Olympic snowboarding gets underway Friday night (Saturday morning in Korea) with men’s slopestyle qualifying.
At the last Olympics, where slopestyle made its debut, riders from the United States, Norway and Canada each won a medal. It could be more of the same this year, as those are currently the three strongest nations in this event.
It’s difficult to pick a favorite though. A number of different riders have won major contests this season, and that doesn’t even include Mark McMorris — the guy who’s dominated this event in the past. Also throw in the fact that the course is one of the most unique designs ever seen, and it’s a recipe for unpredictability.
Here’s what you need to know about the competition.
Who’s competing: Mark McMorris, Max Parrot, Sebastien Toutant, Tyler Nicholson
The Canadian team is deep. So deep, in fact, that the guy who won a silver medal at X Games this year — Darcy Sharpe — did not even make the Olympic team.
All four riders could be considered medal contenders, but the two biggest names to know are Mark McMorris and Max Parrot.
McMorris, the 2014 Olympic bronze medalist, has earned a slopestyle medal every single year at X Games Aspen dating back to 2011. He’s won numerous contests over the years and has dominated this event more often than not. But last March, McMorris sustained multiple severe injuries after crashing into a tree while snowboarding in the backcountry.
“To be honest, I was pretty sure I was going to die,” he wrote in a social media post afterwards.
It’s been a comeback season for McMorris, who hasn’t been dialing back his impressive repertoire of tricks. He finished third at X Games this year and will remain one of the top medal favorites for PyeongChang due in part to his technical ability on both jumps and rails.
Like McMorris, Parrot has a lot of big tricks — particularly in the jump sections. Although he’s known as more of a big air specialist, Parrot proved that he belongs in the discussion for slopestyle favorites after winning a contest in Breckenridge earlier this season. He finished fifth at the Sochi Olympics.
Who’s competing: Marcus Kleveland, Stale Sandbech, Mons Roisland, Torgeir Bergrem
The rider most likely to stand in the Canadians’ way of a gold medal is Marcus Kleveland. The 18-year-old is a rising star and has won back-to-back X Games titles in slopestyle. He has landed the much-talked-about quad cork — an off-axis spin with four flips — in big air competitions, but it’s highly unlikely that any quads will be seen in slopestyle.
The strong Norwegian team also includes Stale Sandbech, who won the Olympic silver medal four years ago and is one of the best flat-spinners in the field, and Mons Roisland, who has been trying to perfect one of the field’s most technically challenging tricks — a switch backside 1620.
Who’s competing: Chris Corning, Red Gerard, Kyle Mack, Ryan Stassel
The U.S. entered the last Olympics as underdogs, but left with a gold medal thanks to a surprising performance from Sage Kotsenburg. Four years later, Kotsenburg has since retired from competitive snowboarding to focus on filming video parts instead, and the U.S. will again be considered underdogs in PyeongChang.
With a lot of young talent on the slopestyle roster though, the future is bright for the U.S. team, and there’s reason to believe they could bring home another medal.
Chris Corning has become one of the team’s top hopes after rising out of obscurity and making a name for himself over the past two years. He finished second behind Max Parrot at Breckenridge earlier this season, but has been dealing with back pain for the last two months that has inhibited his training.
Then there’s Red Gerard, one of the most laid-back 17-year-olds you’ll ever meet. Gerard grew up training on a terrain park in his backyard and as a result, he’s become quite technical on the rails. He’s also known for being a creative rider, so the PyeongChang slopestyle course — with its variety of different options on both jumps and rails — could play to his favor. He placed fourth at X Games last month.
As for the rest of the Americans, Kyle Mack won the Burton U.S. Open two years ago, and Ryan Stassel is the only member of team who competed at the last Winter Olympics.
What Will it Take to Win?
In a scoring change from the last Olympics, runs will no longer be scored solely based on overall impression. Instead, it will be split between overall impression (40%) and individual trick scores (60%). There are six sections on the course — three rail sections and three jumps — so each section will be worth 10% of each rider’s total score. In other words, putting down technical tricks on the rails is just as important as stomping that big triple cork on the jumps.
Speaking of the jumps, there are a lot of interesting options here. One set of jumps includes angled takeoffs — dubbed the “twisted sisters,” according to Tyler Nicholson — and another set includes quarterpipe takeoffs, but riders can also choose to ride straight down the middle and hit traditional kickers instead. The traditional jumps allow the riders to land bigger tricks, but they are also less technically challenging than the angled jumps and the quarterpipe takeoffs. Who decides to experiment with those unique jumps, and whether or not the judges decide to reward their usage, could be a factor in the outcome.
How to Watch
NBCOlympics.com will be streaming every round of every competition live online. Links to each stream are below.
Qualifying: Friday, Feb. 9, 8:00 p.m. ET
LIVE EVENT STREAM – HEAT 1
LIVE EVENT STREAM – HEAT 2 (coming soon)
Men’s Final: Saturday, Feb. 10, 8:00 p.m. ET
LIVE EVENT STREAM