The 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic slopestyle course at the South Korean ski resort of Bokwang Phoenix Park is truly a sight to behold. Skate-style bowls, unconventional rails, skewed kickers—this slopestyle course is far from anything you’ll find in your average terrain park. Here’s a how-to guide on understanding this course, and what it takes to ride it to a gold medal.
The first step to understanding this course is knowing who built it: Schneestern (that's German for “snow star”), the company that’s internationally known for raising the craft of snowpark building to a kind of architectural art form. They've been behind many of the craziest features built in snow in the past decade (think the Nine Knights castles, various Legs of Steel jumps, the Nike Chosen park), and with their first Olympic contract, they’ve gone all-out on the build.
Schneestern has built a brand out of making seemingly impossible visions become reality, from full-scale castles made of snow to jumps of record-breaking proportions. They’ve accomplished this partly by bringing German efficiency to the snowpark business, and partly by the mad inspiration of company CEO Dirk Scheumann, who designed the Olympic course. Scheumann demands perfection from himself and his team—his motto is that the park builders need to work as hard as the riders do.
The course that Scheumann and his team have built can be described easily with one German word: überdimensional. In English, that’s “oversize.” Nearly everything on the course is bigger than you’d find it elsewhere: the rails are higher and fatter, the jumps bigger. In person, the proportions can be overwhelming. One stunned-looking Swiss snowboarder was overheard exclaiming, “It’s like a giant ice sculpture!” after his run.
On the down side, this means that there's little room for error. Competitors who can't hold their speed or keep their line will find their runs ending unpleasantly. With windy conditions offering an additional challenge—note the brutal proceedings of women's snowboard slopestyle last week, which should have been postponed—the skiers will be crossing their fingers for good weather.
The up side is that all those massive, intimidating transitions have all been precision-built for maximum athletic performance. The flight curves have been computer-analyzed, the landing angles optimized, and all of it machine- and hand-cut to within centimeters’ accuracy. Particular lines through the slopestyle course may appear intimidating—but if riders commit to the feature and trust in the design, their risk will be rewarded.
A great example of this is the winning run in men’s snowboard slopestyle from Red Girard, who made great use of lesser-used features on the course—most notably an instant-classic air over the high bar in the second rail tier, and again with a double cork on the quarterpipe-style side hit of the second jump. The result of Red’s run, using under-appreciated features exactly as they were intended? A gold medal.
The skiers dropping in to the slope course this weekend would do well to heed the lessons from the snowboarders’ event last weekend, where some riders looked intimidated and rote in their movements, while others charged with commitment into this course's challenging features.
It's not easy to adjust your tricks to an Olympic-sized course like this one. Riders who’ve been on Schneestern-built über-features before have some valuable prior experience, while riders who’ve trained on the down rails in their local park may end up looking like fish out of water. Stepping up a contest run on this course will demand the utmost in commitment, ability and creative vision to turn this slopestyle course's unique obstacles into unique opportunities.