Five-ring Circus

Get to Know a New Olympic Event: Big Air Snowboarding

COPPER MOUNTAIN, CO - DECEMBER 10:  Max Parrot of Canada competes in the final of the FIS Snowboard World Cup 2018 Men's Big Air during the Toyota U.S. Grand Prix on December 10, 2017 in Copper Mountain, Colorado.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Max Parrot of Canada competes in the final of the FIS Snowboard World Cup 2018 Men’s Big Air during the Toyota U.S. Grand Prix on December 10, 2017 in Copper Mountain, Colorado. Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Event: Big air snowboarding

What it is: Big air snowboarding is not to be confused with “Big Sky” snowboarding, in which Kate Bush and the surviving members of the Kinks sing quirky songs while navigating a halfpipe. No. In big air snowboarding, competitors launch themselves off a steep, ski-jump-style ramp and do one big trick while sailing high through the air. Athletes are judged on a number of different criteria, including difficulty, execution, landing, and amplitude. (Ramplitude, which measures how cool an athlete looks on the ramp, is unfortunately not taken into account.) Big air snowboarding has been a staple of “extreme” sporting events for years. By this time next year, “big air snowboarding” will surely be a Doritos flavor.

What to watch for: The International Ski Federation’s big air judging manual urges the sport’s gatekeepers to consider whether or not a competitor’s tricks push big air snowboarding forward. “Try making tricks that no one else is doing,” the manual says. Thanks to manual-based wisdom like this, I think we can all be winners.

The favorites: Austria’s Anna Gasser tops the World Cup big air leaderboard and was recently named Austria’s best female athlete of the year by (I’m guessing) Austria’s Best Female Athlete of the Year Magazine. Gasser was also a favorite in the women’s slopestyle event, but the high winds in Pyeongchang impeded her performance there. If the weather cooperates this week, we will probably see Gasser attempt her signature move, the cab double cork 900, about which more later. The American contenders are Hailey Langland, Julia Marino, and the delightfully mellow Jamie Anderson, who won slopestyle gold last week with an admittedly underwhelming run. Look for Anderson to bust out her best material in big air.

While halfpipe gold medalist Chloe Kim will not be competing in the big air event, fellow action teen Red Gerard will take a turn on the ramp. The 17-year-old Gerard, who won the United States’ first gold medal of the games in men’s slopestyle, went back to the United States last week, where he guested on Jimmy Kimmel Live and presumably looked at his gold medal for quite some time. Will success and/or jet lag spoil Red Gerard? I guess we’ll find out. As for the rest of the field, Belgium’s Seppe Smits tops the men’s World Cup leaderboard and carried his nation’s flag during the opening ceremony. I’ve got high hopes for American big air specialist Ryan “Razzle Dazzle” Stassel, whose nickname alone should vault him into medal contention. You should also watch out for Marcus Kleveland, who is from Norway; Canada’s Max Parrot, who is a human; and Parrot’s fellow Canadian Sebastien Toutant, aka “Seb Toots,” who has been known to turn a cab double cork 900 from time to time. I’m going to let him explain this particular trick. Take it away, Seb Toots!

Would this event be better biathlon-ized? Yes, of course. Every event would be better biathlon-ized. FIS should biathlon-ize big air snowboarding by requiring competitors to shoot at various targets while speeding down the ramp.

Why wasn’t this event already in the Winter Olympics? The IOC has long taken a wait-and-see approach with snowboarding, which was only added to the Winter Olympics in 1998. You can think of the IOC as the stuffy, hidebound dean in a 1980s college movie, and snowboarders as the ragtag members of Fakie House, who are always spoiling the dean’s cocktail parties. Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes, wait and see. It was only after slopestyle snowboarding proved a hit in its 2014 debut that the IOC decided it might be alright to let big air join the party.

Should this event be in the Winter Olympics? Unequivocally. By limiting competitors to one trick per run, big air incentivizes them to go very big every single time. It’s a different look than the other trick-based events, and it’s going to be fun to watch.

Read the rest of Slate’s coverage of the Pyeongchang Olympics.

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