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  • Gaz Vogan

Would this new Snowboard Halfpipe format work?

A snowboard halfpipe in copper mountain, edited in black and white

Snowboard halfpipe is dying. Competitor numbers are down, and audience figures are dwindling because fewer and fewer people are interested in the spin-to-win mentality. As a result, we’re seeing less and less full-size halfpipes built at resorts - and the staple snowboarding discipline of the Olympics appears to be on the way out.

We’ve seen a level of progression in the halfpipe this season that we haven’t seen since the start of the double-cork era. In Saas Fe this fall, several riders landed triple-corks and we saw a more creative progression on some ‘traditional’ pipe tricks, like Taylor Gold’s double michaelchuck 1260.

A change is needed to keep halfpipe alive. Dew Tour and the US Open brought in modified pipe, but it hasn’t had much immediate effect.

Is the audience getting lost and disengaged by the constant rotational element within a riders run? Does it just not appear interesting when everyone is spinning to win?

I propose the next thing to try should be a changing of the competition format.

Previous Snowboard Halfpipe Rules

In year’s gone by - there’s been different rules and restrictions that a rider must comply with in their run, the most prominent of all being the inclusion of a ‘straight air’. Riders were doing this straight air at the start of their run, and this lead to the evolution of the 20ft backside air that is a crowd (and community) favourite.

It’s no longer a rule, and honestly I can’t remember why. But we still see the boosting backside and frontside airs featured in competition runs. Whether it’s Andre Hoeflich starting with a switch backside air, Valentino Guseli’s record-breaking frontside air’s or Xuetong Cai’s backside air in the womens competition. The rider’s and the crowd still love to see it, and even though it’s just a straight air, it’s still incredibly different to do it that well and at a huge amplitude above the coping.

Trick Progression in Snowboard Halfpipe

We’ve seen riders take completely different routes from the spin-to-win angle, like Ben Ferguson, Taylor Gold, David Habluetzel and Pat Burgener - throwing creativity into their run with huge Mctwists and variations of staple-halfpipe tricks. The community, and the riders, appear to be much more engaged with these types of run than they are with the spin-to-win route.

Don’t get me wrong - the Japanese team’s ability to spin 12s or 14s in 3 or 4 different directions in a run is mind-blowing, and I love to see it - but does the audience? Everytime one of these run’s gets posted on social media, some gaper called Keith will spring up saying how he’d “Much rather see a big backside air”?

You can’t hate on progression - because it’s the essence of snowboarding. Every single snowboarder wants to progress - whether they’re hitting jumps for the first time, or landing triples in the pipe. Even if you don’t like that Ayumu Hirano is now throwing triples in his competition run, you can still respect it.

So how do we tweak the rules to encourage riders to show variety and those big backside airs (to please Keith) as well as still allowing a platform for progression?

Maximal Rotation in Snowboard Halfpipe

This is the concept I had - and no, I’m not saying stick a ‘maximum’ on the amount of rotation a rider can do within a trick. Adding any kind of limit like that is getting too close to the format of aerials and moguls skiing, and we don’t want to limit progression at all. Instead, I’m proposing a cap on the total number of rotations within a run, when you add it all together.

The goal is never to limit progression, instead the goal is to showcase the amplitude and variety of huge, stylish lower-rotational tricks.

Let’s take Yuto Totsuka’s go-to 5-trick run from last season:

  1. Frontside double 1440

  2. Cab Double 1260

  3. Switch Backside 1080

  4. Backside double 1260

  5. Frontside 1260

That’s 6,300 total degrees of rotation in an entire run. It fit the judges criteria really well. It’s got the difficulty in there (the front 14, the cab double 12 and the switch backside 10 aren’t the most common tricks) and from a variety point of view, there’s all 4 rotations in there, including 2 heelside takeoffs.

But from a generic viewer that didn’t know the intricacies of snowboarding - it just looked like a fuck-tonne of spinning (and Keith wanted to see some backside airs)

Now, let’s say we capped the maximum number of rotations at 4680 degrees. Yuto would have been able to do the 14 and two of the 12s, showcasing the difficulty, but then he’d only have 720 degrees of rotation for the final 2 tricks. So he’d be forced to boost the huge backside air (180) to please Keith on social media, and then perhaps a stylish 540 or an alley-oop.

Would it work?

I believe so, and it might solve the age-old argument in the community (and the judging stand) of Difficulty Vs Variety. Namely, when we’re comparing a run like Yuto’s (full to the brim with difficulty) and Taylor Gold’s run (where variety is the focal point) - they’re comparable but you can spend hours arguing for either to be better than the other, depending on which judging criteria you focused on.

If we put a maximum total number of rotations in a run, it will force/encourage those riders that are spinning like there’s no tomorrow, to take a step back from some of their tricks and add some variety into the run.

Yuto’s run could look like the following:

  • Backside air

  • Frontside double (or triple) 1440

  • Cab double 1260

  • Switch backside 1080

  • Alley-oop frontside 720.

The run would still have 3 of the hardest tricks in snowboard halfpipe, but it would also feature the variety aspect of the run, and perhaps make it easier to compare to a run like Taylor’s or David Habluetzel’s.

What do you think?

Do you agree with the concept? Would you be for it, or against it? Or maybe you’ve got a different idea of where snowboard halfpipe should go? Let me know in the comments - or hit me up on social media (@gaz vogan)

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