Just What is Freestyle Mogul Skiing?

Even to the initiated, watching freestyle mogul skiing can be overwhelming.

It includes a display of talent that crosses many disciplines in the sport—speed, turning skill, gymnastics—all executed at a blistering rate that even our modern broadcasting system, with all their slow-motion analysis and image overlay, still has a hard time translating into something relatable.

It’s awe-inspiring, brilliantly fast, and downright confusing in terms of how, exactly, the competitors win. To help demystify the sport, here’s how the event breaks down.

The Basics

The skiers in each grouping are watched by seven judges. Five of those judges focus specifically on the turns made during the mogul sections of the course, which accounts for 60% of the competitor’s score. Two other judges evaluate the aerial tricks—another 20%. And then speed makes up the last 20% of the score, which is based off a base time that’s determined by taking the length of the course and dividing it by the established pace time set by the FIS Freestyle Committee, which is calculated based on the course length. Course lengths average between 200 and 270 meters, with an average pitch of 26 degrees, the moguls spaced apart by 3.5 meters.

Turns

Despite the dramatics associated with those amazing aerial maneuvers, the bulk of a skier’s run relies on a solid performance on the mogul section, which is independently evaluated by five judges. The high and low scores drop out, and the remaining points are added together. What are they looking for? Form and accuracy, put simply. But they watch for…everything.

It’s awe-inspiring, brilliantly fast, and downright confusing in terms of how, exactly, the competitors win.

To the outsider, you can register a good performance when the skier executes a clean, fast run through the moguls, knees together—often bouncing like a tennis ball with each impact with the snow—head and shoulders steady and not moving, and each turn initiated by carving on the skis’ edges, rather than skidding or sliding. They also watch how well the skier adheres to the fall line—the most direct path down—and how they extend and absorb each mogul without bobbing their head or upper body, everything facing downhill. That turn score, which ranges from excellent (18.1-20 points) to very poor (0.1-4 points), is then measured against the deductions, which pile up if the skier makes a complete stop, deviates from the fall line, and executes hard touchdowns, double pole plants, or speed checks, among other factors.

Aerial

This is where the drama resides, at least for those less interested in perfect mogul form. The course has two jumps—platforms from which the skiers launch to perform upright or inverted tricks. The two judges for this section evaluate the aerial performance subjectively, based on the athlete’s form and the degree of trick difficulty. Form is evaluated on the expected factors: the air in height and distance, the fluidity of the takeoff and landing, and the ability to maintain the rhythm of turns before and after the jump itself.  Those ratings are averaged, then multiplied by the difficulty level of the jump itself. The level of difficulty is set by FIS and is pretty mystifying to non-judge/freestyle-ski obsessives.

To the outsider, you can register a good performance when the skier executes a clean, fast run through the moguls—head and shoulders steady and not moving, and each turn initiated by carving on the skis’ edges, rather than skidding or sliding.

Tricks can include combinations of somersaults, 360s, twists, tucks, spread-eagle moves, and other gymnastic acrobatics. These tricks are immersed in a bewildering cache of insider terminology: a front tuck (a single front flip in tuck position), full in (a full twist on the first flip of a double or triple somersault), layout (the body is fully extended during a flip), and puck (when the body is in an open tuck position with legs pulled up at 45 degrees, with the hands not touching the knees)—just to name a few. The best bet is to rely on the announcers. Hopefully they won’t just use the ski-speak vernacular. And thank the gods for slow-mo analysis.

Speed

This one is easy. It’s calculated by the amount of time it takes to get from the top (the gate) to the bottom (the finish line). Obviously, other elements—the fluidity and adherence to the fall line during the moguls, the smooth and seamless transition from air to ski slope—play a part. The competitor’s time is then compared to the pace time, based on a calculation based on FIS Freestyle Committee’s guidelines, divided by the length of the course in meters. On average, the pace speed is set at 8.2 meters/second for women, and 9.7 meters/second for men. The competitor’s speed score is then increased or decreased based on the standard value assigned to that particular course.

Then everything is added together, the competitors ranked against each other with a total potential score of 100 points.

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