Snowboard big air set to make Olympic debut, but event is anything but new

Snowboard Big Air debuts at 2018 Winter Olympics (2:00)

ESPN's Alyssa Roenigk and Delfina Moyano discuss the Snowboard Big Air event and who they believe are favourites to take the medals home in Pyeongchang. (2:00)

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea -- Jamie Anderson won her second-consecutive Olympic gold medal in snowboard slopestyle last Monday, one day after 17-year-old Red Gerard won the men's event and claimed Team USA's first gold medal in Pyeongchang.

On Monday, Anderson begins her run at a second medal at these Games, when the sport of snowboard big air makes its much-anticipated Olympic debut. Gerard begins his campaign on Wednesday.

But what is snowboard big air? The event's name is deceiving, especially around these parts, as it evokes images of a snowboarding version of ski jumping -- which it isn't. Big air is essentially a best-trick contest held on a single massive jump. Envision a snowboard slopestyle run, and then erase everything that happens before riders hit the final kicker.

It's a thrilling event, where riders aren't worried about linking together a clean run like they are in slopestyle or halfpipe. Instead, they need only to land two of the biggest tricks in their arsenal, and it's not unusual to see a rider throw a trick for the first time during the finals of big air.

"I was so excited when big air was added to the Olympics," said Austrian snowboarder Anna Gasser, the defending world and X Games Aspen champ. "People are going to like it because it's spectacular and exciting."

Aside from X Games Aspen, where the jump is built into the natural terrain of Buttermilk Mountain, big air contests are often held in city venues in the spring, late summer and fall as a way to bring snowboarding to the masses. In February 2016, an FIS World Cup event was held at Fenway Park in Boston, and the popular Air + Style series owned by three-time Olympic gold medalist Shaun White will take place in Los Angeles, Sydney and Beijing this year.

That's another thing: Just because it's new to you (and the Winter Olympics) doesn't mean it's new. Snowboard big air contests have been taking place for two decades.

In Pyeongchang, the big air jump is constructed at the Alpensia Ski Jumping Center, and the two events share a landing area. Riders will drop in from atop a 160-foot-tall in-run built on scaffolding, hit a massive kicker down below and launch between 75 and 100 feet, depending on how deep they send their jump into the landing. Then they'll wait for their scores, hop in an elevator and ride back to the top of the roll-in for their next attempts.

Because every rider who competed in slopestyle final will also compete in big air, Anderson and Gerard have the opportunity to become the first snowboarders to win two medals in a single Olympics. Both have a shot at the podium, however neither is favored to win. "I'm more of a consistent rider," Anderson said. "I like flowing a whole run together more than I'm known for hucking big tricks."

The woman best known for that is Gasser, who won four of five FIS big air events in 2017, as well as back-to-back X Games Aspen gold medals in 2017 and 2018. If she lands her tricks, few women can top her. The men's contest, however, is a bit more wide open.

Two riders have won the past seven X Games Aspen big air contests -- Canadians Max Parrot (2014, 2016-18) and Mark McMorris (2012-13, 2015) -- and Norwegian rider Stale Sandbech, the 2014 Olympic silver medalist in slopestyle, won the 2017 FIS world championships in Sierra Nevada, Spain. But nearly every rider who competed in the men's slopestyle final - as well as some who missed the cut -- has a legitimate shot at a big air podium.

British snowboarder Billy Morgan was the first rider to land a quadruple cork, and he could attempt a version of the trick on Saturday. In January 2017, Marcus Kleveland of Norway landed the first quad in competition at X Games Aspen, the same year Parrot landed a quadruple underflip.

In the qualifiers (the women qualify on Monday; the men on Wednesday), riders will be given two runs, and their best score counts. In the final, however, riders have three runs, and their best two scores -- for two different tricks -- will be added together. They'll be judged on difficulty, execution, amplitude, progression and the landing. It's up to each judge to decide which of those elements holds the most weight.

"I think we all have a pretty decent shot at [a medal]," said McMorris, the two-time Olympic slopestyle bronze medalist. "All the good riders are gonna be hucking their carcass around. It's going to be exciting times."