Russia's Ivan Malakhov recently won the FWT's Hakuba event, but what did it take for him to clinch the top spot? FWT photo.
The backflips, the huge cliff drops, the crashes … what do they all mean? Every Freeride World Tour run ends up with one thing in common: a score. To the untrained eye, all these runs look insane, but to the judges, each little detail counts. How do these scores come together, and why do some riders seem to always do better than others?
During the FWT’s latest stop in Kicking Horse, head judge Laurent “Lolo” Besse explained what goes into the judging process for each run. To all these riders, dropping into these venues is an expression of style, but it is up to the judges to keep their scores objective. In the end it comes down to one idea that Lolo outlines: “A judge has to ask himself at all times how fast, how big and how in-control a rider is compared to how steep, how exposed and in what snow conditions the action is happening.”
Freeride ski competitions have been around for several decades, growing from the original Valdez and Verbier comps in the early 90’s to today’s multi-event Freeride World Tour. Over the years, the lines, the speed, and the tricks have progressed ever higher, forcing the judges and their method of scoring to adapt to a new style of skiing.
To keep up with the ever-changing sport, FWT event organizers created the Pro Freeriders Board. The PFB is an international panel of eight athletes and FWT competitors who offer advice on making decisions regarding rules and format for the Tour. It is up to them to suggest venues, competition formats, judging rules, and create a path for rookies to join the already stacked athlete roster. Current members are names you might recognize: Ralph Backstrom, Shannan Yates, Reine Barkered, Drew Tabke, Samuel Anthamatten, Stefan Häusl, Fabio Studer, and William Cochet, with Jackie Paaso acting as General Secretary.
So how do the scores come together?
Since each rider only gets one run per competition, each score must be accurate. A score is broken down into five criteria: Line, Fluidity, Control, Air & Style, and Technique. In the past, a scoring system was in place that added together points from each category, but this presented a problem.
Riders who were skiing incredibly technical lines with no big airs would score lower than rider who skied an easy line but jumped a lot. To remedy this, the PFB recommended averaging the scores from five categories instead to produce a score between 0-100.
When a rider drops, he or she starts with 50 points, to which points are then added or subtracted based on performance. Judges sit at the bottom of the face, with a full view of the action and a judging sheet in front of them. Cameras on the slope and in the heli exist mainly for the live webcast, not for judges use.
Judges watch each run through binoculars to get a first-hand view of all the action. Mark Warner - Low Pressure Podcast photo.
By the time the rider finishes their run, judges have roughly one minute to come up with a score. The Head Judge then peers at each judge’s paper and compares their scores to ensure consistency. From here, the five criteria are evaluated relative to the judges individual impression, followed by detailed notes on each run. These notes are used if disputes arise about scoring.
As outlined in the official judges guidebook, the five criteria are broken down as follows:
- Is the line difficult and technical or easy?
- Did the rider make the best use of the terrain with his/her line choice?
- Did he/she skip obvious features?
- Is the line original?
- If a rider doesn’t follow the obvious fall line (traversing), did he or she do it to add something to his run or for no reason?
AIR & STYLE:
- Number of jumps
- Size of the jumps
- Linked jumps (double / triple cliffs)
- Control / tricks / style in the air
Relative speed (how fast compare to how narrow, steep, exposed, snow conditions)?
Did the rider stop? Hesitations, loss of pace, hiking out
- Did the rider lose control while riding?
- Bad turns vs. power turns
- Backseat riding
- NOTE: Poor technique will be sanctioned only if it leads to control issues, a rider with a personal style which might be not academic will not be penalized if he is totally in control.
- Side slipping
- Slough management
Logan Pehota scored 98.00 points for his run in Kicking Horse, one of the highest scores in FWT history. What set him so far apart from the pack?
While judges are awarding seemingly exact scores, these are only used to create a ranking at the end of the day. This means that exact point values are not as important as they only serve to rank riders in their respective categories. If a female snowboarder scores an 88, it does not necessarily mean she rode any better or worse than a male counterpart who scored an 88.
Points are added to the 50 based on airs, tricks, and clean, fast skiing. For each air, riders can be awarded 10 or more points, depending on size and commitment. However, the more options to jump there are on a venue, the less points can be awarded for each air, as a final score cannot exceed 100.
As Lolo Besse explains, “When someone hits an air in Verbier, which is essentially a pile of rocks with a little bit of snow on top, they will likely get less points than in Hakuba because there are simply way more options for jumping.”
At the end of the day, getting back down safely and ideally on the podium, is all the riders want. FWT photo.
So points are added for going big, but what about penalties? Riders will lose points for stopping mid run to scope a cliff, excessive billygoating to access a line, or for lack of control especially if it results in a crash. Crashes are split into four categories.
A stage 1, where a rider lands off center but rides away cleanly, will incur about a five-point deduction. A stage 2, where a rider compresses hard and takes a second to recover while riding, will result in an approximate 10-point deduction. A stage 3, or a backslap from a big cliff or jump, will result in roughly a 15-point deduction. Finally, a stage 4, or a real crash that results in the rider’s run coming to a full stop, will result in a mandatory 45-point deduction.
Freeriding is incredibly dangerous, so safety is the top priority, and the scoring criteria is designed to reflect this. Judges like Besse want to see clean skiing and riding, not reckless cliff hucks that can result in injury. Therefore, if judges see any sort of maneuver that the rider obviously has no hope of landing, they will subtract the 45 points automatically, no matter how impressive it looked.
So, do you think you have what it takes to become a FWT judge? Lolo says they are hiring…
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