The science of halfpipe, explained by Canadian freestyle skier Mike Riddle
Mike Riddle of Sherwood Park, Alta. jumps into the lights and snow to a third place in ski halfpipe at a FIS freestyle World Cup and Sochi Olympics test event in Rosa Khutor, Russia, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013. (HO, COC - Mike Ridewood / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press
Published Monday, February 17, 2014 6:10PM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, February 18, 2014 4:23AM EST
SOCHI, Russia -- Some kids have a backyard rink built for them. Mike Riddle had a length of steel pipe constructed behind his house in Sherwood Park, Alta.
"My dad built a rail instead of a backyard ice rink," the freestyle skier says. "We had a bunch of pipes and a welder.
"It seemed like a good idea and definitely had some fun on it. Thanks Bob."
Riddle is grateful for his father's welding because it was on that bar that Riddle learned his fearlessness on skis.
The 27-year-old will be among the first men ever to compete in freestyle halfpipe at the Winter Olympics. The sport makes its Olympic debut Tuesday with the men's qualification rounds and final at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park.
Snowboard halfpipe was added to the Olympic menu in 1998. American boarder Shaun White turned it into a big-ticket event at the Winter Games with his gravity-defying moves.
The freestyle skiers perform half cabs, geenies and alley oops on the same smooth-sided canyon that the snowboarders do. The skiers are judged on difficulty, execution and style.
"The things that are different is obviously we have two skis instead of one snowboard, so we can do grabs where we're crossing (the skis)," Riddle explains.
"You can tell when we're going backwards, whereas on a snowboard it's really hard to tell because it really is just a mirror image. When a skier is going backwards in the pipe, you can tell.
"The judges are going to be taking into account how high you're going out of the pipe, the degree of difficulty of your tricks, basically how many times you're spinning or flipping and your style. Are you getting all your grabs in the air and not flailing your arms around? Are you making it look easy? Guys who are going to do the best are going to be going big, doing difficult tricks and making it look easy."
Riddle earned the Crystal Globe as the overall World Cup champion in 2012-13 and was fourth at last year's world championship. He leads a deep Canadian men's team into Tuesday's competition.
Justin Dorey of Vernon, B.C., Calgary's Noah Bowman and Matt Margetts of Penticton, B.C., swept the medal podium at a World Cup in Calgary last month when Riddle was sidelined with a bruised heel.
But the Canadians face stiff competition for the podium in Sochi from reigning world and X Games champion David Wise of the U.S., and his American teammate Tori Yater-Wallace.
"I think Canada's chances are pretty good," Riddle says. "Hopefully I can bring one home for Canada myself."
Long before freestyle halfpipe got the Olympic stamp of approval, the Canadian halfpipe team was a serious group with a plan, according to their coach.
"We were one of the first countries to really . . . or one of the first programs I suppose to approach the sport as a little more of an organized team," Trennon Paynter says. "Some of these athletes I've been with for 10 years, someone like Mike."
"There was certainly a time when we were the only ones out there who actually had a coach and a bit of a structured training program. Now, with sports inclusion in the Olympics, all the countries were doing it, but I think we were doing it earlier. We had a bit of a head start."
Riddle says he celebrated the International Olympic Committee's decision in May, 2011, that brought freestyle halfpipe into the Winter Games by throwing a party at his home.
"We use the same venue (as the snowboarders) and it appeals to the same demographic," he says. "I knew the IOC would be pretty into it."
Working out on a trampoline or a diving board develops a skier's air sense, but Riddles says the best training is simply working hard in the halfpipe.
"We do lots of leg-heavy workouts in the gym, but at the same time, if you're going to crash, you want to be strong every where," he says. "You're doing full body stuff, but basically a good halfpipe skier has really strong legs and they're not too bulky."