Freestyle skiing: history, disciplines and interesting facts

Freestyle skiing

Freestyle skiing is a winter sport in which skiers demonstrate complex acrobatic tricks in 6 main disciplines.

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The history of freestyle goes back to the middle of the 20th century, when skiers began to build competitions, not only assessing the speed of the descent, but also the beauty and complexity of the tricks performed. This initiative became a hostage for the development of a new sport – freestyle.

It often happens, one skillful person or a small group of people come up with something. Several athletes begin to master the idea, and then organize the first competitions. And on this platform, new sports are born. That’s how freestyle was born, but first it was skiing.

The first serious freestyle competitions were held in America in 1966, and the Freestyle Cup began to be held in 1975. In 1992 freestyle was included in the program of the Winter Olympic Games.

Many talented skiers have contributed to the development of freestyle skiing by performing incredible tricks and technically challenging jumps. Ski freestyle requires athletes not only physical fitness, but also courage, coordination and rhythm.

The first performer of the double somersault and one of the coaches of the Russian freestyle team, Andrey Grebennikov, said in an interview:

It all started from pictures from a foreign magazine. We saw beautiful pictures of jumps and pirouettes made on alpine skis by Europeans and Americans. The first such photos were taken as far back as 1936. As for us, the first somersault was made in the very early 70’s by an amateur, a colonel of the Ministry of Defense. He was not an alpine skier, and did the trick for his acquaintances. The first double somersault was done by yours truly. At that time there were 8 of us enthusiasts who were experimenting with downhill skiing

Freestyle consists of 6 disciplines: ski cross, big air, mogul, ski acrobatics, halfpipe and slopestyle. Until 2000, the list of disciplines also included ski ballet. Ski ballet was a choreographed program of flips, crossbars, crossing legs, jumps and spins performed on a smooth slope.

Ski ballet

Why do you think ski ballet was excluded from the competition? Russia won almost everything in this competition. The USSR came up with an ingenious thing: ballet choreographers were invited to train athletes. This was the case with figure skating, choreographers from the Bolshoi and Mariinsky theaters trained Russian athletes on the ice, staging dances.

As a result, our athletes in ski ballet became the best in the world. They won all the awards and did not give other athletes a single chance. There was no one for Russian athletes to compete with in this sport, which is probably why it was excluded from the Olympic list.

Ski cross
Ski cross

The most exciting type of freestyle skiing is Ski Cross. It is a group competition on mountain slopes with various obstacles. Athletes simultaneously start from the top of the track and compete for first place in the group, which consists of 4 or 6 athletes.

The competition consists of two stages: qualification and final stage. In the qualification stage, the athlete competes alone on the course and has to show the best time to take the 1st to 32nd place. In the final stage the competitor has to outrun his rivals already in the group, demonstrating race tactics and ability to adapt to the situation on the track. Two drivers from each group will advance to the next stage. The final race determines the prizes.

Big Air
Big Air

The main feature of big air is the use of huge specially designed ramps known as “catapults”. These icy or snow-covered ramps have high starting points and steep elevations that allow athletes to reach high speeds and soar through the air to significant heights.

Athletes who make the jump from a giant ramp get the opportunity to perform just absolutely mind-blowing stunts. These can be spins in the air, flips, including somersaults or tight turns around the longitudinal axis, as well as the most complex combinations of tricks.

The heights and speeds achieved in big air are impressive. Athletes can soar several dozen meters into the air, and then smoothly land on a specially prepared slope. And, of course, the more difficult and dangerous the stunt, the more excitement and adrenaline the athlete feels.


Another freestyle discipline is mogul. Mogul is a downhill run down a bumpy slope. The length of the track is 235 meters, and the width is not less than 18 meters.

During the course each athlete has to make 2 jumps from the ski jump. One of the most difficult and popular tricks is called “Helicopter”. The skier soars into the air and performs 360-degree rotations, at the same time he must cross his skis and keep them in this position during the entire flight.

The Olympic program includes one qualification round and one final round, with 16 to 20 skiers. The winners are the competitors who received the most points for their performance. Judges evaluate the quality of the bumps on the course, the quality and difficulty of the jumps. The evaluation also includes the artistic component, including style, expressiveness and aesthetic impression of the performance. A speed score is added to the sum of the judges’ scores.

Ski acrobatics
Ski acrobatics

In ski acrobatics, athletes perform a series of two ultra-complex jumps from a specially equipped ski jump. This sport requires not only physical strength and flexibility, but also courage.

At competitions, athletes perform pre-declared jumps, which may consist of somersaults, 360 and 720 degree spins, flips, and grabs. Also an important element of ski acrobatics is the grace and precision of movements, which makes this sport truly spectacular.

Competitions are held in various disciplines, including ski jumping, acrobatic slalom and pairs. Each discipline requires specialized skills and technique, as well as separate rules and scoring rules.


And two more freestyle disciplines – Halfpipe and Slopestyle. A halfpipe is a semi-cylindrical structure formed by two parallel walls of snow or specially created structures made of metal or plastic. This one-and-a-half minute “Pipe” can reach a height of up to 6 meters and a width of up to 20 meters.

The athlete rolls from one edge to the other, gradually gains speed and flies up above the edge of the track, performing jumps, spins and various elements. Judges evaluate the characteristics of each trick, including difficulty, technical execution, jump height and style.

One of the most famous tricks performed in halfpipe is the “540”, where the athlete makes one and a half turns around his axis, jumping from one wall of the pipe to another. This is a trick that requires excellent fitness and honed technique. Other popular tricks include the “720”, “900” and “1080” where the athlete makes two, two and a half and three turns respectively. Halfpipe competitions are held at various levels, from local and national to major international championships such as the Winter X Games.


Slopestyle competitions take place on a specially equipped track, where there are various obstacles, such as rails, jumps of different types, ramps. The athlete’s task in this discipline is to use all the jumps on the track and show as many tricks as possible.

Judges evaluate the performance of athletes on several criteria, including the complexity of tricks, their execution, style and originality. Athletes often work on creating their own unique style and combinations to distinguish themselves from other competitors and earn high scores.

Twin types
Twin types

For acrobatic exercises in special ski parks, where athletes jump off jumps and go over the bumps of mogul tracks, it is better to choose freestyle skis called tween types. These skis have highly curved, rounded butts. These are the ones that ensure a back-to-front landing.

For slalom, giant slalom and ski cross you need to have a sport alpine ski, they are characterized by maximum stiffness. Such skis should be 10 cm shorter than the athlete’s height.

For beginners it is better to choose universal skis. They make it possible to ski both on a prepared slope and in the mountains. The waist width of these skis is from 68 to 80 mm. The length of universal skis is calculated according to the formula: F=Height – 10 cm.

Sport alpine skiing
Sport alpine skiing

Freestyle skiing can be practiced from a relatively young age, when the child already has some skiing experience. Usually children start freestyle skiing at the age of 6-7 years old, but this age can vary depending on the child’s individual ability and fitness.

It is important to remember that freestyle skiing is an extreme sport that requires good coordination, balance and fitness. Therefore, it is important to make sure that your child has a sufficient skill level and is ready for lessons before starting.

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