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Freestyle skiing is a form of skiing which originally encompassed three disciplines: aerials, moguls, and ski ballet. Today, freestyle skiing consists of aerials, moguls, ski cross, ski half-pipe and slopestyle as part of the Olympics.
Freestyle skiing first began to be contested seriously in the 1960s and early 1970s, when it was often known as "hot-dogging." Bob Burns, who later went on to create The Ski brand skis, pioneered this style in Sun Valley, Idaho, beginning in 1965.
In the late 1960s other followers of the style included Wayne Wong, Flying Eddie Ferguson, Chico and Cokie Schuler and their mentor Chris Flanagan also, Roger Evans, John Clendenin, Hermann Goellner and Tom Leroy. Some people thought that this style of skiing was too dangerous and did not want it to be an Olympic sport. The free-form sport had few rules and was not without danger; knee injuries became a common phenomenon for professional freestylers.
The International Ski Federation (FIS) recognized freestyle as a sport in 1979 and brought in new regulations regarding certification of athletes and jump techniques in an effort to curb the dangerous elements of the competitions. The first World Cup series was staged in 1980 and the first World Championships took place in 1986 in Tignes, France. Freestyle skiing was a demonstration event at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. Mogul skiing was added as an official medal event at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, and the aerials event was added for the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer.
A pioneering group of skiers in the early 1990s started taking skiing to the snowboard parks. They became known as the "New Canadian Airforce" and helped not only to develop aerial and rail based tricks, but also approached companies with ski designs featuring a twin tip system. The twin tip works much like a snowboard in allowing the user to ski normally or ski backwards (switch).
Currently there are two main branches of freestyle skiing: one encompassing the more traditional events of moguls and aerials, and a newer branch often called new school, comprising events such as halfpipe, big air, slopestyle, and big mountain or free-skiing. Freeskiing shares characteristics with street skateboarding, BMX, and inline skating. New school skiing has grown so much that new ski companies were created, companies that strictly make twin-tip skis — skis that are designed for taking off and landing "fakie", or "switch" (backwards) on jumps and rails.
Freestyle skiing began in the 1930s, when Norwegian skiers began performing acrobatics during alpine and cross-country training. Later, non-competitive professional skiing exhibitions in the United States featured performances of what would later be called freestyle. Aerial skiing was developed in about 1950 by Olympic gold medalist Stein Eriksen. Organized freestyle skiing started in the mogul fields, the bumpy natural terrain that allowed skiers to show off with tricks, jumps and incredible turning abilities - freestyle mogul skiers were "hot-doggers" in the day. In 1971 Aspen, Colorado hosted a small mogul competition on the legendary Ridge of Bell, one of the most challenging mogul runs in the country. As the sport quickly evolved, hot-shot mogul skiers like John Clendenin, Scott Brooksbank, Bill O'Leary and "Airborne" Eddie Ferguson gave rise to the sport and in 1973, Sun Valley, Idaho hosted the first U.S. Freestyle Championships which John Clendenin went on to win. By 1975 there were two competing freestyle organizations, Professional Freestyle Associates (PFA) run by Curtis Oberhansly and the International Freestyle Skiers Association (IFSA) run by Bernie Weichsel. Under PFA and IFSA, the world's best freestyle skiers competed for prize money in three disciplines - moguls, aerials and ballet in competitions in the United States, Canada and Europe. Wayne Wong gave the sport instant exposure starring in a highly visible Pepsi TV commercial.
In 1975 Snowbird, Utah hosted the World Freestyle Championships, and ABC Wide World of Sports televised event sponsored by Chevrolet and others. The event to date, attracted the most spectators in the sport's short history. It also represented a turning point, as young talent emerged from around the world, the likes of Ferguson, Clendenin and Wayne Wong, had given way to a new field of talent like "Little" Jack Taylor, Peter Johnson in Moguls, Eddie Lincoln, Bob "BadBob" Salerno and Frank Bare, Jr. in Aerials and Scott Willingham and Mark Steigemeier in Ballet. And women's freestyle was now a full-fledged sport with pioneers like Suzie Chaffee, Genia Fuller, Karen Huntoon, Marion and Ellen Post and Penelope Street redefining the sport for women. By this point the sport's more serious organization was drawing internationally with notable Canadians such as John Eaves which went on to win world titles, François Brosseau and Michel Daigle who both went on to train many other successful Canadian freestyle skiers. In the late 1970s Chris Thorne a mogul champion himself organized the Western Professional Freestyle Tour that was based at Heavenly Valley Ca. Some of the top skiers on the tour were Joey Cordeau, Eric Smith and Robbie Huntoon. The International Ski Federation (FIS) recognized freestyle as a sport in 1979 and brought in new regulations regarding certification of athletes and jump techniques in an effort to curb the dangerous elements of the competitions. The first World Cup series was staged in 1980 and the first World Championships took place in 1986 in Tignes, France. Freestyle skiing was a demonstration event at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. Mogul skiing was added as an official medal event at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, and the aerials event was added for the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer.
In the late 1990s a new style of freestyle skiing began to grow in popularity. This style of skiing was created out of frustration with the highly competitive nature of other freestyle disciplines. Many skiers began performing tricks in the terrain parks, which were at the time reserved for snowboarders. The sport was originally referred to as newschool skiing, and still is. Newschool is much more open ended than Aerials or Moguls and is more accessible to the general public. The sport is also more appealing to younger generations and is similar in nature to snowboarding
Aerialists ski off 2-4 meter jumps, built completely out of snow using a wood form during the construction period, that propel them up to 6 meters in the air (which can be up to 20 meters above the landing height, given the landing slope). Once in the air, professional aerialists perform multiple flips and twists before landing on a 34 to 39-degree inclined landing hill about 30 meters in length. The top male aerialists can currently perform triple back flips with up to four or five twists. The first ever 3x5 twist performed on snow during competition was by Czech aerialist Ales Valenta in 2002 during WC in Whistler, CAN. Quadruple back somersaults have been performed on snow (purposely) by eleven men: Frank Bare Jr., Matt Chojnacki, Elijah Cox, Eric Bergoust and Nicolas Fontaine. Currently quad somersaults are not legal in FIS World Cup competition. The most difficult Jump landed in competition was a Quadruple Twisting Quadruple back by Matt Chojnacki in a Gold Cup event.
There are two varieties of aerial skiing competitions: upright and inverted. In upright aerials, movements in which a skier's feet come higher than his or her head are illegal. This is the most common type of aerials competition for junior competitors. In inverted aerials, skiers execute elaborate somersaults and twists. Aerial skiing is a judged sport, and competitors receive a score based on jump takeoff (20%), jump form (50%) and landing (30%). A degree of difficulty (DD) is then factored in for a total score. Skiers are judged on a cumulative score of two jumps. These scores do not generally carry over to the next round. Aerialists train for their jumping maneuvers during the summer months by skiing on specially constructed Water Ramps for Freestyle Skiing & Snowboarding and landing in a large swimming pool. An example of this is the Utah Olympic Park training facility. A water ramp consists of a wooden ramp covered with a special plastic mat that when lubricated with sprinklers allows an athlete to ski down the ramp towards a jump. The skier then skis off the wooden jump and lands safely in a large swimming pool. A burst of air is sent up from the bottom of the pool just before landing to break up the surface tension of the water, thus softening the impact of the landing. Skiers sometimes reinforce the skis that they use for water-ramping with 6mm of fiberglass or cut holes in the front and back in order to soften the impact when landing properly on their skis.
Summer training also includes training on trampolines, diving boards, and other acrobatic or gymnastic training apparatuses.
Moguls are a series of bumps on a trail formed when skiers push the snow into mounds or piles as they execute short-radius turns. They can also be constructed (seeded) on a slope for freestyle skiing competitions or practice runs. Once formed, a naturally occurring mogul tends to grow as skiers follow similar paths around it, further deepening the surrounding grooves known as troughs. Since skiing tends to be a series of linked turns, moguls form together to create a bump field. At most ski resorts certain pistes (trails) are groomed infrequently or left completely ungroomed to allow moguls to develop. These mogul trails are generally relatively steep. Some trails cannot be groomed because they are too steep, too narrow, or they have obstacles that cannot be overcome by a snowcat. Such trails often form moguls. Mogul trails that can be groomed are usually groomed when the moguls get so big and the troughs so deep that the moguls become difficult to ski on or around. Some mogul fields are also groomed when they become too icy or too hardened to ski safely and enjoyably. Many times a section of a trail will be left ungroomed and allowed to bump up to prevent skiers from gaining too much speed and getting out of control.
No longer a part of competitive freestyle skiing, ski ballet (later renamed acroski) was a third freestyle discipline. Competitions were conducted from the late-1960s until the year 2000. Ballet involved a choreographed routine of flips, rolls, leg crossing, jumps, and spins performed on a smooth slope. After the mid-1970s the routine was performed to music for 90 seconds. For a short period of time (in the 1980s) there was also pair ballet competitions, a variation of ballet, where two people performed tricks that not only included spins, jumps and leg crossing but also lifts and sychronic movements. A panel of judges scored the performance. Ballet was a demonstration sport in the 1988 and 1992 Winter Olympics. The sport has significantly declined in popularity in recent years due to the fact that it did not become an Olympic sport. The International Ski Federation ceased all formal competition of this sport after 2000.
Ski cross (also known as Skiercross or SkierX) is a type of skiing competition. It is based on the snowboarding discipline of boardercross. Despite it being a timed racing event, it is often considered part of freestyle skiing because it incorporates terrain features traditionally found in freestyle.
In a time trial or qualification round, every competitor skis down the course, which is built to encompass both naturally occurring terrain and artificial features like jumps, rollers, banks — whatever the course builder can imagine. After the time trial, the fastest 32 skiers (fastest 16 if not 32 competitors) compete in a knockout (KO)-style series in rounds of four. A group of four skiers start simultaneously and attempt to reach the end of the course. The first two to cross the finish line will advance to the next round. At the end, the final and small final rounds determine 1st to 4th and 5th to 8th places, respectively.
Competitors are not allowed to pull or push each other during the KO finals. Any intentional contact to the other competitors will be penalized by disqualification or exclusion from the next race.
Ski cross is a new Olympic event and is currently under the banner of Freestyle skiing even though it is a race without a judged component.
The first company to market twin tip skis was Salomon in 1997-1998. Freestyle began to gain more popularity and companies started making backcountry style twin tips for skiers to push the limits of freestyle and take it away from the snow parks. When freestyle skiing began in the late 1990s only a select few resorts were home to a terrain park. Over the past decade most mountains have adopted the idea of have a terrain park, if not two or more. Most parks include features such as: step-up jumps, step-down jumps, tabletop jumps, quarter-pipes, boxes, and rails. Terrain park crews have recently been taking concepts even further through adding miscellaneous features like cars, empty propane tanks, barrels, and even small cabins that can be ridden or used as a place to warm up to the landscape of the park. In the western US the park features tend to be larger than those in the east, in relation to the size of mountains. Burton, a popular snowboard company has constructed all natural terrain parks with rails made from planed out trees. Freeskiing has become more and more progressive in correspondence to the advancements in terrain parks.
Such companies as 4FRNT, Liberty, Ninthward, Line, Moment, ON3P, Surface, Bluehouse, Amplid, DPS, Armada skis, High Society and Faction skis all specialize in twin-tip skis, although more "mainstream" companies such as Atomic, Salomon, Rossignol, Völkl, K2, Dynastar and Fischer also make many such models.
Ski bindings took a major design change to include plate bindings mounted to the bottom of the skiers boot to allow for multi-directional release.
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