Here’s how a snowboard slopestyle competition is judged
© Daniel Milchev / Red Bull Content Pool
In a world where back-to-back triple corks has become the norm, differentiating between slopestyle snowboarding’s top athletes can be hard to wrap your head around. Here’s our breakdown.
Most competitive sporting events crown an objective winner. Scoring more goals, crossing the finish line first, lifting more weight… Landing atop the podium is commonly the result of transparent and indisputable physical events.
But sports like slopestyle snowboarding aren’t always clear-cut. Slopestyle snowboarding consists of riders taking turns going down a course consisting of rails, jumps, and other park features. Riders are scored on the difficulty and execution of tricks performed, as well as amplitude achieved on each individual feature. The rider with the highest score wins.
Alongside gymnastics, diving, and figure skating, slopestyle snowboarding is a mainstream judged sport that measures degrees of technical performance or artistic impression — otherwise known as style. This adds an element of subjectivity, and scoring can fall victim to personal opinion or taste.
To ensure fair competition, slopestyle snowboarding is governed by a set of rules and customs familiarized by the International Ski Federation. Judges with a wealth of experience in the world of snowboarding distinguish between athletes based on six criteria: amplitude, trick difficulty, execution, variation, style, and combination.
From Yuki Kadono’s back to back triple cork 1620s at the 2015 Burton US Open, to Mark McMorris’s highest score in snowboard slopestyle history in 2013 X Games, and Zoi Sadowski-Synnott’s triple crown in 2019, slopestyle snowboarding continues to evolve into one of the most innovative and dangerous competitive sports in history. While the level of talent has reached an all-time high, it’s essential to understand what sets one rider apart from another.
Here’s everything you need to know about how a slopestyle snowboard competition is judged.
The Olympics, World Cups, and Burton US Open
The most common slopestyle judging format adheres to the standards set by the International Ski Federation, the world’s highest governing body for international winter sports. Competitions like the Olympics, the Laax Open, and the Burton US Open use an easy-to-follow, FIS-inspired, judging system that dissects each individual trick as well as each riders overall impression throughout the entire run. Riders are allowed two or three runs through the course, in a winner take all format. Following the run, each rider is presented a, explicit score and breakdown of their run.
Total trick score (60%) + Overall impression score (40%) = Overall score
Breaking down the total trick score
The total trick score makes up 60% of the final run score. Pairs of individual trick judges are assigned to each feature throughout the entire slopestyle course, and each feature has a set value. Judges only focus on one jump, or rail section, and assign riders a score from 1 to 10 based on amplitude, trick difficulty, and execution. Individual trick scores are then added up for a total trick score. By breaking down the course into valued features, judges aim to enhance transparency so that riders can better understand their strengths and weaknesses throughout their entire run.
Using Yuki Kadono and Dusty Henricksen’s podium runs from the 2020 Burton US Open, here’s how the total trick score breakdown works.
Yuki Kadono's winning slopestyle final run
Dusty Henricksen's 2nd place slopestyle final run
Both runs listed above are full of progressive, mind-blowing individual tricks. But why did Kadono finish 4.2 points ahead of Hendrickson on the total trick score? To better understand, let’s look more closely at the judging criteria: amplitude, trick difficulty, and execution.
Amplitude refers to a rider’s flow over a feature. Judges want to see riders entering each feature with appropriate speed, perform a clean pop off the takeoff, and demonstrate a high arc and trajectory through the air to maximize airtime. For example, Kadono’s backside 1260 melon demonstrated a higher trajectory and more loft than Hendrickson’s switch frontside 900 double cork. This additional amplitude benefited Kadono’s individual trick score.
Trick difficulty is clearly communicated with coaches and riders at the judges meeting prior to any competition. It can be based on the number of rotations, direction of rotations, axis, blind landings, grabs, etc. Scoring also takes progression into consideration, whereas a new or uncommon maneuver will be rewarded. Objectively, some tricks are harder and more innovative than others. The highest scoring individual trick from last years Burton US Open was Hendrickson’s backside 1800 quad cork mute. Spinning five full rotations, corking the spin four times, and riding away clean… That is objectively one of the most difficult tricks in snowboarding right now and only a handful of riders would even consider attempting it. Hendrickson may have scored a 9.8 on the final jump, but we must remember that each feature is valued equally. He scored a 6.9 on the first feature and a 7.4 on the third, which significantly decreased his overall average. Kadono on the other hand, averaged higher scores throughout the entire course and came out ahead.
High scoring execution demonstrates full control, stability, and mastery throughout the entire trick — style is key. This means adequate pop off the lip, limited premature spinning unless it’s intentional, a high arcing trajectory, and grabs that are held throughout the majority of the trick. In the rail section, all trick should be properly locked in, controlled, and completed to the end of the feature. For example, Kadono’s switch backside 270 on 270 out on landed him an 8.5 because it was executed with ease. The takeoff was timed perfectly, he slid the entire rail, and both spins on and off were fully controlled.
Judges use these criteria, to the best of their abilities, to decipher between tricks, and rank them accordingly. However, when two rider’s perform the same trick with equal execution, a judges subjective perspective comes into play.
The remaining 40% of a rider’s overall score is based on the total overall impression score.
Breaking down the total overall impression score
While a pair of judges are assigned to each individual feature, two overall impression judges are responsible for evaluating the entire run as a whole. These judges focus on variation, style, and combination from feature-to-feature. They are looking for differentiation between features and tricks, effortless execution from start to finish, and the overall usage and composition of the slopestyle run.
To better understand the total overall impression score, lets break down the following terms: variation, style, and combination.
When it comes to variation, judges award a well-rounded rider who can mix in a variety of trick types into their run. This can range from spinning in all four directions, demonstrating a variety of grabs and tweaks, a mix of flat spins and corks, as well as the ability to utilize creative features or lines throughout the run. When comparing all of Kadono’s tricks, each of them are unique. He spins in three different rotational directions over the three jump features, including a flat spin, an alley oop double cork, and a triple cork. This degree of variation throughout the run was highly rewarded by the judges.
A riders style is key to any winning slopestyle run. Though it’s subjective, style represents the unique flare, aesthetic, or artistic movement that a rider adds to the execution of each trick. When style is emphasized by a rider, it displays true mastery of a trick.
Combination refers to the sequence of tricks and how they are linked together in a run. A more difficult combination includes a high degree of variation, as well as demonstrating harder and riskier tricks at the beginning or middle of the run. For example, Kadono ability to link up at backside 1260 and an alley top switch frontside double cork 900 on the third and fourth feature, shows a difficult trick combination early on in the run.
A jaw-dropping run will always receive a high total overall impression score. Both Kadono and Henricksen’s runs left a lasting impression of flawlessness, and both runs were scored respectively. So why did Kadono score 0.4 points higher? One theory can point to combination. Looking back at the individual trick score breakdown, we can see that Kadono was awarded higher trick scores earlier in the run. From this we can assume he linked together more difficult tricks, and came out on top.
X Games Aspen introduces jam session style judging in 2020
Up until 2020, X Games Aspen slopestyle judging regime mirrored that of the Olympics, and other major competitions listed in the section above. This year, the event adopted a “jam” competition format which doesn’t rank riders according to their best runs, but rather their overall performance throughout the entire contest.
One after another, riders run through the course for a set amount of time. Unofficial rankings are displayed after each finished run. Once the time limit expires, the scoreboard presents the ranking of the athletes, without scores. Riders are ranked using the same judging criteria as defined by FIS standards, but do not receive scores, thus reducing judging transparency.
On it’s debut year at the X Games, the “jam” format received a lot of mixed responses.
The format change aimed to reduce the pressure on athletes to land their best possible run, eliminate the “throwaway run,” and minimize judging delays to boost viewership. However, with no scores or score breakdowns, the transition made it difficult for riders and coaches to know how to win.