Your guide to Slopestyle

Freeride Days is on now at Big White, and that means the return of the Big White Invitational Slopestyle event.

Wondering what slopestyle mountain biking is? Here's a quick guide:

Like many action sports, Slopestyle Mountain Biking was influenced by skateboarding and snowboarding. A lot of the trick names and terms like switch, cab, oppo, fakie, pop, nollie, amplitude, line, and corked all come from skateboarding. Early BMX and skateboarding contests used these names, but it wasn’t until the rapid growth of snowboarding in the 1990s that the term slopestyle began being used to describe a type of contest. 

In the '90s, snowboarding exploded onto the scene with its blend of skate style and tricks. While skiers were busy doing twister-twister-spreads off narrow jumps in the moguls, snowboarders built downhill skate parks. Within a couple years, these gravity-fed jump parks were adopted by mountain bikers and began to completely change the landscape and mentality of bike riding.

In slopestyle contests, riders’ bike down a specially designed jump track meant to showcase their abilities. Downhill courses combine traditional dirt jump features as well as some borrowed from snowboard slopestyle courses, such as table top jumps, hip jumps, etc.

Judges score riders on aspects such as: difficulty of line, control, fluidity, jumps, and technique. Riders are given two runs, and their best score counts. If weather causes issues, sometimes the first run will be taken as the only counting run.

Knowing what makes one run better than another can be difficult as a spectator. Tricks like backflips and tailwhips are easy to understand and usually get a big reaction from the crowd, but they score relatively low as they are not very complicated. The more technical tricks happen so fast that you may not be able to tell what the rider actually did. The most advanced riders will use subtle, but significant, differences (like spinning an opposite direction than what comes naturally) in their runs to get to the top of the podium. 

Standard tricks include: barspins, flips, tailwhips, 360s, X-ups, Supermans, one or no footers, and others. Top riders will be able to combine a number of these tricks into one-jump combos to score higher. For example, a top rider will do tricks like: flip-oppo-whip (back flip with a tailwhip thrown the opposite direction than natural), or a corked-7-barspin (off-axis 720-degree rotation with a barspin).

Understand? No? That's OK, let's keep going.

Opposite tricks are like shooting a puck with the wrong handed stick. It's tough, right? Now when you ride a bike you naturally have one foot you prefer to keep as your forward foot on your pedals and you naturally have a direction you like to spin, etc., and defying this dominant side scores big with the judges. Look for riders who are spinning in both directions as they will surely score higher than those who only spin in the same direction.

Corked tricks usually refer to spin or flip tricks done off-axis. A regular 720 will see the rider doing two full rotations in the same direction, a corked 720 will look like the rider combined those two rotations with a backflip. Off-axis corked tricks are harder, thus scoring better with the judges.

Riders will also often switch their feet around mid-run, placing the opposite foot forward, which allows them to spin the bars, or spin the bike in multiple directions. This is hard to see, but definitely increases the difficulty of tricks. 

Style can be a hard thing to define when it comes to slopestyle riding. A rider can land a trick, but if it looks ugly, it will not score well. So, you can land all your hardest tricks, but if you don't make them look good you can be beat by a rider whose tricks weren't as difficult, but looked a lot better.

Flow is what links the tricks together in a winning run. If a rider is landing their tricks, but the landings are rough and they're struggling to link the jumps together, they will miss the podium. Flow is the overall continuity and style of the rider's run, so those who win slope contests make their entire run look smooth and controlled.

Enjoy watching the best riders in the world compete Saturday in the Big White Invitational Slopestyle presented by Five Ten and hosted by Tom van Steenbergen, or the women's competition, on today.

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