Big air skiing made its Olympic debut at the Winter Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Lausanne 2020, and will be added to slopestyle as an acrobatic freestyle ski discipline at Beijing in 2022. As has been the case with snowboarding since 2018, this event will be an additional medal opportunity for the slopestyle competitors. Overview with 18-year-old French athlete Tess Ledeux, World Slopestyle Champion in 2017, World Big Air Champion in 2019 and Big Air gold medallist at the X-Games in Aspen in January 2020.
What differentiates the two disciplines?
“Slopestyle is a sequence of jumps and rails (steel bars). We therefore have several modules and the final score is based on all the shapes we have made. Big air, however, is one single jump! We have three attempts, and the judges keep the two best. Adding the scores from these two jumps together gives your final score.”
Do all competitors compete in both events?
In general, yes. A rule has been introduced meaning that all the competitors taking part in big air also take part in slopestyle so that it does not resemble an acrobatic jump too much and that it remains a freestyle discipline. The slopestyle and big air shapes are therefore alike. The two disciplines are complementary. I started with slopestyle and big air came along gradually. Today, it is just as important when I start the season, I have as many aims in one as in the other. We can reproduce the jumps that we learn in big air in a slopestyle module and vice-versa, which therefore enables our sport to generally progress.
How did you win the world title in 2019?
In February 2019, I established myself at Park City in the United States with a double cork 1260 (three and a half off-axis spins backwards inverting twice), and for my last jump, a switch 1080 with a Japan grab (starting backwards, triple rotation grabbing the outer edge of your opposite ski with one hand).
Is there room for creativity in big air?
The jumps are bigger in big air and the shapes are more complicated. Actually it is a discipline where there is indeed a lot of room for creativity. Grabbing your ski in a different way will change the jump and there are so many different axes, backwards, forwards, etc. There are perhaps around 50 different grabs and every year we discover new jumps. In terms of the number of rotations in the air, a half-turn, or even a full turn is added every winter. To get on the podium, we do more and more turns every year. 1080 for three turns, 1260 for three-and-a-half turns, 1440 for four turns, and we will get to 1600 for four and a half turns.
How did you react when you learned that big air had been included on the Olympic programme?
I was genuinely very happy because I do well in this discipline. The fact that we now have two chances in an event such as this should not be underestimated. If we mess up in one event, we know we have another chance in the other. In terms of understanding the Games, it's much simpler for us. And then big air is a very spectacular discipline. In slopestyle, we rarely have the chance to see the course in its entirety when we are at the bottom as spectators. Whereas for big air, we can't miss the jump at all, it's considerably more spectacular and that usually means larger crowds. It is fantastic for our sport that it is becoming more and more well known.
Looking ahead to the 2022 Games, who will be your main rivals?
Currently, they are mainly the Swiss ladies, Sarah Höfflin and Mathilde Gremaud, who already did the double in slopestyle at PyeongChang 2018. I am not focusing on Beijing 2022 yet though, I don't want to make the mistake of thinking about it too early. I still have two big seasons to contest before that and I will take my time for the next Games with the aim of doing the best I possibly can in both disciplines without putting pressure on myself. I am, however, thinking a little about the Games, it's inevitable…
Big air at Lausanne 2020: names to look out for!
Big air skiing made its Olympic debut at the Winter YOG Lausanne, so the names of the young athletes who stood on the podium on this occasion are ones to look out for. This is especially true of the young champion born in California but representing China, ready for the Winter Games in Beijing. Aged just 16, Gu Ailing Eileen dazzled the spectators at the Leysin Park & Pipe with her “Switch 16”. She also won the half-pipe and took silver in the slopestyle. One of Tess Ledeux’s biggest rivals on the world circuit, Estonia’s Kelly Sildaru, popped into the YOG to win the slopestyle and did well in the big air, of course, as did Sweden’s Jennie-Lee Burmansson, who won bronze in the big air and slopestyle at Lausanne 2020.
The men’s competition at the YOG was won by the Czech, Matej Svancer, ahead of America’s Kiernan Fagan and Ukraine’s Orest Kovalenko. All these teenage Olympic medallists are naturally hoping to go one better and achieve a podium finish at Beijing 2022!