Aerials judge Hutchings hits heights
Freestyle skiing aerials judge Ian Hutchings knows all too well the concentration required to analyse the acrobatic leaps and twists executed by athletes at PyeongChang 2018.
The Canadian is a veteran of the judging circuit, having been calmly analysing the electrifying tumbling in the aerials for over two decades. “It’s super quiet,” he said of the atmosphere in the judges’ room. “You could hear a pin drop. We call out the jump [each athlete is performing], so we know what it is before we score it. That way we can have a mental picture of what the perfect jump should be. The head judge will say when the athlete is on course and then there's total and utter silence.”
With stars like Jonathon Lillis (USA) and Mischa Gasser (SUI) taking to the course at Phoenix Snow Park in the men’s aerials finals on 18 February, the stakes for Hutchings are high. The team of five judges breaks down each jump into three components. “One [part] is the amplitude of the take-off: how they take off the jump and how high they go,” explained Hutchings. “Then the landing – do they back-slap? Or do they do a hand touch, or hand drag?
Basically a straight body line is the big thing.Ian Hutchings Canada
“Then we give out [points] for form in the air. [The judges] are looking for a nice straight body line, no splaying in the skis and no skis crossing. Basically a straight body line is the big thing.”
A 10-point scale is used when grading these three elements. The final score is decided once the difficulty score of each jump is multiplied by the total score from the judges, with the highest and lowest scores omitted.
Juniors make it big
Hutchings’ journey to the Olympic Winter Games began in Canada 25 years ago when he started judging junior aerials competitions on the hills of Quebec and, later, British Columbia.
“I had friends who were athletes and they got me into the sport,” he said. “They were in need of judges at the lower level and it was a progression. There was a lot of video and a lot of live watching over the years to train the eyes for what needed to be seen.”
For Hutchings, one of the best parts of the job is watching skiers he once judged as juniors progress to the world stage at the Olympic Winter Games. “I judged Dale Begg-Smith (AUS) as a little boy,” he said. “He won gold at Turin  and silver at Vancouver . I went through three generations of athletes before I got to the Olympics – this is my first and probably only one. Watching [juniors], who were only as big as a mogul becoming elite athletes – it’s cool to have that opportunity.”