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Skiing Big Air is one of the newest events to join the Olympic line-up. Making its debut in Beijing 2022, the sport sees athletes throwing tricks off a huge kicker with a 168ft vertical drop.
Many athletes chose to switch things up to stand out from their competitors during Big Air competitions, skiing backward (known as ‘switch’), is one way to do so.
Skiing forward might seem challenging enough for many, so skiing backward at a jump that stands 155ft above ground, may seem almost impossible. These skiers are professionals and masters of their craft, making the most difficult of moves look effortless.
What is Big Air?
Big Air is a freestyle event where riders have two attempts at one large jump. Unlike ski jumping, it’s not about how far you get, it’s about the tricks you execute before landing.
You’ll expect to see combinations of grabs, spins, and flips as skiers are judged on form, air, and landing. There are seemingly endless combinations of tricks for the athletes to perform, with the standard being pushed year on year.
Big Air skiing was only added to the Olympic lineup in 2022 which may lead you to think that it’s a new sport, but in fact, Big Air has been around since the late 90s.
The inaugural X Games in 1997 featured snowboarding Big Air, followed two years later by the skiing version.
Snowboarding has a richer history in freestyle than skiing; snowboarding has led the way for freestyle skiing to follow.
Snowboarding Big Air made its debut on the FIS World Championship circuit in 2003. It then took a whole 13 years for ski Big Air to be added to the same FIS circuit in 2016.
As the popularity of freestyle snowboarding increased, so did the credibility of the event, and it made its way into the Olympic line-up for Pyeongchang, 2018. Closely followed this time, by skiing which made its Olympic debut just one cycle later at Beijing 2022.
As a relatively new discipline, athletes are risking it all to push the boundaries and it’s changing the way we view freestyle skiing.
Backward Skiing in Big Air explained
In Big Air events, athletes skiing backward, also known as ‘switch’, takes a lot of skill and precision. Riders tend to keep their feet close together and roll onto the edges of their skis to get direction and keep on track towards a straight exit from the jump.
With a huge jump fast approaching, you’ll notice riders looking over their shoulder. Keeping the take-off in view is essential and allows them to plan their take-off with precision.
Landing backward is also a popular and skilled way to end a jump. In many cases, it can take some impact out of the landing due to the bend of the knees and reduced need for braking action.
Additionally, when landing flat, many skiers will adjust their rotation and land switch as it takes the pressure off the ankles and knees.
Why Do Athletes Ski Backward?
So you know how the professionals ski switch, but why do they do it? Aside from it looking stylish and effortless when done well, it shows mastery and incredible amounts of skill.
Setting up a trick in reverse demands a completely new movement and therefore a more advanced skillset. The riders are using their bodies in an entirely different way to achieve the same trick which is an example of mastery. The Big Air scoring system will recognize this skill and will lead to higher point scoring.
Who’s The Best at Skiing Backward?
Skiing switch isn’t just for the most elite athletes, with the standard of freestyle skiing increasing year on year, you’ll find most professionals performing great switch skiing. But, there are some greats. If you’re wanting to check out the best of the best, here’s a good place to start.
One of the best modern freestyle skiers, Henrik Harlaut has a massive bag of tricks. The Swedish skier is one of the most stylish skiers out there and has perfected the art of effortless switch skiing. His skill and popularity earned him his own highlight reel for the Aspen 2020 X Games.
Mac Forehand is one of the younger skiers on the circuit, at 20 years old he’s up there with the best of them. He’s throwing huge tricks and won silver at the Aspen 2022 X Games with his switch 1800, double grab, with a switch landing. This may be difficult to decode, but after watching his performance you can understand how impressive of a run this is.
Don’t forget about the women! There are plenty of amazing female skiers to look out for, one being Norwegian skier Johanne Killi. She made it to the first-ever Big Air Olympic final this year where she approached the jump backward and performed a switch corked 1440, also landing switch.
Big Air is a great way to watch freestyle skiing at its finest. Modern freestyle skiing sees athletes pushing the limits and throwing bigger, more technical tricks than ever before. Skiing backward into the jump shows a great amount of skill and mastery, and when done well, will score big! So is Skiing an extreme sport?