Q: What is freestyle skiing?
A: Freestyle skiing is a catchall category of sorts for the non-Alpine, non-Nordic skiing events. Each discipline has a different history and they were added to the Olympics at various times.
Moguls were introduced in 1992, followed by aerials in 1994. At the 1998 Nagano Games, the U.S. dominated the two events, winning three out of four gold medals. But Americans wouldn’t win another freestyle gold until 2010 (Hannah Kearney, women’s moguls). That’s also the year ski cross was added. The final two freestyle events, halfpipe and slopestyle, debuted in Sochi, where the U.S. took home seven medals (3 gold).
Q: What are the events? Where are they held?
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A: Men and women compete in five events each (halfpipe, slopestyle, aerials, moguls and ski cross) for a total of 10. All of the events are held at the Phoenix Snow Park (where most snowboarding events are also held).
A halfpipe is a U-shaped course carved into the hill (like a pipe split horizontally). Skiers traverse back and forth, doing multiple tricks on each side of the pipe’s 22-foot walls. Scores are determined by judges.
Halfpipe has both a qualification round, and a final round. The qualification round consists of two runs, with the best single run counting. Twelve riders (out of 30 total for men and 24 for women) make it to the final round. The finals consist of three runs (compared to two in Sochi), with the best single run again used to determine the winner.
Slopestyle was new to the Olympics in 2014. Skiers go through a terrain park like course, doing tricks off a mix of jumps and rails (in Pyeongchang there are three sections of each, six total). Slopestyle consists of two-qualifying runs, and three-final runs. The best single run counts in qualification, with twelve riders making it to the finals (out of 30 total men, 24 women). The highest single run score in the finals, as determined by judges, wins. No scores carry over from qualifications.
In aerials, skiers go off very large, steep jumps. They perform a series of flips and twists in the air before landing. The sport is judged, and is made up of a qualifying round (two runs), and a knockout-style final round (three runs).
All 25 skiers (in both men’s and women’s competitions) participate in the first qualification run. The top six scores advance directly to the finals, with the remaining 19 competing in the second run of qualifying. The top-six from that join the first six in finals, for a total of 12 final jumpers.
The nine top-scorers make it out of the first finals run. In the second run, three more skiers are eliminated. The last finals run, known as the “super final,” pits six skiers against one another for gold. The top-score wins.
In moguls, skiers go down a steep slope with bumps (known as moguls), and jumps interspersed. The events consist of a qualification phase (two rounds) and a knockout-style finals phase (three rounds). Each ski run is judged and timed. Scores never carry over from a previous round.
All 30 skiers (in both the men’s and women’s events) participate in the first qualification round, and are ranked by their scores after one run. The top 10 advance directly to the finals, while the remaining 20 go to the second qualifying run. The top-10 from that qualifier also advance to the finals, for a total of 20 final skiers.
In the first finals round, each skier takes one run. The twelve top-scorers advance. The second round also consists of one run. The top-six (of the twelve) move on. In the third and last finals round, also known as the “super final,” six skiers vie for gold. The highest score wins.
Ski cross is very similar to snowboard cross, with multiple skiers racing at once on a course with many banked turns, jumps, rollers and other obstacles. This event is timed or head-to-head, so there’s no subjective judging.
Both the men’s and women’s events consists of a seeding round, and an elimination round. For seeding, each skier takes one run on the course. All 32 skiers (in each the men’s and women’s field) advance to the elimination phase. The seeding is used to create heats so that the fastest skiers won’t meet until later rounds. The first elimination round has eight heats of four skiers each. The top-two finishers in each advance. Same for the round of 16, the quarterfinals and semifinals. The final four skiers race each other for gold.
Q: How does the judging work?
A: Four of the five freestyle skiing disciplines are judged (the exception being ski cross). Each have different formats and criteria.
Halfpipe: Six judges award marks for height, difficulty, variety of tricks, execution and progression (new tricks or new sequences). The highest and lowest scores from each run are thrown out, and the remaining scores are averaged. Scores are out of 100.
Slopestyle has five judges. Their scores are averaged to get a final score (out of 100). All judges take into account amplitude (too little, or too much), variety, difficulty, execution and progression.
Aerials has five judges, who evaluate on three criteria: air (2 points), form (5 points) and landing (3 points). The highest and lowest component scores are dropped, and the rest are added together (total of up to 30 points). That number is then multiplied by the jump’s difficulty level (up to 5 points), for a maximum total score of 150.
Each moguls run is scored based on two components: turns (five-judges) and air (two-judges). Speed is the third factor. Each is weighted differently in the final score, which is out of 100 points.
Turns account for 60 percent of the score. Each turn judge gives two different scores — one positive “turn” value and a negative “deductions” value. The turn component is evaluated on whether a skier stays in the fall line, carves their turns, absorbs and extend their legs between moguls, and keeps their upper body still. The maximum points possible is 20. Deductions are taken for stops, falls or touchdowns, and can subtract up to six points. The lowest and highest turn and deduction scores are dropped. The remaining ones are added together to get a total turns score (maximum of 60 points).
The two air judges evaluate based on form and difficulty. Form is relatively subjective, and operates on a 10 point scale. Those two scores are then averaged, and multiplied by the difficulty of the jump (each trick has an assigned difficulty level). The maximum air score is 20.
The speed score is based on the time it takes a skier to get down the course, compared to the theoretical pace time (determined by the length of the course). A maximum of twenty points is awarded here as well.
The final score is the sum of the turns, air and speed points (maximum of 100).
Q: Do they use poles?
A: Most do. Aerialists are the exception.
Q: Who to watch for?
A: The U.S. team is well poised for Pyeongchang, especially in halfpipe and slopestyle.
Two thirds of the slopestyle podium sweep in Sochi returns to the team. Both silver medalist Gus Kenworthy and bronze medalist Nick Goepper should again be medal threats. Kenworthy, who came out in 2015, will be one of Team USA’s two openly gay athletes. “I’m definitely, like, ‘the gay skier’ now,” he said. “I know that I took the step to come out publicly and decided to wear that badge proudly.” The U.S., led by Maggie Voisin and Sochi silver medalist Devin Logan, should contend in slopestyle as well.
In halfpipe, the men could very well sweep the podium. Reigning gold medalist David Wise and Olympic newcomer Alex Ferreira should both contend for gold. The women, led by defending gold medalist Maddie Bowman, are likely to win at least one medal, too. That said, the Canadians and French have strong halfpipe skiers (both men and women) as well.
In aerials and moguls, the Americans aren’t quite as experienced. The entire women’s moguls team, for instance, is comprised of first-time Olympians (perennial threat Hannah Kearney retired after Sochi). That said, Jaelin Kauf could contend for a moguls medal and Ashley Caldwell of Ashburn, in her third Olympics, is a favorite in aerials.
The United States has no entrants in ski cross. France, Sweden, Canada and others will vie for the podiums there.
Q: When is freestyle skiing contested, and how can I watch it on TV?
A: Moguls qualification begins the morning of Opening Ceremonies, and the final event is Feb. 23.
All events will air on NBC and NBCSN, but only two will be shown live. Here is a schedule of the finals, with television coverage in parentheses. (All times Eastern.) Competition is also available by live-streaming or on the NBC Sports app.
— Feb. 11: Women’s moguls, 8:10 a.m. (NBC, 7-11 p.m.)
— Feb. 12: Men’s moguls, 8:10 a.m. (NBCSN, 7-11 a.m.; NBC, 3-5 p.m.)
— Feb. 16: Women’s aerials, 6:52 a.m. (NBC, 8 p.m.-midnight)
— Feb. 16: Women’s slopestyle, 11:56 p.m. (NBC, 12:35-2 a.m.)
— Feb. 18: Men’s slopestyle, 12:11 a.m. (NBC, 11:30 p.m. on Feb. 17-1:30 a.m. Feb. 18)
— Feb. 18: Men’s aerials, 6:52 a.m. (NBCSN, 10:15 a.m.-1 p.m.; NBC, 3-6 p.m.; NBCSN, 10:15 p.m.-1:30 a.m.)
— Feb. 19: Women’s halfpipe, 9:18 p.m. (NBC, 8-11:30 p.m., live)
— Feb. 21: Men’s ski cross, 12:35 a.m. (NBC, 12:05-1 a.m.)
— Feb. 21: Men’s halfpipe, 10:22 p.m. (NBC, 8-11 p.m., live)
— Feb. 23: Women’s ski cross, 12:35 a.m. (NBC, 12:35-2 a.m.)