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Ski cross 101

The action-packed and adrenaline-fuelled sport made its Olympic debut as a medal sport at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver-Whistler.

Prior to the Olympics, ski cross had already established itself as a hugely popular TV sport.

And with Canada’s Ashleigh McIvor winning a historic first gold medal in the women’s event, plus teammate Chris Del Bosco authoring one of the stories of the Games in going for gold but crashing out in the men’s final, the sport has experienced an explosion in popularity.

Ski cross courses have both naturally occurring terrain and artificial features including big-air jumps, “tabletop” jumps (where the take-off point is at a similar level to the landing spot), rollers (rounded and/or wavy terrain) and high-banked turns.

But what sets ski cross apart from other sports, including alpine skiing, is the fact that there’s more than one skier racing down the course. Four to six racers go head to head, at the same time, with the aim of finishing first.

Other than in the initial qualification round, it’s not a time trial.

The unique combination of technically-challenging terrain and head to head racing make ski cross a thrilling spectator sport. Contact between racers is frowned upon.

Format

In World Cup, world championship and Olympic races, there’s an initial qualification round that is run as a time trial, with racers skiing the course solo. The skiers with the fastest times advance to heats, in which four skiers race head to head. The top two advance to the next heat, a format that is repeated until the final four battle it out for gold, silver, bronze and fourth place. A small or consolation final is also held to determine which skiers finish fifth to eighth overall. At the Winter X Games – one of the sport’s biggest events – six skiers compete head to head instead of four.

Star power

Canada has some of the sport’s biggest stars. Del Bosco has been a dominant and consistent performer at the highest level, winning the world championship title in 2011 and claiming gold at X Games in 2012. Kelsey Serwa, the 2011 X Games gold medallist and world champion, has established herself as one of the best in the world, and Marielle Thompson made history in 2012 by becoming the first Canadian to bring home an individual World Cup Crystal Globe in ski cross. Under head coach Eric Archer, a former ski cross racer, Canada has proven itself as the leading nation on the World Cup circuit. In 2011-12, Canada defended its Nations’ Cup title, awarded to the team with the most World Cup points overall.