The 2014 Winter Olympics will feature halfpipe and slopestyle skiing for the first time ever. But before the Games can begin, the road to Sochi for the athletes competing in these events features an all-important pit stop right here in Park City, UT. The best slopestyle and halfpipe skiers from around the world will roll through town this weekend as the 2014 US Grand Prix reaches its conclusion. Technically two separate days of competition, this Grand Prix event will span the entirety of this upcoming Friday and Saturday, January 17th and 18th at Park City Mountain Resort.
So what’s at stake for our own Olympic hopefuls? The last chance for an impressive batch of American athletes to prove themselves before Saturday night’s naming of the first ever US Olympic Freeskiing Team. A few skiers have already secured their spots on the team, but for most, Olympic dreams will rest on one last pressure-filled performance.
But before we go any further, it’s time to stir the pot a bit, and highlight what makes the impressive rise of Freeskiing from youthful countermovement, to recognized Olympic sport, such an exciting development. Because while growing rapidly in popularity around the world, the addition of slopestyle and halfpipe competitions to the Winter Games has not been celebrated by all.
The Olympic Slopestyle Defense (In Rant Form):
Recently, veteran Olympic commentator, Bob Costas, made some eye-opening comments about the slopestyle discipline. When pressed for his opinion about its inclusion in the Winter Olympics, Mr. Costas declared, “I think the President of the IOC should be Johnny Knoxville. Basically this stuff is just ‘Jackass’ stuff they invented and called Olympic sports.” Referring in this instance to slopestyle snowboarding, one can’t help but assume Mr. Costas’ view of slopestyle and halfpipe skiing is similarly dismissive.
Easy to write off as a baseless condemnation, Mr. Costas’ comment is actually, in many ways, the best endorsement slopestyle could receive. With one smug and dated statement, Sir Costas touched on everything that makes slopestyle such an exciting addition to the Games. It’s fresh, wildly entertaining, and most appealingly, it ruffles the feathers of the stuffy traditionalists. Guys with names like Neville Pemberton IV, Rupert Shufflebottom III, or Bob Costas.
Becoming one of the best slopestyle skiers in the world requires the same long hours, intense competition, grueling workouts, and countless injuries that any other Olympic sport demands. These athletes start young, train relentlessly, and have proven they are the elite contenders in a rapidly growing sport. Jumping off a two story building into a bush is the hilarious work of a ‘Jackass.’ A nose butter double cork 12 is the hilarious sounding work of a stone cold serious athlete.
So what, other than the unconventional trick names and too-loose-pants, makes the accomplishments of a slopestyle athlete unworthy of Olympic recognition in the eyes of Mr. Costas? It doesn’t matter. What is important is that, come February, these young men and women will be recognized on a world stage for a lifetime of dedication to perfecting their craft.
So What Are Slopestyle and Halfpipe Events?
The merits and worth of these athletes adequately ranted about, let’s get back to what, exactly, they will be doing here in Park City. While halfpipe has become a familiar event in the Winter Olympics—included for snowboarders in 1998—it’s the slopestyle portion of what the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has labeled “Freestyle Skiing” that is an entirely new event.
Think of slopestyle as a competitive, scored lap through the terrain park, starting with incredibly technical rail features, and ending with disturbingly large jumps. Skiers are judged on the complexity of their tricks, the smoothness with which they execute, and as always, their willingness to do all of this on the verge of disaster. The King’s Crown Super Park will be where the action goes down here in Park City, and slopestyle innovators like Tom Wallisch, Bobby Brown, Nick Goepper, and Keri Herman are all expected to compete.
The halfpipe competition, meanwhile, is confined to a steep and deep half-tube of ice. Again, runs are scored by judges based on technicality, smoothness, and as always, amplitude. With Park City Mountain Resort’s world-famous Eagle Superpipe as the venue, athletes like David Wise, Gus Kenworthy, Maddie Bowman, and Brita Sigourney all figure to be skiers to keep an eye on. Hosted at night under the lights, the Eagle Superpipe competitions have drawn huge crowds for years now. Whether you hike the side of the pipe, or stay with the party at the bottom, there’s no wrong way to experience the event.
The First Time Olympians
By the end of the night on Saturday, January 18th, we will know which men and women will head to Sochi to represent our country as the US Olympic Freeskiing Team. These athletes will have proven that they do things bigger, smoother, and more technical than any of their competitors. And regardless of what happens in Sochi, they will all be Olympic pioneers.
Slopestyle and halfpipe skiing are progressing at incredible rates. The runs that win podium positions at Sochi this February will be remembered for their nostalgic simplicity come 2018. These sports are high-flying, dangerous, and require world-class athletes to be performing at their absolute best. They appeal to a younger generation that values the excitement of an event more than its deep-rooted history. And with this future generation of Olympic viewers on their side, slopestyle and halfpipe will with time become respected, fan-favorite staples of the Winter Games. Action sports are here to stay, and to ignore them on the world stage in the name of outdated respect to tradition, is to condemn the Winter Olympics to obscurity.
And so while the rest of us tune in this weekend with great anticipation for the results of the US Grand Prix, and the announcement of our US Olympians, Bob can sit at home and brush up on Switzerland’s curling team.
Nate Tomlinson, Content Writer