Five-ring Circus

The Dynamic, Superbly Named Event That the Next Winter Olympics Should Add

International Olympic Committee, trust me on this.

A snowboarder upside down midair throwing a trick off a snowy hill
The action at the Winter X Games. XGames/Twitter

Now that the Beijing Winter Olympics are over, I, a humble viewer, have a plea to the International Olympic Committee, which reviews applications for new events, for the next one: In 2026, give us the knuckle huck—please!

I get that “officially” expanding the bounds of the Olympic Games takes “official” processes, applications, reviews, rules, protocols, etc. But, IOC, do the particulars really matter here? What more do you really need than the name?

Before even knowing what happens in the sport, everyone will want to tune in to see what this “knuckle huck” is all about. “Are you watching the new knuckle huck event at the Olympics?” fans worldwide will ask. “Yes, and I am loving the knuckle huck!” their friends and family will soon reply. Think of the ratings that curious D2: The Mighty Ducks fans alone will provide, just because the name reminds them of the movie. Even a fusty European sporteaucrat must admit that it’s a more fun name than “Nordic combined.”

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What’s even better is that the event lives up to its fabulous name. It’s an event under the freestyle ski and snowboard umbrella that was competed for the first time at the Winter X Games in 2019. It’s kind of like the creative, scrappy little sister to big air. You may have caught big air during the 2022 Olympics. It’s the ski and snowboard event where the skiers and snowboarders fly down one straight hill, take off into the sky from one very, very large ramp, and perform high-flying tricks off that single jump. The goal is to perform the hardest tricks, and to land on their feet. I am a wimp, and watching big air makes me think it would still be scary even if they were able to land on one of those inflatable airbags like stunt people use. But no—they just get not-so-cushiony snow. And, man, is it fun to watch.

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Similar to big air, in knuckle huck, athletes go down a hill and try to throw their best trick off one jump. Only this time, they aren’t using big ramps to launch themselves. Instead, they are using the knuckle of the hill—the curved bit before a steeper slope. You don’t need a ramp to have a knuckle. But, in competition, you’ll most often see a knuckle as the crest right after the ramp and before the steep landing. Almost every mountain or resort in the world has a knuckle, and riders use it to get a little air and do tricks without going off a big jump.

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And many do; the knuckle’s ubiquity on slopes makes it way more accessible to normal skiers and snowboarders than big air. But in competition, it was pretty much overlooked for a long time. It was a consolation prize for freestylers who fell earlier in a slopestyle run or as a last-minute bail by unprepared athletes—a lower leap to escape to, so you don’t have to actually throw yourself many, many feet into the air off a ramp.

Attention finally came to the knuckle when Norwegian snowboarder Marcus Kleveland started throwing fun tricks off of knuckles. Fellow riders took note and started to bring their creativity to the unsung hero of the hill.

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“Knuckles are just kind of unexpected because they’re just there all the time,” explained fellow Norwegian snowboarder Mons Røisland. “But when people go off of them doing cool tricks like everyone’s minds get blown because it’s just so new, so fresh.”

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Though Kleveland is well known within the competitive community, his tricks found an even wider audience on Instagram. The art form got even more official when the Winter X Games ran a snowboard knuckle huck competition as a bonus event in 2019. Commentators Brandon Graham and Craig McMorris credited Kleveland as the direct inspiration for the competition.

To the delight of pros and viewers alike, the competition has become an annual occurrence at the Winter X Games. Over the years, one thing has remained constant: Pretty much the only rule is that any trick is allowed. The first year’s competition was thrilling.

Unfortunately, injury kept Kleveland from competing in the event created in his honor. But it was no less exciting. Legends like Sage Kotsenburg returned to competition just to compete in the event. Røisland chucked a turtle roll where he crouched and did a full spin before leaving the knuckle. Jake Canter threw a backside 1080 just eking out rotation even when you expected him to have landed. Nik Baden had another rider jump in tandem with him. Judd Henkes slid down on the hill like a penguin. The winner of the inaugural competition was Fridtjof Tischendorf, nicknamed “Fridge” and easily identified by the backpack he wears when competing. He wowed everyone with his superhero looking backflip where he put a hand down to graze the crest of the hill.

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In 2020, the X Games expanded the competition by adding ski knuckle huck in 2020. It’s still largely male though. In fact, the only woman who has ever competed knuckle huck is legendary snowboarder Jamie Anderson, who participated in 2019. But as the field of competitors grows, so too does the scale of tricks. This past Winter X Games, snowboarder Zeb Powell launched himself off of another athlete’s snowboard that was propped up like a ramp:

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The event is unpredictable—even moreso than other freestyle events. McMorris even noted during the broadcast of the inaugural competition that he and Graham “had never called an event like this. A lot of these tricks don’t have names. We’re just kind of describing what we see.” The progression seen in knuckle huck may be due in part to the judging. Instead of awarding each trick a score, the gold is given based on subjective overall impression. While that allows creative freedom, the lack of transparency could get, well, murky as the stakes get higher and the incentives for corruption become more tempting.

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Thankfully that hasn’t been an issue yet. In a sport that’s already lauded for its camaraderie and all-around good vibes, the knuckle huck also radiates fun in a way that’s even palpable to viewers sitting hundreds of miles away watching from their couches. The competitors seem genuinely stoked to see what everyone is throwing; it’s the closest we come to seeing a group of friends hanging out on the hill egging each other to just do it. Go on, throw the wildest thing you can think of! This group of friends just happens to be insanely talented.

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You can see that camaraderie in other freestyle events. It’s one of the things I love most about the sport. Often there are cheers coming from the landing, copious hugs, and post-competition interviews lauding fellow riders for their contributions to the progression of the sport. But as the stakes get higher, the desire for glory grows and riders can get cutthroat. In some ways, you can’t fault athletes who are doing this for a living. There are tangible benefits to winning: prize money, sponsorships, followers, etc. Shaun White, America’s most famous freestyle snowboarder, wasn’t liked by his fellow competitors because of his competitive streak. He has a win-no-matter-what mentality that manifested in him isolating in a private halfpipe—the opposite of fun with friends.

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So maybe bringing the knuckle huck to the biggest international stage would ultimately ruin this perfect little bubble of community and creativity. However, the benefits of widening knuckle huck’s audience may outweigh the potential diminishment of impeccable vibes.

Since knuckles are so common, elevating the knuckle huck competition means viewers would be watching tricks that they could perhaps attempt one day. They wouldn’t need a big ramp, which are hard to come by, because they most likely have what they need at the closest hill. There aren’t many Winter Olympic events that could boast the same.

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The Winter Olympics are known for their inaccessibility. Not only are the sports geographically inaccessible to athletes who don’t live in the cold-weather regions of the world; the sports are often very expensive to participate in and overwhelmingly white. All of these obstacles affect who gets to be a Winter Olympian and who gets to see themselves represented at the Games. You still need snow for a knuckle huck. And you still need to buy enough gear to get a board or skis under your feet. But unlike big air, slopestyle, or halfpipe, you don’t need much else. It’d instantly be the most accessible freestyle sport at the Winter Games, and it would expand their appeal.

But the best reasons to add the event are simpler: The knuckle huck is incredibly fun to do and to watch, it’s an extremely popular activity across the snowy world, and the people who do it best are dynamic, world-class athletes who deserve the stage and recognition that only the Olympics can provide. So I ask again, International Olympic Committee: What are you waiting for?

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