AS SEEN IN THE DECEMBER 2011 ISSUE OF FREESKIER | WORDS BY MATT HARVEY.
TO CONSIDER ONESELF A TRUE FREESKIER, ONE MUST DEPLORE THE VERY CONCEPT OF JUDGING. TO BE FREE IS TO NOT BE JUDGED. NOT CONSTRAINED OR LIMITED. BUT COMPETITION IS AN INHERENT OFFSHOOT OF EVERY SPORT’S GROWTH AND SUCCESS. WHILE MANY COMPETITIONS ARE DEFINED BY TIME OR BY SCORING A POINT, SKIING, LIKE SNOWBOARDING OR EVEN FIGURE SKATING, IS ENTIRELY SUBJECTIVE. THUS, THE PRO (AND ASPIRING PRO) PARK AND PIPE SKIER’S FATE IS LARGELY DETERMINED BY A SMALL GROUP OF MEN AND WOMEN WHO WATCH FROM ABOVE IN NEAR ANONYMITY DOING WHAT HUMANS ARE TAUGHT FROM A YOUNG AGE NEVER TO DO: JUDGE.
Over the past decade, freeski judging has transformed itself from a loose-knit group of skiers deemed worthy to decide whose switch 10 was best into a serious business with rulebooks, a short-hand marking system, training and a certification process. At the front of this group of newly certified judges is Josh Loubek, the director of judging at the Association of Freeskiing Professionals (AFP).
“It’s kind of ironic,” Loubek says of his interest in judging. “I wasn’t the best or styliest jumper, but I was the loudest when it came to complaining about judging. So it only made sense for me to help with the process.”
As the athlete representative at the first X Games in Crested Butte, Loubek helped set the contest’s scoring system, an overall impression scored out of 100. Since then, he has increased his role in the judging world and developed, with the help of many pro and ex-pro skiers, the basis for the current AFP judging system. This system is the accepted standard for most ski competitions the world over.
Although drama and controversy will always surround judging, one of the best weapons a judging system has to support its legitimacy is transparency. The more competitors and fans know about the process, the less likely they are to throw a shit fit when the outcome is unexpected. So here is how the AFP judges a run:
Each run’s overall score is based on overall impression, with overall impression being
comprised of amplitude, execution, variety, combinations, progression and difficulty.
1. Before the contest actually starts, the judges watch training and practice to note what tricks are being thrown, the overall level of athletes and how the course or weather might affect the contest.
2. Once a baseline of expectations is set, the judges create a scoring range: 90 plus is excellent, 80 is good, 70 is average, etc.
3. During a skier’s run, five judges (in the case of pipe) mark down each trick thrown using a customized steno (shorthand). At the end of the run, the judges collectively decide which category it fits in, based on the scoring ranges outlined above (90, 80, 70, etc.).
4. Once the run is placed into one of those buckets, it is compared against other runs in the same range to determine an order. Each judge scores the run based on his or her steno and amplitude, execution, variety, combinations, progression and difficulty.
5. The highest and lowest judges’ scores are thrown out, and the average score is submitted to the head judge, who enters the score into the system.
No matter how detailed the judging criteria is or how fair the judges attempt to be, there is no question that someone will always be upset by the outcome of a contest. “I even remember having fans at the X Games snowball the judging booth, so much so that we thought we might need security,” says Loubek.
But unless we want our sport to be limited and controlled to the point where every run looks boringly identical (read: moguls), controversy and subjectivity in judging are compromises we must accept. So long as the right people stay at the helm, the judging side of the sport is, for now, in as good of hands as we can hope for. How it evolves come the Olympics, however, is up in the air. We’ll cross that delicate bridge when we get to it.