Get high and become a big air instant expert

Everything you need to know about the newest Olympic sport

Get high and become a big air instant expert
Canada's Mark McMorris is a medal favourite heading into big air's Olympic debut. © Geir Olsen/NTB Scanpix via Reuters

​By Benjamin Blum, CBC Sports

Big air is about as straightforward a name as it gets for a sport. There's a big jump off which snowboarders do a trick in the air.

But that's where the simplicity ends for the debut Olympic sport, as boarders only have one shot to showcase their creativity, technical prowess and general awesomeness (that's a technical term).

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

History and format

  • Originated in 1990s
  • Featured at Winter X Games, World Cups and other pro tours
  • Men's and women's events

How the event works

  • Riders get three attempts
  • Six judges score the jumps (two highest scores count toward total)
  • Highest score wins

Board-ing school

Let's be honest: only a select few men and women are cool enough to "speak" snowboard. Here are a few key terms to keep in mind when you're watching big air to follow along with the commentators:

  • Stance: There's regular (left foot forward) and goofy (right foot forward). If you see the word switch before a trick, it means the rider is approaching the jump in their opposite stance.
  • Rotation: Riders 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.

So, if Canadian Max Parrot lands a cab triple cork 1440 — like he did when he won his third X Games big air gold in a row — you'll know that he successfully completed four frontside spins from his opposite stance and three tilted flips.

Riders to root for

In the women's event, Canada's Laurie Blouin — who won silver in the slopestyle competition last week — leads a team of three that also features Spencer O'Brien and Brooke Voight.

Austria's Anna Gasser enters the Games as the presumptive favourite after winning X Games gold in Aspen, but American snowboarder Jamie Andersen, who won slopestyle gold in Sochi, is also a medal threat.

The men's field is set to be tightly contested, with Parrot and fellow Canadian Mark McMorris entering as favourites. 

Parrot has won this event three straight years at the X Games. McMorris, who sustained near-fatal injuries while backcountry snowboarding last March, returned to competition in November with a World Cup win and is looking to add to the Olympic bronze he won in slopestyle from the 2014 Games.

Parrot and McMorris — or McMorris and Parrot, depending on where your allegiance lies — frequently jockey for the top prize on the competitive circuits along with Norway's Markus Kleveland and American Chris Corning. Canada's Sébastien Toutant and Tyler Nicholson could also find themselves in contention for a podium spot.

Secrets to sounding smart

Need more big air knowledge? Here are a few things to say that'll automatically make you "the cool one" in your group of friends:

  • It's more than snowboarding. There are also big air events for skiing and skateboarding.
  • Mountains not necessary. The big air venue at this year's Olympics consists of a snowy slope built from scaffolding that leads into the jump itself and the landing, both of which are built into a sunken stadium. Big air events have even been held at Fenway Park in Boston.
  • Will we see the quad? Parrot — one of only two riders to successfully land a quad in competition — told CBC Sports in October that the jump in Pyeongchang isn't big enough to pull off a quadruple flip, but the event could still be a game-changer for Canada's medal aspirations.