Beijing 2022 - A Guide to Snowboard Big Air
Updated: Jan 26, 2022
The 2022 Winter Olympics are just round the corner, and I'll be heading out there (hopefully, if the bucketload of PCR tests I need to do all come back negative) to judge the Snowboard Slopestyle and possibly the Snowboard Big Air and Snowboard Halfpipe competitions.
But how does the Snowboard Big Air contest work? Is it a spin-to-win event? How do the judges evaluate the tricks? What should you be looking for to impress your mates when you correctly predict the winner?
Well - here's a run-through of everything you need to know about Snowboard Big Air.
Snowboard Big Air is happening close to Beijing itself in the Shougang park at the newly built permanent structure in a disused industrial area of Beijing. We were there in 2019 (just before Covid) for a test event on the new jump - and it is sick. When we do in-city Big Airs, it's often on scaffolding jumps that are a little sketchy and don't bring out the best in the riders.
But the Beijing Snowboard Big Air venue is pretty much perfect - and is the location that we saw the first Quad Cork in a city Big Air event (Chris Corning's backside quad 18) in 2019.
There's 2 formats to choose from with Snowboard Big Air: 2-run Best Run Counts, or 3-run Combined Score.
We don't know which formats we'll be doing for qualification yet - a lot of it comes down to whether and timings, but the finals will be the 3-run Combined Score format.
2-Run Best Run Counts
The clue is in the total - the rank of the riders will be determined by their best run. Big Air is a single-trick event, meaning that the rider with the best trick (in terms of the criteria) will be topping the leaderboard going into finals.
A key thing to remember - the score doesn't really count here. Of course it counts in some fashion - but it's more important to look at the overall rank, the score is just there as a vehicle to determine that rank.
But effectively, the athletes get 2 attempt to land their best trick, and whichever run scores better is the score that the rider will stick with.
3-Run Combined Score
This is where it gets a little complicated to follow along, so pay attention. Each rider gets 3-runs, and we add the score of the best 2 runs which feature tricks in different rotational directions.
Men have the choice of 4 directions to spin: clockwise, anti-clockwise, forwards or backwards. For a regular rider, clockwise would be Backside or Switch Frontside spins whilst anti-clockwise is Frontside or Switch Backside. Forwards and Backwards are just front flips and backflips.
If a rider does a backside 14 on run 1 and then a switch frontside 14 on run 2 - they both count as the same direction (because from rider-feedback, it's basically the same).
Women have a little more flexibility, as they have the choice of 6 directions: Frontside, Backside, Switch Frontside, Switch Backside, forwards and backwards. Why do women have more directions? Because that's what the women wanted when they were asked. It was believed that we would actually limit progression (and cause injuries) if we asked them to go for the same format as Men. However in the next few seasons, you can expect that to change and they'll also work on anti-clockwise and clockwise rotations.
On run 1, everyone does an 'A' trick (as we call it). In run 2, they might try do the same rotational direction again to improve their score and do another 'A' trick, or they might go for a 'B' trick (different direction) to get a combined-score on the board. If they landed an A trick on run 1 and a B trick on run 2, they then might repeat one of those on run 3 to try improve the score. If they go for 'A' tricks in both runs 1 and 2, then run 3 will have to be a B trick to ensure the score counts.
We then take the best scoring 'A' trick and the best scoring 'B' trick and add them together to get the rider's final score and overall ranking.
This means that the score now counts, and maths gets involved to determine the rankings. This doesn't mean much for you as a spectator, for us as judges we have to be really careful about the scores we use to make sure we don't over or under reward a trick, that then makes it mathematically much harder for a rider to improve their rank in the subsequent runs.
BUT, a key thing to remember is that we as judges only focus on the individual trick and score it accordingly - we don't consider the combination of tricks the rider has gone for. And quite often - we've got no idea who has won until the very end of the competition.
The Judging Criteria
Snowboard Big Air is relatively simple and difficult to judge at the same time. Because there's only 1 trick, it's easy to identify the trick - but because we see a lot of the same tricks, we have to focus on very tiny details to separate them in the rankings.
We work to the DEAL criteria to evaluate each run: Difficulty, Execution, Amplitude and Landing - and you'll be able to see roughly how we've weighed it up when the TV graphics show the score on the screen.
When evaluating the difficulty - we look at the number of rotations span, the axis used, the direction of spin, and the grab used.
In theory, an 1800 is more difficult than a 1440 because of the extra 360 degrees of rotation a rider has to do. But that's not gospel. In the Steamboat World Cup Big Air in December, Marcus Cleveland tried a frontside todeo triple 1440 - which is such a progressive trick, that had he landed it he would probably have been up in the same sort of scores as the 1800s.
In terms of directions, switch backside is considered the hardest rotation to spin a trick in - although some coaches have been lobbying that for the current field of athletes all the directions are pretty much equal. But coaches lobby for their riders - so we still have to assess how the entire field of riders feel about it.
Grabs affect spin-speed and the difficulty of the trick significantly. A rotation without a grab looks very gymnastic-like and will not be rewarded. But certain grabs will 'help' the rotation, whilst others will counter the rotation. For example, the natural grab for a backside spin is mute/weddle, because the movement of the shoulders goes in the same way as the backside spin. In contrast, an indy in a backside spin means the shoulders are working against the hips, making the trick harder.
We then have the age-old argument - which is harder, a flat-spin on the horizontal axis, or a triple cork which goes off-axis 3 times. You can argue this until the sun comes up 3 times, but a lot of it comes down to personal preference. On the one hand, the triple-cork is riskier, but on the other hand, the flat-spin is harder to stop dead and ride away because the rider has so much momentum on that single axis to override in order to not over-rotate when they land. In the end - my opinion is that they're comparable, and it will be the execution of the trick that separates them.
This is how snowboard judges pretend to be all smart and fancy, when they really just mean 'how well was the trick done'. We look at the stability of the trick in the air, the duration of the grab, whether the rider is grabbing their knees with their spare hand, as well as any tweaks or bones.
If the trick is smooth and controlled, the rider will be rewarded - whereas if their flapping more than an angry bird their score will be lowered.
Similarly, we don't want to see the rider just tap the board and then twist like Simone Biles - we want to see the grab held for the majority of the spin. If they're non grabbing hand is wrapped around their leg for stability and to help stay in the rotation, that won't go down well either.
But adding some stylish flair or a personal touch to a trick with a tweak or a bone will definitely be rewarded.
Easy - how big did the rider go?
Did they send it into the parking lot, or just scrape past the knuckle?
Contrary to what we get told on the internet - bigger is better.
A crucial element of the trick - without it, the rider would still be floating away. We want to see tricks landed without any under or over-rotation, on a flat base and looking like they've just dropped off a wee wall.
The board should be pointing straight down the hill when they land, and the rider shouldn't be getting the last bit of the rotation in on the snow (under rotation) and they also shouldn't be continuing the rotation on the snow because they couldn't stop the rotation.
We also don't want to see any body-parts on the landing. And I'm not saying that they've sliced their hand off with their sharp edges - more things like hand drags,
Where to watch?
Eurosport are doing a pretty comprehensive coverage of the Olympics as usual - definitely worth buying their subscription for the duration of the Games. The BBC will be covering bits - and then in other countries, I haven't got a clue!
Check the Olympics website for the full snowboard schedule, but the Snowboard Big Air competitions are planned as follows:
Feb 14th - Mens & Women's Big Air Qualification
Feb 15th - Mens & women's Big Air Finals