Has it been four years already? It seems like just yesterday that snowboarding made its debut as an Olympic sport in Nagano, Japan in 1998. Well, it?s that time again, albeit much closer to home. Just 57 days from today, Park City, Utah will be converted from a swanky resort town to a full-on Olympic clusterf–k.

The countdown kicks off this month with the Chevy Truck Grand Prix of Snowboarding Olympic Qualifying events which means everyone from riders to pipe builders probably already have Olympic butterflies. Tune in to twsnow.com for the weekly lowdown on what?s happening with the three ring?er, make that five ring?circus. Here?re a few FAQ appetizers to tantalize your Olympic palate:

When is it?
The curtain will rise on February 10, 2001 at Park City, Utah. The schedule is as follows:
February 10: Women?s Halfpipe Qualifiers and Finals, 10:00 am – 2:00 pm (tickets still available).
February 11: Men?s Halfpipe Qualifiers and Finals, 10:00 am ? 2:00 pm (SOLD OUT)
February 14: Men and Women?s Parallel Giant Slalom Qualifiers, 10: am ? 2:00 pm (SOLD OUT)
February 15: Men?s and Women?s Parallel Giant Slalom Finals, 10:00 am ? 2:00 pm (SOLD OUT)

How will the US Olympic Snowboard Team be selected?
It took the folks at USSA six or seven tries to explain it to us, but we think we got it straight. No, we?re not retarded?it is pretty complicated. The International Ski Federation (that?s FIS for short) is at the helm once again, extending their incredibly bureaucratic arms around our little sport to organize point ratings and all that jazz to help figure out who ranks where. Combine that with the long arm of the International Olympic Committee (a.k.a. the IOC just so you have your acronyms straight) and you?ve got a ranking system so intricate and complex it?s simply not worth noting here.

What you do need to know is the US qualified for the maximum total of 15 spots to comprise the US team: four male racers; four female racers; four male halfpipe riders and three female halfpipe riders (sorry girls, that?s just how it worked out). Now that they?ve figured out how many people get to go, they?ve gotta fill the spots. And that?s going to happen over the next two months at the Chevy Truck US Snowboard Grand Prix. Basically, the riders with the most points win. They get points by competing in any FIS events (since November 2001) and the five Grand Prix events. What?s cool is you don?t have to be a member of FIS to compete in the Grand Prix?it?s open to everyone?and the Grand Prix awards more points than any of the previous FIS events. That seems pretty fair and gets our stamp of approval.

When do the qualifiers begin?
Amazingly enough, they pack all the qualifying action into one short month and five events at Mammoth Mountain, California, Mt. Bachelor, Oregon, and Breckenridge, Colorado. The first event kicks off at Mammoth on December 14 and the US Olympic Team will be announced at Breckenridge, Colorado just hours after the event on January 13. Yes, we can add: they?re having back-to-back halfpipe qualifying at Mammoth and Breck?three venues?five events. If you think your get sore after hiking the pipe for two days straight, just think how the competitors will feel after this month is over! The events are open to anyone who wants to compete (yes, that?s right, even you) and the team will be chosen based on who earns the most points. Here?s the event lineup:

Dec. 14 – Chevy Truck U.S. Snowboard Grand Prix, Mammoth Mountain, CA
Dec. 16 – Chevy Truck U.S. Snowboard Grand Prix, Mammoth Mountain, CA
Jan. 6 – Chevy Truck U.S. Snowboard Grand Prix, Mt. Bachelor, OR
Jan. 10 – Chevy Truck U.S. Snowboard Grand Prix, Breckenridge, CO
Jan. 13 – Chevy Truck U.S. Snowboard Grand Prix, Breckenridge, CO

The racers have it a little tougher with venues both Stateside and overseas. But unlike the halfpipe riders, they don?t have to worry about grouchy judges or personal favorites?like the ol? cliché goes, the only thing they?re racing against is the clock. The Parallel Giant Slalom qualifier schedule goes like this:

Dec. 9 – FIS World Cup, Whistler, BC
Dec. 21 – FIS Continental Cup, Park City, UT
Jan. 4 – Chevy Truck U.S. Snowboard Grand Prix, Mt. Bachelor, OR
Jan. 20- FIS World Cup, Bardonecchia, Italy
Jan. 24- FIS World Cup, Kreischberg, Austria

What is the halfpipe at the Olympics going to be like?
Yes, the halfpipe will be shaped by a Super Pipe Dragon for maximum wall height and smooth, wide transitions. And with seating for 16,500 spectators you can bet the Olympic halfpipe event will make the US Open at Stratton, Vermont look like a family picnic. Sorry, tickets for the men?s event are already sold out, but you can still get in to see the women?s event?if you want to cough up $45 for bleeder seats.

What pros should you put your money on?
When it comes to US freestyle favorites, keep your eye on Vermont wonder boy Ross Powers, Mammoth?s Danny Kass, Tommy Czeschin and Colorado veteran (now with wife and child) Todd Richards. In the Ladies club Tricia Byrnes is the one to watch?she?s been in the game way too long not to make it happen this year. Racers in the limelight these days include Alaska?s Rosey Fletcher (with a personality the size of her home state) and longtime veteran Chris Klug. We?ll bring you up-to-date interview with these rock stars and more on their road to the Olympics.

Stay tuned to twsnow.com for more in-depth Olympic Countdown coverage.