When snowboarding entered the Olympics in 1998 in Nagano, Japan, the only disciplines included were giant slalom and halfpipe. As the sport continued to grow, it’s recognition in the Olympics did as well.
Parallel giant slalom events for men and women joined the Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002 and replaced previous giant slalom events. When boardercross events for men and women joined the Olympic roster in 2006, it looked like snowboarding had reached its peak, but the 2014 Sochi Olympics appear to have something even better in store.
In February of 2013, the Executive Board of the Olympic Committee approved ski and snowboard slopestyle as official events in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.
Why Did They Add It?
Slopestyle is one of the most popular disciplines in snowboarding and freestyle skiing, and it’s growing fast. The sport is full of hungry, dedicated young athletes, who were more than happy to hear about the addition to the Olympics.
“I am so stoked to hear that the IOC believes that slopestyle snowboarding is ready for the Olympics. This is so huge for our sport. I also feel lucky that I will now be able to work toward qualifying for the Olympic Games and the chance to represent my country,” Chas Guldemond -- one of the world’s top slopestyle riders -- told ESPN.
In May of 2013, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) sent executives and slopestyle experts to Sochi, Russia to find the proper venue for the first Olympic slopestyle event. The International Ski Federation (FIS) -- the organization in charge of designing the snowboard venue -- attended the visit as well.
During the visit, the IOC and FIS confirmed that it was possible to hold a slopestyle competition for male and female skiers and snowboarders at the venue. The only question that remained was how the course would be designed.
The Building of the Course
In August, 2013, the slopestyle course design for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia was released. With kickers, gaps, rails, and rollers it appeared that no features were missing in the design.
The course will be constructed at Rosa Khutor Alpine Resort and Anders Forsell -- Sweden’s premier park builder -- will oversee the course’s construction. Forsell is the owner of Snowpark Consulting and is the terrain park manager at Sweden’s Åre Resort, which is one of the world’s most elite freestyle ski and snowboard resorts.
Slopestyle courses are similar to boardercross courses -- they vary from park to park and have no standard format. This makes the design far more difficult than that of many other Olympic venues (like figure skating or curling), which are uniform throughout all competitions.
Although, many major slopestyle contests follow similar design elements. The distance between the ramp of a jump and its landing is generally 30 - 80 feet, with the larger gaps preferred by most competitors.
Many riders agree that the FIS has a history of creating courses with small jumps that don’t allow for the maximum amount of airtime for the most complicated tricks.
"I want to do this triple cork at the Olympics and all, but right now it hasn't been set up that well. Every Olympic qualifier I've been at, the jumps have been really small and not even close to being big enough for a triple cork,” professional snowboarder Mark McMorris said in an interview with The Star.
Bigger and Better
Anders Forsell replied to complaints by ensuring that the 2014 Sochi course will not fall short of rider expectations. One of Forsell’s helpers told ESPN that the Sochi course will include jumps with at least 60 feet between the takeoff ramp and the landing. They’ve assured that there will be enough air time for all of the most progressive maneuvers to be performed.
According to ESPN, Forsell’s goal in designing the snowboard cross course was to make it as good as -- if not better than -- the X Games courses in previous years that have allowed for triple cork maneuvers.
The detailed layout of the course features three separate rail-feature sections and three major jumps. Forsell and his team agree that the 635-meter slopestyle course at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics will be the best possible slopestyle stage of the year.
As a new discipline in the 2014 Olympics, a lot of details needed to be hashed out regarding the scoring of the slopestyle ski and snowboard events. The goal of each rider in the slopestyle discipline is to link together a run that makes good use of the jumps, rails and other features of the course while performing technical tricks to wow the judges.
Each run is scored on the overall impression of the judges with new and more advanced tricks scoring higher than “safe” ones. The difficulty of the maneuvers, amplitude and execution are taken into account, and clean landings are essential. Any falling or touching the ground with anything except the board (such as hands or the rider’s rear end) when landing results in deductions from the rider’s score.
An initial qualifying round cuts the 30 original riders down to 22. The top eight scores advance riders to the finals, while a semi-final competition decides four more places in the main event. The first rider in the finals competition is the one with the lowest qualifying score, and the order proceeds toward the highest qualifying score -- with the best rider competing last.