Flip out and become an aerials instant expert

Everything you need to know about the gravity-defying sport

Flip out and become an aerials instant expert
Olivier Rochon enters the 2018 Olympics as Canada's top aerialist. © Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

​By Benjamin Blum, CBC Sports

Aerials skiing combines the technical precision of Olympic diving with the gravity-defying feats of extreme winter sports like big air. Unlike other freestyle sports, aerials skiers give the judges their planned manoeuvres in advance, making the margin for error razor thin and adding suspense to a visually stunning display.

Here's everything you need to know to instantly become an aerials expert:

History and format

  • Freestyle skiing evolved from traditional disciplines in 1960s
  • Aerials introduced at 1994 Olympics
  • Men's and women's events

How the event works

Skiers only get one jump per round. There are two qualification rounds at the Olympics: the top six skiers from the first round get an automatic berth in the finals, while the remaining competitors battle for the last six spots.

The finals are comprised of three rounds, with four skiers eliminated after the first two until only the top four remain to compete for medals.

 A panel of five judges score the athletes on takeoff, form in the air and landing. The highest and lowest scores are removed and the remaining three added together, then multiplied by the degree of difficulty (up to 5 points) to get a skier's final score.

Enough math for you? OK, let's watch some cool jumps.


Legacy of the Quebec Air Force

Freestyle skiing may have its roots in the 1960s, but its popularity in Canada can be directly attributed to a group of skiers in the 1980s known as the Quebec Air Force.

Aerialists like Jean-Marc Rozon, Lloyd Langlois, Nicolas Fontaine and the Laroche brothers were dominant on the World Cup circuit, with Philippe Laroche and Langlois going on to earn silver and bronze at the sport's Olympic debut in Lillehammer.


The impact of the high-flying corps on Canada can still be seen today, with all three members of the team heading to Pyeongchang hailing from la belle province. That being said, Canada hasn't won an aerials medal since Veronica Brenner and Deidra Dionne took silver and bronze at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City.

Perhaps Canada needs to take a page out of the 1980s playbook and put together a sweet recruiting video to get would-be cadets to sign up for the "air force." Hey, it worked for Kenny Loggins and that kid from Risky Business...


What to watch for in the air

Before a skier takes off, you'll see what they're about to do, but it'll be broken down into its essential components. Since not everyone is an Olympic-calibre judge, here's a quick breakdown of how to decipher the tricks along with some other helpful terms:

  • Back: The direction of the flip.
  • Double/Triple/Quad: The number of flips
  • Full: A flip with a 360-degree twist.
  • Lay: When the skier's body is extended as straight as possible.
  • Tuck: When a skier brings their knees to their chest.
  • Puck: Not quite a full tuck.

For example, if Canada's Olivier Rochon attempts a lay triple full full, that means he'll be doing three flips and four twists with his body fully extended.


Secrets to sounding smart

Not quite ready to hit the slopes? Here are a few facts that'll make your friends flip:

  • It's not a sandwich, nor should it have ketchup on it. Freestyle skiing used to be called "hot-dogging" back in the day.
  • No poles. There are enough moving parts in the air as is, so ski poles would just increase the probability of eye-poking.
  • Waterskiing ... sort of. Aerialists are able to train year-round thanks to water ramps and rollers skis. Travis Gerrits, who had to withdraw from Olympic consideration to focus on healing, demonstrates the summertime setup.

Events