Drop in and become a halfpipe instant expert

Everything you need to embrace these exciting events

Drop in and become a halfpipe instant expert
Snowboarding icon Shaun White, left, and Canadian ski star Darcy Sharpe are expected to soar in the Olympic halfpipe events. © Getty Images
By Benjamin Blum

By Benjamin Blum, CBC Sports

The halfpipe events are the most recognizable extreme sports at the Olympics, with snowboarding luminaries showcasing their skills for nearly 20 years at the Games and skiers making their halfpipe debut at the last Games.

Competitors must push both their physical and creative limits when soaring high above the pipe itself, all while maintaining enough composure and momentum to repeat that process multiple times down the length of the course.

Here's everything you need to know to instantly become a halfpipe expert:

History and format

  • Snowboard event debuted at 1998 Olympics
  • Ski event introduced at 2010 Games
  • Men's and women's events

How the events work

Competitors in both ski and snowboard halfpipe events get two runs in qualifying and — in a new move for these Olympics — three runs in finals.

There are subtle differences for each event from there regarding judging and scoring:


  • Six judges
  • Highest and lowest scores removed, middle four averaged for total
  • Highest score wins


  • Five judges
  • Five scores averaged for total, best run used
  • Highest score wins

American exceptionalism

Jingoism aside, the United States has consistently been a power in the snowboard halfpipe as well as winning men's and women's golds in the ski event's Sochi debut. 2002 women's champ Kelly Clark has been a force to be reckoned with for more than a decade, while two-time men's winner Shaun White has practically become synonymous with the sport of snowboarding.

This is by no means a hegemonic rule (that's it for geopolitical vernacular). Several strong skiers and boarders have emerged from Japan in recent years and the U.S. was shut out of the men's snowboarding podium in Sochi amid the rise of Switzerland's Iouri "I-Pod" Podladtchikov. I-Pod won't defend his halfpipe title after taking a nasty fall at the X Games.

Cassie Sharpe heads to Pyeongchang as Canada's best hope for a halfpipe podium. The 25-year-old skier had strong seasons on both the World Cup and Dew Tour circuits and recently earned X Games bronze while competing with a broken thumb.

Say what?

Sometimes the names of the tricks can be ambiguous at best, and puzzling in several cases (turns out a McTwist isn't a cheese-filled pretzel served at the Golden Arches.)

Here are a few helpful terms so you can follow along with the commentators:

  • Switch: When a snowboarder approaches the curved wall of the halfpipe in their opposite stance, or when a skier approaches it backwards.
  • Rotation: Competitors can either turn frontside (exposing the front of their body first) or backside (exposing their back first) when executing a trick. The term cab is used to describe a switch frontside spin.
  • Flips: Pretty simple naming (double, triple and the rare quad) plus a rider can tilt the axis of his spin for a cork.
  • Numbers: The number of turns is measured in 180-degree increments.
  • Amplitude: Another term for the height a competitor reaches over the top edge of the halfpipe wall, known in the sport as the lip.

Facts for fascinating your friends

Still have some halfpipe questions? Here are a few answers that'll impress everyone you talk to:

  • So what exactly is a McTwist? The trick, named for its skateboarding inventor Mike McGill, combines a front flip, a mute grab and a backside 540 (one and a half rotations.)
  • The next great snowboarder is how old? American Chloe Kim has won four of the past five X Games superpipe golds and the 17-year-old is a favourite for the top prize in Pyeongchang. She was born two years after the sport's 1998 Olympic debut.
  • Does the halfpipe have other connotations? Comedy legend Robin Williams made a cannabidiol connection when talking about the event in one of his funniest sports-tinged tangents.