Ross Powers scored a 46.1 during his final gold medal run, which started with this world record eighteen-foot method at the 2002 Olympics. PHOTO: Kurt Hoy

Ross Powers scored a 46.1 during his final gold medal run, which started with this world record eighteen-foot method at the 2002 Olympics. PHOTO: Kurt Hoy

How does judging work?

Halfpipe judging, like figure-skating judging, is subjective—in other words, it’s not a timed event. And to make it even more complicated, tricks don’t have an official degree of difficulty or specific points assigned to them. Also, riders don’t have to call out their runs ahead of time, so judges really have to pay attention (truth is, once you hit the Olympics, most riders stick to the run they’ve been doing throughout the Grand Prix qualification series, with strategic variations). The Olympic pipe is scored by seven judges with one overall impression score based on the following criteria: execution of tricks, variety of tricks, difficulty, pipe use, and amplitude.

Adding It All Up

It all breaks down into three rounds—qualifiers, semifinals, and finals. Each rider initially has two runs to impress the judges in qualifiers, with the top six automatically advancing to the finals. The remaining riders will duel it out in the semifinals for the six remaining spots. That leaves twelve riders chasing gold in the finals, with the better of their two runs as their final score. Each rider can score a maximum of ten points per run, and only five of the seven judges scores count (the highest and lowest are dropped). Earning a perfect score is a difficult task considering these following deductions:

0.1–0.4 points: Flat landings, instable landings, and small hand touches

0.5–0.9 points: Using hands for stability,
hand drags

1.0–1.5 points: Hard touchdowns and
minor falls

1.6–1.9 points: Complete falls without a stop or interruption

2 points: Any complete stop

2 points: Failure to do a straight air

Failing To Do A Straight Air?

Though controversial, the straight air rule is in place according to FIS, to “easily relate rudimentary halfpipe skills and style to spectators in an attempt to protect and prolong the sport.“

“Most kids want to imitate their heroes, but massive spins and flips are hard to imagine,” says Olympic pipe judge Steve Brown. “So if they see these riders doing a big method air [or similar], then they have a starting point to go out and try, rather than avoiding the pipe,” he argues. While the FIS also counts air-to-fakies, alley-oops, and 180s as straight airs, this rule is the one discrepancy in FIS/Olympic judging compared to, say, the X Games, because many riders believe this limits their run.

“It changes how we ride,” says Kevin Pearce. “That says it all. Snowboarding is about self-expression. It’s about doing it your own way and doing your best run, but when the rules start telling you how to do your run, it simply screws things up.”

Nonetheless, riders will be strategically stacking their tricks and pelting the pipe with double- corks for that one perfect run. There’s a lot on the line and it all boils down to a few judges.