Go behind the scenes with Dew Tour judges before the Team Challenge debut
Meet the Dew Tour judges
At Dew Tour, a crew of six ski judges and six snowboard judges score the slopestyle and halfpipe competitions. Nearly all of them have judged at Dew Tour before, and most also travel during the season to judge at X Games, the Burton U.S. Open and Grand Prix events.
Jason Arens (head judge) — 20-year American freeski veteran and Windells Academy marketing director
Guyaume St-Cyr Lachance — former Canadian freeski and backcountry pro
Charly Royer — French freestyle and backcountry pro
Ian Meader — former freeski pro based in Denver
Dan Allen — American backcountry skier
Arnaud Cottet — Swiss Freeride World Tour pro
Tom Zikas (head judge) — former pro with 15 years judgin experience
Giom Morisset — former Burton U.S. Open and Vans Triple Crown champ based in Quebec
Sam Hulbert — former Dew Tour finalist known for Think Thank video segments
Connor Manning — veteran X Games and Dew Tour judge
Heikki Sorsa — former Arctic Challenge champ and U.S. Open finalist from Finland
Scotty Lago — veteran American pro and 2010 Olympic halfpipe bronze medalist
Dew Tour is known for big names: Jamie Anderson, Mark McMorris, Gus Kenworthy, up-and-comer Red Gerard — the list goes on.
But the name-dropping doesn’t end with the start list. This year’s event is a new and different beast — gone is ski and snowboard superpipe, replaced with a modified slopestyle course and team format — but it still features winter sports legends in a relatively unsung role: behind pen and paper in the judge’s booth.
“These guys know first-hand how difficult the tricks are, and that’s why we like bringing in judges with experience,” said Steele Spence, a five-time X Games slopestyle competitor who was head ski judge at Dew Tour for five seasons before stepping down this year. “We can’t do them obviously because otherwise we’d be competing still, but we know what to look for.”
In other words, the best of the best from snowsports past are judging the best of the best from snowsports present. And, for every judge in the booth this weekend, that’s how it should be — especially as both skiing and snowboarding continue to evolve at a rapid pace. They aren’t easily blown away by a huck-fest. Instead, they look for it all, from technicality and amplitude to sheer, unquestionable style. Even with a modified format and course, the criteria won’t change for this year’s Dew Tour — only the riding will.
“We are forced to put a stronger emphasis on execution,” snowboard head judge Tom Zikas said before last year’s competition. “With the advent of double, triple and now quad cork tricks, we more than ever have to keep a close eye on things like grabs and the fluidity of tricks. We still want snowboarding to look like snowboarding.”
All judges — even the former pros — go through a certification process before entering the booth. There are various levels for different competitions, but everyone at Dew Tour is the cream of the crop, Spence said. All ski judges carry certs from the Association of Freeski Professionals, and most also attend FIS trainings in person before traveling to larger events like the Burton U.S. Open, the Grand Prix in Copper from Dec. 11-17 and the Winter Olympics.
This process introduces every judge to a slate of five criteria: execution, difficulty, amplitude, variety and progression — all lumped under the umbrella of “overall impression,” or the final score. Those overall impression criteria are the same from event to event, but they also give judges room to be flexible based on the level of competition. The process is the same at Dew Tour and a USASA Revolution Tour qualifier — the only thing that changes is the size.
Before Dew Tour — which starts Friday in Breckenridge — Spence and Zikas explain the ins and outs of the five judging criteria:
This benchmark is all about how well a trick is performed. It sounds simple enough, and sometimes it is. Mistakes and botched landings factor into the score, Spence said. So do other elements, like fluidity of the run and overall comfort on the course, in the pipe or from jumps to jibs. If an athlete flails and jerks through every trick, they’ll pay the price on the score sheet.
Like Zikas says, this criterion is constantly changing to keep up with the rapid evolution of both sports. Judges look at the difficulty of individual tricks and the difficulty of the overall run. If an athlete can link back-to-back-to-back doubles and do it well, chances are they’ll score better than a competitor with just one double in one direction. This year, competitors with jaw-dropping jibbing and jumping skills will dominate.
There’s a reason most athletes use the first hit in the halfpipe to set the tone for the rest of the run. Not only is it the very first trick of the day — it’s also the best chance to float 20-plus feet over the pipe deck. These days, consistent amplitude is just as important as a massive first hit, and it’s not just in the halfpipe. Look at the modified slopestyle course with a single big-air hit: Skiers and riders who send it huge and stylish off the lone slope jump will score better than those who pull from their standard bag of tricks.
Variety isn’t as straightforward as it sounds. With so many tricks and variations, judges have to watch for a mix of everything.
“It’s an interesting criteria,” Spence said. “We want to see a variety of grabs, spins with difference axes — flat spins, double corks, all of that.”
Skiers and riders who can spin in all four directions (frontside and backside, switch and regular) have a major advantage here, and, for the first time ever, athletes are required to perform two switch tricks and two regular tricks on the single slope jump. Not like that’s an issue — just about everyone at Dew Tour has a mix of spins in all four directions. The modified slope format is designed to showcase unorthodox grabs and style.
Like variety and difficulty, progression focuses on tricks and how different athletes make them look like something new and exciting. Every season, judges run into something completely unseen — and that’s what they live for.
“It’s up to us as judges to be current and recognize when we see something that is progressive,” Spence said. “It can be a deciding factor. At Dew or X, all of these guys are the best. They’re doing well-executed runs, insanely difficult runs, so sometimes progression is what it comes down to.”
And it should. Events like Dew Tour are showcases for everything new that’s happening in skiing and snowboarding, and the judges know it. Most of them were at the top of the pipe or slope course at one point, pushing their sport to the limits. Now, it’s time for the next generation to do the same.