What judges will want to see in Olympic halfpipe

The results from slopestyle have been confusing for some so we talked to the head Olympic judge to see what the judges will be looking for in pipe.

Men’s halfpipe qualifiers start on Tuesday at 2 p.m. Moscow time, 2 a.m. Pacific.

Big spins and new corks like the Cab 1440 double have generally been thought of as the must-have tricks to win Olympic pipe gold, but despite a recent FIS rule change that eliminated mandatory straight airs, there’s still a place for a method or stalefish. The same panel of judges who scored slopestyle will be judging pipe, and after Sage Kotsenburg beat Mark McMorris and his triple corks in slope with tricks like a Cab double cork 1260 Holy Crail and a Stony Surfer (a layback press on a rail), combos like Danny Davis’s backside 360 to switch method suddenly seem much more likely to be rewarded at Sochi.

The judges here are using the overall impression format to rank riders, meaning they take into consideration eight criteria including amplitude, difficulty, execution, variety, course use, progression, risk taking, and combinations and assign a score based on how well the rider meets each criteria. That's why you could see someone win with a run that includes a big, stylish straight air over a guy hucking every hit.

"Let's say you’ve got someone spinning double corks all the way down and he's only doing 10 foot airs," says head Olympic slopestyle and halfpipe judge Brandon Wong. "And then you've got Shaun White who's doing a 20-foot plus backside air. Can anyone else do backside air that big? It's arguably more difficult than doing a tiny double [cork]. Amplitude increases difficult exponentially. If amplitude was easy everybody would be doing 20-foot switch McTwists."

So, throwing a massive straight air when everyone else is spinning also checks the boxes for the judges on risk and variety. Among those eight criteria the importance of variety, course use, and combinations suggest why Danny Davis has a good chance at a medal with his unusual trick selection.

Danny’s winning run from the 2014 X Games pipe


"Everybody appreciates looking at straight air or a switch method, huge," says Brandon. "The judges that you see at most every event are going to be snowboarders first and foremost, they're going to be stoked on the new, hottest trick that nobody else is doing. It’s our job to rank riders from first place to last place using those eight criteria—it’s a comparative, one rider to the next of the day."

It seems unlikely that what the judges are looking for while have any negative effect on Shaun White’s score come Tuesday though. Shaun goes massive on this straight airs, has the most technical tricks, and it’s hard to argue that his method and front five stalefish don’t look really good. Based on those eight criteria the judges are using he meets all of them better than most. But if the slopestyle results have taught us anything, it’s that anything can happen.

The Contenders

When it comes to pipe it really is all about the US team. Shaun White defined the level of riding with his gold medal run at the Vancouver 2010 Games and hasn't faced many real challengers since. At the 2013 Winter X Games he added a frontside double cork 1260 to his lineup but until the final Mammoth Grand Prix this January he hadn't needed to update his trick selection much to keep winning. At Mammoth, just to show the rest of the field that they still have some catching up to do, Shaun put down consistent Cab 1440 double corks. And then you've got guys like Danny who bring a new level of style and creativity to the game, as well Taylor Gold who has a mean 1260, and Greg Bretz with his back-to-back double corks and 1080s. (A note on Greg: he usually spins every hit.)

Shaun’s Cab 1440 double cork

In the international field keep an eye out for Iouri "IPod" Podladtchikov and his Cab 1440 double cork "YOLO Flip" and 15-year-old Ayumu Hirano out of Japan who will for sure be keeping his amplitude scores high. Dude is like a combination zen monk/ kamikaze with his quite style and massive airs.


More Sochi 2014 Olympic stories here


Pipe qualifiers start on Tuesday February 11 at 2 p.m. Moscow Time, 2 p.m. Pacific.