Next year, snowboarding will have been a winter Olympics sport for twenty years. Once seen as an outsider to skiing and more of a rebellious past time than a true sport, nowadays you’d be hard-pressed to argue that it’s no longer part of the establishment. Still, it has changed dramatically since it first appeared in 1998, and with PyeongChang 2018 fast approaching here’s a handy guide to snowboarding at the Olympic Games.
February in South Korea will see five different snowboarding events across racing and freestyle disciplines, with Big Air making its first appearance and Parallel Slalom bowing out after its debut in Sochi (though Parallel Giant Slalom will still continue). The 2018 Paralympic Games will feature snowboarding for the second time, with events taking place across Boardercross and Banked Slalom.
The first freestyle snowboarding event to feature at the Olympics, halfpipe is pretty much what it sounds like. Similar to vert skateboarding, it takes place in a giant and perfectly shaped ditch with vertical walls – these days the Olympic standard size of 22′ (6.7m) walls is termed a superpipe. It is typically 180m (600′) in length and wall-to-wall measures in at 20m (65′), all seemingly carved from sheet ice.
- Olympics Appearances: 6
- 2014 Men’s Champion: Iouri Podladtchikov (SUI)
- 2014 Women’s Champion: Kaitlyn Farrington (USA)
Snowboarders aim to get ‘air’ out of the walls of the pipe by taking speed into the pipe and then using precise angles and skill to convert that speed into amplitude above the top, or ‘lip’, then landing back on the same wall. You can expect the very best riders to launch about 20′ (6m) above the top of the halfpipe, putting them well over 14m above the ground!
They also perform spins and flips whilst airborne whilst judges give them points based on the difficulty of the manoeuvre, the amplitude it is performed at and how well-executed it is, commonly referred to as style. Riders gain extra style points for grabbing their board’s edge in specific places – ones deemed ‘harder’ will score higher – whilst rotating and for landing cleanly high up the pipe wall without putting their hands on the snow. Expect riders to perform five or six tricks in a run, with the best run out of two counting as their final score.
Snowboard halfpipe will be one of the highlights of the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics – taking place under floodlights at night it tends to draw a large crowd, and the enclosed nature of the pipe compared to the other, more spread out events gives it a unique ‘gauntlet’ feel.
“Snowboard halfpipe will be one of the highlights of the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics – taking place under floodlights at night it tends to draw a large crowd”
Shaun White has two gold medals under his belt already, and although he was beaten to the podium in 2014, his performances at a select few events over the past couple of years mean he still can’t be discounted as a contender in the men’s. Defending champion Iouri (iPod) Podladtchikov will most likely be looking to retain his crown, but expect fierce competition from the likes of Australia’s Scotty James as well as Chase Josey and Ben Ferguson from the States, who have all been making waves in recent contests. Although not much is heard from them between Olympic cycles, the Chinese team are worth a flutter too, with Yiwei Zhang currently still the only rider ever to land a triple cork (three inverted spins in one air) in the halfpipe.
In the women’s, all the money has to be on Chloe Kim, who at 14 was too young to compete in the last games. She has been dominant in competition since, with her main rivals coming from teammate and three-time Olympic medallist Kelly Clark. Spaniard Queralt Castellet and American Arielle Gold are also strong contenders for medals at Pyeongchang 2018.
Fun fact: Only Swiss and American riders have claimed the men’s gold in halfpipe.