Beijing 2022 - A Guide to Snowboard Halfpipe
Updated: Jan 26
The stunt ditch. 200 metres of 22 feet high icy walls and riders boosting a further 20 feet out from the lip. Snowboard Halfpipe is the traditional Olympic discipline, having been in the Games since Nagano 1998 - but what can you expect from snowboard halfpipe in the modern era?
There's a lot of comments around snowboard halfpipe being a dying sport - but I think it's probably the contest I'm looking forward to the most at this year's Olympics. We've seen a bit of a plateau in progression over the past few year - but in pre season training in Saas Fe, we saw the Japanese team starting to land triple-corks in the pipe for the first time. And not just 1 rider - 3 of them. Add to that Lucas Foster landing an (admittedly pretty ugly) backside double 1620, forays into the alley-top world through the likes of Jan Scherrer and suddenly we've got ourselves a contest.
Snowboard Halfpipe Format
In contrast to Big Air and Slopestyle, Snowboard Halfpipe has a pretty simple format. Each rider gets 2 or 3 runs, and their best run will count. I'm really hoping that at the Olympics, they give the riders 3 runs - it's a slightly longer TV show, but it gives us the best chance of a showdown to end all showdowns. Each rider can put down their typical run in run 1, and then has 2 swings at the axe to land the hammer-tricks that might get them Gold.
But quite simply - the rider gets 1 score for their whole run, there's no maths involved.
In Big Air, we work to the DEAL criteria - but in Halfpipe, we work to the DAVE criteria instead: Difficulty; Amplitude; Variety and Execution. There's a few smaller criteria in the mix as well - such as pipe use, progression and risk factor, but they don't make quite as nice an anagram, so they go under the rider but are still considered.
The ongoing snowboard halfpipe discussion is Difficulty Vs Amplitude Vs Variety. Which is the most important? Certain riders tend to go in hard on the spin-to-win approach, whilst other's throw in tricks in all the directions in an attempt to stand out.
But let's break down each criteria.
Quite simply - how difficult are the tricks in the snowboard halfpipe run. We're looking at number of rotations, the axis used, the edge used for take-off and the combinations of tricks.
Combinations are pretty key - it's a lot more difficult to do 2 tricks back-to-back, because you have to land the first perfectly to be able to keep the speed and therefore amplitude to do the next one, without a break in between.
When we talk about the edge used for take-off, it's because taking off on your heel edge on the backside wall is harder than taking off your toes on the frontside wall. We saw a brief era of snowboarding where riders were just doing 1 heel-side take-off, because it was more difficult to do - because it required exceptionally good control and a rider needed to really know how to ride the pipe to still be able to boost 20 feet out on their heel edge.
Amplitude is the name of the game when it comes to snowboard halfpipe. We as judges want to see the riders go big, but we want to see it consistently throughout the run - not just one huge first hit and then the rest of the tricks only just above the coping.
The reason we value amplitude so much, is because to be able to get good amplitude shows a rider is able to ride a snowboard halfpipe well. It also increases the trick difficulty - it's easy to do a 540 that's 1 foot outside of the pipe, but it's significantly harder to do that same trick 20 feet out.
It's definitely a key consideration when it comes to judging snowboard halfpipe - and it's why Shaun White beat Ayumu Hirano in PyeongChang 2018. Both runs had a similar level of difficulty, but Shaun's was that much further out the pipe than Ayumu - although the camera angle we (as spectators) saw didn't quite showcase that. The judges however, sat at the bottom of the pipe looking up, could see it clearly.
The variety criteria is a key separator when we're evaluating 2 very similar runs. With variety, we look at the difference in rotational direction throughout a run, whether the rider spins both up (alley oop) and down the pipe, whether they have a balance of toeside and heelside take-offs, and the mixture of grabs within the tricks.
For a few years recently, we saw riders with lots of toeside rotations (frontside and switch frontside down the pipe), but more recently riders have started to add backside and switch backside spins of a higher rotational value to help distinguish themselves from the crowd.
Another crucial criteria (let's face it, they're all crucial), where we evaluate how smooth and error-free the run is. Does the rider grab all of their spins? Do they cleanly land on one edge and continue through the transition to take off from that same edge on the next hit?
Just like big air, we want to see stability, not just flappy and twisty rotations, and that the rider is landing on the correct edge and not having to change edges as they ride through the transition. This is often an indicator that the rider has under rotated the trick and they've had to slide the last part of the rotation in.
We also want to see riders landing at the very top of the pipe, and not landing-low in the flat bottom. It used to be the case that if a rider landed low, they would have poor amplitude on their next hit - but some of the Japanese team seem to defy physics and can still boost 20 feet outside the pipe, even if they've just landed almost to flat.
When to watch Snowboard Halfpipe at Beijing 2022
You can watch halfpipe on the following dates:
9th February - Mens & Womens Halfpipe Qualification
10th February - Womens Halfpipe Finals
11th February - Mens Halfpipe Finals
If you want to see the behind-the-scenes of what goes on at the 2022 Winter Olympics - be sure to follow me over on Instagram (@Gazvogan)