Freestyle skiing is one of the most scintillating sports. It demands high-skill and bravery in equal doses, a level of fearlessness that most mere mortals can barely imagine.
The world’s best freestyle skiers can leave jaws on the floor, seemingly defying physics to perform flips and tricks. If you’re a fan of MLS or a devout follower of the NFL, freestyle skiing can appeal; it’s a sport like no other.
While it’s firmly in the ‘niche’ category of sporting interests, freestyle skiing is one of those sports that will lure fans in when the Winter Olympics roll around.
We’ve all been there, flicking through the channels, gazing at various events before becoming an immediate superfan of an Olympic sport you don’t pay attention to for the four years in between.
Getting into a sport like freestyle skiing isn’t straight-forward. The exposure is minimal between Olympics, and there’s a lot to get your head around as you first embark on your journey as a fan.
We’ll take you through the key points on freestyle skiing, starting with a bit of history.
Freestyle Skiing History
People have been pulling off various acrobatic manoeuvres on skis since the 1930s. Those people were not lunging into competition like the freestyle skiing stars of the 21st century and were more daredevil than athlete.
Competitive freestyle skiing events first started to pop up in America throughout the 1960s. This could be considered the birth of what we see today in the Olympics, a first taster of freestyle skiing with winners and losers.
Waterville Valley Ski Area in New Hampshire is considered the origin of organised freestyle skiing. The organisation formed the first instruction program for freestylers in 1969, setting the wheels in motion for this to become recognised as a sport in its own right.
By the start of the 1970s, the first National Open Championships of Freestyle Skiing was taking place, and a year later they were throwing ‘professional’ into the title.
A handful of competitors from those events became instructors at Waterville, guiding the next generation of adrenaline-junkie freestyle skiers.
For a sport so obviously coated in danger, the International Ski Federation were quick to bring in safety regulations when it recognised freestyle skiing as its own sport in 1979.
Injuries to competitors are an inevitability in a sport like this, but the FIS made effort to limit them through certification for athletes and rules regarding jump techniques.
The inaugural Freestyle Skiing World Cup was held in 1980 with Canadian duo Greg Athans and Stephanie Sloan running out as the overall winners.
Tignes hosted the first Freestyle Skiing World Championships six years later, including men’s and women’s events in Moguls, Aerials, Acro Skiing and the Combined.
These world events opened the door for freestyle skiing to be included in the Olympics. First as a demonstration event in 1988, further events were added for Albertville and Lillehammer before half-pipe and slopestyle got the nod for the 2014 Games in Sochi.
Types Of Freestyle Skiing
An event which stopped existing in formal competition at the turn of the century, ski ballet has many similarities to ice dancing.
It was a staple in the early years of freestyle skiing. As the name suggests, skiers had a prepared routine for three to five minutes on a flat course, including flips, spins and the usual array of moves you would expect in such an event.
The winner was decided by a panel of judges, just like ice dancing. Ski ballet featured in the demonstration event at the 1988 Olympics.
One of the most familiar of the freestyle skiing events, aerialist skiers fly off two to four-metre jumps, elevating up to six metres into the air. They can be up to 20 metres above their landing depending on the incline.
Once in the air, skiers perform twists and flips in an attempt to impress the judges. They are judged on takeoff, form and landing with a degree of difficulty taken into account.
Mogul skiing looks like torture on the knees. Competitors ride over a string of bumps called Moguls. These are either caused by skiers performing tight turns or created intentionally.
A couple of jumps are usually included in the course as riders look to smoothly but aggressively pass through. Contestants are judged on their speed and technique in this event, which has been part of every Winter Olympics since 1992.
Although a timed racing event, most experts consider ski cross as a part of freestyle skiing because of the terrain it takes place on.
A high-octane event, ski cross features multiple skiers working their way down a course including sharp turns and big-air jumps.
Multi-skier racing was first started in the 1970s and has become a fan favourite event at the Olympics. Intentional contact is not allowed, but there’s always the potential for a pile up.
Thinking of a half-pipe provokes images of skateboarders or perhaps snowboarders. Skiers can also flash their skills on a half-pipe, though, and the event has been included in the Olympics since the 2014 Games in Sochi.
It’s arguably the most dangerous of the freestyle skiing events, with numerous safety concerns. Helmets are compulsory during competition.
The world’s best can propel themselves several metres into the air from the half-pipe with the world record half-pipe ski jump standing at over 26 feet.
Also arriving at Sochi, Slopestyle combines the trickery of half-pipe skiing with the fast pace of ski cross.
Riders score points on the quality and originality of their tricks as they hurl down a course featuring jumps, rails and other equipment.
You’ll see a wide range of skill from slopestyle skiers from grabs to grinds and flips.