How it works, where it comes from and who to watch
Slopestyle skiing is already a favourite at the X Games and Dew Tour, but the sport will take the final step in its journey from the terrain park to the big time when its athletes make their Olympic debut in Sochi in February 2014. In a sense it’s also the next phase in the modernization of the Winter Olympic Games – bringing in sports largely developed through inclusion in the X Games – which began when moguls and aerials were added as demonstration sports at the ’88 Calgary Winter Olympics.
If you’re new to watching slopestyle it works like this: the skiers make their way down a terrain park course that features “waves” of features such as jumps and rails. In each wave, the athlete has several options in terms of type of feature or size of jump which they can choose from which ultimately add to both the individuality and creativity of the discipline. The athletes are judged and score points based on amplitude (how much air they get off the jumps), difficulty, originality and quality of their tricks – usually spins, grinds, grabs and flips. It’s a very creative sport; each skier is encouraged to develop his or her own personal style and there’s tremendous diversity in the tricks, which is what makes it so much fun for both the skiers and their audiences.
Peter Judge, CEO of the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association (CFSA), calls slopestyle the urbanization of skiing. Growing out of BMX biking and skateboarding, slopestyle takes urban street culture to the snow. Beginning in about the mid 1990s, skiers began adopting some of the tricks that snowboarders were doing. Since then, slopestyle has accelerated rapidly and become an important and exciting part of the freestyle ski program, in part because it’s so accessible to everyone.
“Terrain parks are part of the mountain culture at just about every resort in Canada. Aspiring athletes can try out the obstacles and learn basic tricks, and if they’re keen, join a club,” says Judge. CFSA offers formalized athlete development programs in many freestyle ski clubs, which give kids a head start through instruction and competitive opportunities.
Canadian national team skier Kaya Turski got into slopestyle after rollerblading competitively as a teenager. “I was invited to an event where I tried skiing for the first time in about eight years,” she says. “It was very similar to rollerblading and I connected with the sport instantly.”
Unlike the “classic” freestyle disciplines of moguls and aerials, slopestyle athletes compete in a broad spectrum of events including not only the FIS World Cup but independent specialty events on the AFP circuit (Association of Freeskiing Professionals) and the X Games. Through all these events they accumulate points and are ranked by the AFP on their top five finishes throughout the year.
To succeed at the highest level of the sport requires a mix of diverse athletic skills and inventive creativity. Judge says that Turski possesses this unique combination which is why she has been such a dominating force in the sport, winning almost everything there is to win including seven X-Games titles and two World Championship medals since 2010. Although Kaya suffered an ACL injury in August last year she is well on the road to recovery and hungry to get back to her winning ways before and at Sochi. Canada’s hopes are also supported by up and comer Dara Howell, who finished second to Kaya at last year’s World Championships and has stepped up in Kaya’s injury absence.
“With Kaya and Dara finishing 1-2 in the World Championships last winter, they have proven that they will certainly be in the hunt in Sochi,” concluded Judge. Aside from the internal rivalry, the Canadian women will also face strong competition from athletes from the U.S. and Norway. On the men’s side, rising stars Alex Beaulieu-Marchand and Alex Bellemare should also be in the hunt for medals in Sochi, though they’re expected to face tough competition, particularly from the Americans.
Of the chance to compete at the Olympics, Turski says “It’s a major opportunity for our sport to grow and for me to represent Canada and make my dreams come true. I can’t wait to be at the top of the start gate, ready to give it my all and having done everything I could do to be there.”