one on the red course and one on the blue course. Their two times are added together, and the athletes with the top 16 cumulative times advance to the elimination rounds. (Although the qualification round features two athletes taking runs side-by-side on the parallel courses, they are not actually racing each other.)

For the elimination rounds, all 16 competitors are seeded according to their times and placed into a bracket. The eliminations consist of four parts: Round of 16, quarterfinals, semifinals and medal finals.

In each round of the finals, competitors will take two runs — one on the red course and one on the blue course — in head-to-head matches. In the second run, the competitors switch courses, and the start gate will open based on the time difference between the two competitors in the first run. For example, if competitor A finishes 1 second ahead of competitor B in the first run, then competitor A will start 1 second ahead of competitor B in the second run. The maximum time difference between two start gates opening in round two is 1.5 seconds, meaning that even if competitor A finishes more than 1.5 seconds ahead of competitor B in the first run, competitor B starts 1.5 seconds after competitor A.

Any competitor who is disqualified on, fails to start or fails to finish the first run will start the second run with the penalty time delay.

Whoever crosses the finish line first on the second run advances to the next round.

The medal finals feature two races: a big final and a small final. The winner of the big final receives the gold medal, while the loser gets silver. The winner of the small final receives the bronze medal.

Rules
Athletes can receive a disqualification for the following infractions:

  • False start
  • Disturbing their opponent during a run
  • Passing through the wrong gate
  • Failing to execute a turn on the outside of a gate
  • Not finishing the run with at least one foot fixed to the board

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