Q: What is snowboarding?
Snowboarding is a relatively new sport, invented in the 1960s and ’70s. The sport quickly grew and was on the program for the inaugural X Games in 1997. A year later, it made its Olympic debut at the Nagano Games with two events (halfpipe and giant slalom).
The United States has seen plenty of snowboarding Olympic triumphs, as well as a few hiccups: Lindsey Jacobellis slipped from gold to silver on the last jump in Turin when she celebrated too early, and Shaun White left Sochi empty-handed. Still, the United States has been by far the best country at snowboarding. America’s 24 medals are twice that of its nearest competitor, Switzerland.
Q: What are the events?
Men and women compete in five events each (halfpipe, slopestyle, big air, snowboard cross and parallel giant slalom). Big air is new for the PyeongChang Games. Parallel slalom was removed from the program.
A halfpipe is a U-shaped course (think of a pipe split in half horizontally) carved into the hill. The riders traverse back and forth, doing tricks on each side of the pipe’s 22-foot walls. Scores are determined by judges.
Halfpipe has both a qualification and final round. The qualification round consists of two runs, with the best single run counting. Twelve riders (out of 30 total men, and 24 women) make it to the final round. The finals are three runs (compared with two in Sochi), with the best single run again used to determine the winner.
Slopestyle was new to the Olympics in 2014. Riders go through a terrain park-like course, with a mix of jump and rails (the PyeongChang course has three sections of each, six total) for tricks. Slopestyle also consists of two qualifying and two final runs. The best single run counts in qualification, with 12 riders making it to the finals (out of 30 total men, and 24 women). The highest single run score in the finals (no scores carry over from qualifications), as determined by judges, wins.
Big air is basically a giant ramp off which riders launch themselves, doing one trick before landing. The judged event has two qualifying and three final runs (they can repeat the same trick or do different ones). While the single best run counts for qualifying, the finals is a two-out-of-three format. The top two scores are combined to determine a winner. Twelve riders make it to the finals.
Snowboard cross is like motocross, with up to six athletes racing at once. The course has many banked turns, with jumps, rollers and other obstacles along the way. This event is timed or head-to-head, so there’s no subjective judging. It made its Olympic debut in 2006.
The men start with 40 riders, all of whom make it to the elimination round. During the “seeding” round, they take individual runs down the course to determine their heats for the 1/8th finals. The first elimination round is broken into eight heats of five. The top three finishers from each (24 total) advance.
The women begin with 30 riders, who also take individual timed runs down the course into order to qualify for the elimination round. The 24 fastest riders advance.
From the quarterfinals onward, the format for men and women is the same. Riders race in heats of six, with the top three making it to the semifinals. The top three in each of the semi final heats go to the six-person final. The first rider down, wins.
A rider can be disqualified for intentionally contacting or slowing a competitor. Or, if they’re in the lead, from obstructing passing.
In parallel giant slalom, two riders race side-by-side through a series of gates. One is on the blue course, the other on a red. During the two qualifying runs (one on each course), riders are racing the clock, not each other. The fastest 16 combined times advance to the elimination rounds. In those head-to-head battles, the racers are pitted against each other directly, with the victor advancing. The medal round features two races: the small final and the big final. The winner of the small final takes bronze. The big final participants battle for gold. The loser has to settle for silver.
Q: How does the judging work?
Each of the three judged disciplines (halfpipe, slopestyle and big air) have different formats and criteria.
Halfpipe: Six judges award marks for height, difficulty, variety of tricks, execution and progression (new tricks, or new sequences). The highest and lowest scores from each run are thrown out, and the remaining scores are averaged. Scores are out of 100.
Big air: Six judges award marks for height, difficulty, style and landing quality. The highest and lowest scores from each run are thrown out, and the remaining scores are averaged. Scores are out of 100.
Slopestyle has nine judges. Three of them score the run based on overall impressions, and six score tricks on specific sections of the course. The final score is out of 100, and is weighted 60 percent toward tricks, and 40 percent toward overall impressions. All judges take into account amplitude (too little or too much), variety, difficulty, execution and progression.
Q: Where are they held?
Most snowboarding events will be held at the 18,000-seat Phoenix Snow Park, but a special ramp was built at Alpensia Ski Jumping Centre to showcase the big air events. The ramp in PyeongChang is the highest in the world at about 160 feet and has a 40-degree slope, which gives the athletes longer “hang time.”
Q: Is it like the X-Games?
In many ways, yes. But the field at the X-Games is smaller and more exclusive. The atmosphere is also much more festival-like, compared to the pomp and grandeur of the Olympics.
Q: Who to watch?
The U.S. snowboard team for PyeongChang is 26 athletes deep, and heavily favored to top the sport’s medal chart.
Leading the way are Olympic halfpipe veterans Shaun White (fourth Games) and Kelly Clark, who is competing in her fifth Games, setting a record for U.S. female winter athletes (along with cross-country skier Kikkan Randall).
Both Clark and White will again be in contention for gold medals (it would be the third for White, second for Clark). Jamie Anderson will be looking for another gold as well (her first was in slopestyle at Sochi). Lindsey Jacobellis, the snowboard cross silver medalist in Turin, is returning for her fourth Games and should be in medal contention.
The biggest challenge for U.S. veterans is the ride of a younger group also hungry for the podium. Only seven of the 26 riders on the U.S. roster have Olympic experience. One of those making an Olympic debut is Chloe Kim. The 17-year-old is the odds-on favorite in halfpipe. Her parents are Korean, which has endeared her to the host nation. Chris Corning is a rising star on the men’s side, and there a handful more U.S. riders that could very well win a medal (watch for a sweep in women’s halfpipe, for instance). You can find the full U.S. snowboard roster here.
The only event that America isn’t expected be a podium threat in is parallel giant slalom, which should see a much more international medal stand. Vic Wild, an American by birth, won gold four years ago in Russia and is cleared to compete as an Olympic Athlete from Russia (OAR) in PyeongChang.
Q: When is snowboarding contested, and how can I watch it on TV?
Snowboard events begin on the first full day of the Games, Feb. 10, and continue until Feb. 23. All events will air on NBC and NBCSN, and almost all will be broadcast live. Here is a schedule of the finals, with television coverage in parentheses. Live telecasts are in bold. Events are also available by live-streaming or on the NBC Sports app. Daily TV listings can be found here.
Feb. 10: Men’s slopestyle, 9:04 p.m. (NBCSN, 7-9:45 p.m.)
Feb. 11: Women’s slopestyle, 9:06 p.m. (NBC, 7-11 p.m.; NBCSN, 8-11:30 p.m.)
Feb. 12: Women’s halfpipe, 9 p.m. (NBC, 8-11:30 p.m.)
Feb. 13: Men’s halfpipe, 9:30 p.m. (NBC, 8-11:30 p.m.)
Feb. 15: Men’s snowboard cross, 12:45 a.m. (NBC, 12:05 a.m.-1:30 a.m.)
Feb. 15: Women’s snowboard cross, 10:56 p.m. (NBC, 8 p.m.-12:30 a.m.)
Feb. 22: Women’s big air, 10:30 p.m. (NBC, 8 p.m.-midnight)
Feb. 23: Men’s big air, 9 p.m. (NBC, 8-11 p.m.)
Feb. 23: Men’s and women’s parallel giant slalom, 10:58 p.m. (NBC, 11:35 p.m.-1 a.m.)