Slopestyle has been part of snowboarding from the beginning - and in fact is most like actual snowboarding of any of the sport’s various events.
Slopestyle - men and women’s, ski and snowboard - becomes an Olympics event for the first time in Sochi, Russia, in 2014, as the International Olympic Committee latches on to slopestyle’s surging popularity. Unlike the icy seven-metre walls of a superpipe - of which only three exist in Canada - slopestyle is accessible to all skiers and snowboarders, starting with small jumps and short rails at any terrain park at any hill in the country.
Like alpine skiing events such as downhill, slopestyle will vary somewhat, but not much, mountain to mountain. The feel and size of jumps may be different. Some course designers will come up with different combinations of steel rails and big jumps. The largest jumps can be 70 feet, or about 20 metres, which measures the distance from the base of the jump’s lip to the edge of the slope where riders/skiers land. Athletes can be in the air for some 50 metres, and as high as 10.
The courses are generally around 700 metres long.
At the Dew Tour in Breckenridge last month, the length of the course was 2,200 feet, or 670 metres.
1: Two rails to start: a kinked rail - down, flat, down, or a straight down rail.
2: The second feature also had two options, a flat rail to a down rail, or a flat box to a down-sloped box.
3: A 55-foot jump.
4: A 65-foot jump.
5: Two options: an up-flat-down kinked rail, or a small jump up to a slanted box.
6: A 70-foot jump.
7: A 70-foot jump.
Sebastien Toutant won X Games snowboard slopestyle a year ago, including theses two tricks:
- “cab double cork 1260”: The trick starts with the athlete riding fakie- backwards. The double cork is two off-axis flips. The 1260 is 3 1/2 360-degree rotations.
- “backside double cork 1080”: Two off-axis backflips and three 360-degree rotations. Toutant, who goes by the nickname Seb Toots, calls his version of this trick the “Tootsie Roll.”
Slopestyle, like halfpipe, is a judged event.
For Sochi 2014, there will be six judges, one more than the five in Vancouver.
The top and bottom scores will be dropped, and the other four scores rating overall-impression are averaged.
Slopestyle riders get two or three runs, with their best showing counting as their score.
Several factors are evaluated:
- flow: The rider’s line through the course, how smooth the athlete moves through the hits.
- creativity: What sort of flair the rider shows.
- technical difficulty: How hard are the tricks, and the series of tricks.
- style: Does it look cool? An elusive but crucial element.
Judged events always lead to questions. Shaun White has previously said that he has to “educate” judges when he comes up with new tricks, using them in competitions instead of unveiling them for the biggest events, where their difficulty might not be immediately understood.
Athletes also build up reputations, says Toutant.
“When I was younger, I was just a little guy that nobody knew. It was a little hard to be to get my spot. It’s tough. You’re from Canada, judges don’t know you, you stomp good runs but sometimes the judges don’t judge you as much as they should. Now I’m known. I’m not saying it’s easier but I’m saying at least when I’m doing something they score me what I should have.”
And there is no margin for error at the top. Just a single hand down on the snow to steady a small wobble on a landing is already a strike against a rider.
“Nowadays,” says Mark McMorris, “to win a contest, you’ve got to be on it, pretty much perfect.”