What Are The Rules Of Freestyle Skiing & How Do Judges Score? (Olympics & XGames)
The term “freestyle skiing” seems to evolve into something new almost every single year and it looks very different compared to what it used to be a couple of decades ago. With the new wave of freestyle skiing it can be hard to follow, so what are the rules and how is it scored?
Freestyle skiing rules can vary depending on which type of event you are watching and what competition you are a part of. The most common events include big air, slopestyle, skier cross, and the brand new event knuckle huck.
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Freestyle skiing judges have some of the hardest jobs in the world. Like other judges, they must effectively evaluate a run and attempt to quantify the results in a way that can be easily understood by the public, except what is considered possible is changing every year.
Scoring systems have a lot of variation among organizations like the International Olympic Committee, International Ski Federation (FIS), Association Of Freeskiing Professionals, and the X Games. They all have some overlap, but for the most part, they are quite different evaluation systems.
Winter Olympic Scoring
Back in 2011, the FIS and AFP teamed up to create this modern system of scoring which is based on a 100-point system. The idea behind this was to normalize the scoring system in between events so that runs and athletes could be compared more easily.
This became known as “overall impression” scoring, and currently uses these as criteria:
The exact definition of these phrases changes depending on what event they are applied to and not all of them are used to judge every event, but this is the model that the Winter Olympics uses for their freeskiing competitions today.
Up until 2020, the X Games used the same scoring system as the Winter Olympics, but since then they have updated the way that their events are judged. The new and improved “Overall Impression” system no longer uses a number to quantify a skier's run. Instead, it uses an “open jam” format (similar to what you might see in a surfing or street skating competition).
Instead of skiers having a set number of runs in which they need to nail their biggest tricks, they have a fixed amount of time to take as many runs as they want. Once the time expires, the judges present their overall rankings without a numerical score to go along with their decision.
Big air is currently one of the most popular freestyle skiing events, and if you’ve ever seen it then you know exactly why. Formerly known as Best Trick, Big air started as an independent freestyle snowboarding event that made its way into mainstream skiing during the 1997 Winter XGames and eventually the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022.
Big air competitions consist of one athlete at a time dropping into a course that is usually made up of one massive kicker jump in which the skier is expected to throw the biggest trick possible while landing perfectly. They might even launch off facing backward.
Olympic Big Air Scoring
Big air competitions are scored on a numeric scale of 1-100, 100 theoretically being a perfect score. No one has ever had a final score of 100 because the scale is simply used to quantify how competitors stack up against each other in that specific event.
It doesn’t consist of an infinitely complex algorithm and it doesn’t take what other riders have gotten in previous competitions, the system just provides a baseline so that judges have a way to compare riders within the same competition.
The Olympic panel of judges usually consists of six people that hail from different nations, to prevent any bias. They utilize a specific criterion named DEAL, and this is how it breaks down:
- The technicality of a trick.
- Tweaks to the trick like a taking-off switch and extra rotations increase this score
- Control and smooth execution of a trick
- i.e. Grabs and spins must be initiated immediately after going airborne and held until the contestant is about to land.
- How much air does a skier get?
- Bonus points for landing in the “sweet spot” between the knuckle and the flat of the landing.
- No hand drags, washouts, or landing in the back seat.
Slopestyle skiing events have much more room for creativity than big air or halfpipe because the course contains so many different features. This includes jumps, rails, boxes, quarter pipes, walls, and just about anything you can imagine.
Like big air, slopestyle was originally a snowboarding event. The XGames adopted the event in 2002, and the Winter Olympics didn’t add it to their freestyle skiing competitions until 2014.
Olympic Slopestyle Criteria
- How much air the skier gets
- The technicality of the trick
- The variety of tricks the skier throws down.
- E.g. flips, spins, grabs, grinds, stalls, and switch take-offs
- The overall smoothness of the trick
- Holding a grab long enough, personal style, and a clean landing.
- New tricks, linking old tricks in new ways
Halfpipe is one of the modern competition’s most iconic freestyle skiing events. Skiers fly down the pipe while launching out of each side until they reach the bottom of the course.
Like most freeskiing events, halfpipe was also adopted from snowboarding which had originally taken the idea from vert skateboarding competitions. Halfpipe uses the same criteria as big air, amplitude, difficulty, variety, execution, and progression.
Halfpipe Rules & Regulations
The most important rule for halfpipe competitions states that:
- A skier is not allowed to stop for 10 seconds and then resume the run. The run will be scored up until that point, but anything that comes after will be thrown out.
Moguls are not part of the X Games, but they have the most complex scoring system out of any Winter Olympic skiing competition so be sure to pay close attention. I would argue that it is the most physically demanding freestyle skiing event in that it puts a lot of wear and tear on your body (even on a perfect run), whereas other events are less damaging until you fall.
The courses consist of a straight section of moguls with 2 sets of jumps spaced evenly apart, off of which athletes have to land one of the approved tricks. Moguls combine the most advanced skiing techniques both on the ground and in the air.
Scoring System For Olympic Moguls
|Components||Percentage Of Final Score||How Is It Judged?|
Total Score = Turn Score + Air Score + Speed Score
There are five judges that evaluate turns, two evaluate the jumps, and the speed category is determined by comparing the racer’s time to the FIS pace time. All 3 of these categories are weighted to obtain the final score.
Calculating Turn Score
- Fall line - Skiers should stay in the fall line as much as possible from start to finish. Switching to another line of moguls will lead to a deduction.
- Carving - Slash turns or sliding out will result in a deduction.
- Absorption & extension - Skiers' legs should act like the suspension on a truck. Absorbing the mogul, and extending the legs back down in between moguls.
- Upper body - The skier's head is supposed to be as still as possible and face down the hill toward the finish line. Judges want the back to stay straight and the hands to stay out in front of the skier. In other words, the skier should make this look as easy as walking on flat ground.
|4.1-5.9||Complete fall without attempting to stop, almost a complete stop|
|2.9-4.0||Hard landing, front roll/somersault, but able to keep the momentum|
|2.1-2.8||Semi-hard landing with no stop|
|0.1-2.0||Sloppy landing with no loss in speed, speed check, or missing fall line|
This score is calculated, the highest and lowest ones are tossed, and the remaining scores are added together for a maximum possible score of 60.
Calculating Air Score
Two judges will evaluate the skier's form and how difficult the line/course is. To calculate the skier’s form score they consider:
- Quality - The skier’s form and landing
- Air - How high and far the skier goes off the jump
- Fluidity - Skier’s ability to not fall out of rhythm before hitting the jump
Each judge will award a form score and then the average of the two is taken for a maximum score of ten.
Each jump has a degree of difficulty score which is derived from a list of preapproved maneuvers that the skier can attempt off of a jump. This degree of difficulty score is multiplied by the skier’s form score to get the air score for each jump.
Finally, the air scores for both jumps are added together for a maximum possible score of 20.
Calculating Speed Score
The speed category is determined by comparing the racer’s time to the established FIS pace time. The FIS calculates the skier's pace time by multiplying the length of the course (meters) by the established pace time (meters per second).
Basically, the skier’s speed score will be affected positively or negatively depending on how it stacks up to the established pace time with a maximum possible score of 20.
To some, Olympic Aerials may look very similar to an X Games big air competition, and they wouldn’t be that far off. Aerials combine the freestyle technicality of high-speed flips and rotations that are synonymous with big air and combine them with the staggering height and distance of Olympic Ski Jumping.
This unique winter event isn’t featured in the X Games and it hasn’t been a part of the Olympics for very long, but its roots run deep to the beginning of the Winter Olympics in 1924. Since ski jumping’s humble origins in 1924, the event spawned multiple updated versions of itself including the debut of aerials in the 1994 Olympics.
How Are Skiing Aerials Scored In The Olympics?
Like moguls, aerials have 5 judges and are scored similarly where the final score is made up of three smaller components. This method of scoring is very popular and effective in events like moguls where multiple skiing techniques of the contestant are put to the test.
|Components||Percentage Of Final Score|
Calculating Air Score
A skier’s air score is comprised of two categories, take-off and height/distance.
- Take-off score (50%) - This is based on how well the skier anticipates the timing of their take-off. The skier will lean forward, almost in a superman position, with their chest out as they leave the jump.
- Height & distance (50%) - This one is pretty self-explanatory. Judges measure the height and distance of the take-off by tracking the skier’s trajectory and making sure they landed in the sweet spot as opposed to ski jumping where maximum distance is trying to be achieved.
Height And Distance Scoring
Calculating Form Score
Judges will award up to five points while looking to see how composed the skier is in the air while they throw their trick. They include:
A skier with perfect form would keep their body tight, display mid-air control, and nail the trick in one smooth motion.
Calculating Landing Score
|2.6-3.0||Excellent balance, little to no knee compression|
|2.1-2.5||No hand drag, slightly imbalanced landing, OR hard compression with no hand drag|
|1.6-2.0||No bodily contact, hand(s) dragging, hard compression, very imbalanced|
|1.1-1.5||Light back slap/body contact, slight under/over rotation|
|0.6-1.0||Instant body contact/hardback slap, severe under/over rotation|
|0.1-0.5||Instant crash, slide/wash out very little weight|
|0.0||Landing on body|
The highest and lowest scores for air, form and landing are all discarded. The sum of the remaining scores is then multiplied by the degree of difficulty (predetermined value for each trick) to get the skier's final score.
Total Score =Degree Of Difficulty*(Air Score+Form Score +Landing Score)
Ski cross is an exciting blend of high-speed racing mixed in with jumps and other obstacles that will keep you on your toes. Since this event is closer to the format of a traditional race there aren’t any special formulas used to calculate the winner.
The event made its debut during the X Games’ inaugural year in Big Bear, CA, and had a 15-year run until it was eliminated as an event in 2013. Lucky for all the ski cross fanatics, it has been alive and well at the Winter Olympics since 2010.
The event begins with 32 skiers in each of the men’s and women’s categories. Each race consists of four skiers per heat, and the top two skiers from each heat will progress to the next round, meaning the ski cross champion will have to ski in five separate races to take home the gold.
Sounds pretty simple, right? The only stipulation that the athletes have to abide by concerns intentional contact. It’s not uncommon to have a couple of athletes collide when flying down an icy course next to each other, but any pushing, pulling, or body checking will result in disqualification from the event.
If you are new to the world of freestyle skiing then there is a good chance you have never heard of this odd-sounding (and looking) addition to the Winter X Games. This brand new event began in 2020 and has been a fan favorite ever since.
This event takes place on the big air course, but the massive kicker that is the backbone of that high-flying event isn’t used. Skiers utilize the flexibility of their skis to spring themselves over the knuckle of the jump while throwing the most technical tricks they can despite only being a couple of feet off of the ground.
Freestyle skiing has certainly come a long way over the past century and one could almost consider it a whole new sport in comparison.
From its grassroots beginnings at local resorts to the international recognition that it receives today, it's not hard to see why freestyle skiing contains some of the most popular and extreme professional events.