Luge mixed relay

Venue: Sanki Sliding Center in Rzhanaya Polyana (40 miles NW of Sochi)

How it works

Each country sends three sleds down the track, one after the other, so it’s not a relay in a pass-the-baton sense. Because this is the last luge event on the schedule, participants are usually chosen based on their performances in their individual events. The first sled down the track is a competitor from women’s singles, followed by men’s singles and doubles. When each sled reaches the finish line, the competitor sits up and slaps a time pad hanging over the track. The combined time of the three sleds is the winner.

Outlook

Luge has always been widely followed in Europe, and this event has become wildly popular on the World Cup circuit because of its unpredictable nature. If a luger misses touching the time pad, for instance, that’s the equivalent of a baton drop in a track and field relay: disqualification. Bad starts can wreck a team’s chances. That happened to the German team on the home ice in Winterberg, where the U.S. team won a silver medal. Still, the Germans are the team to beat. Also in the mix: Italy, Canada and Austria.

Biathlon mixed relay

Venue: Laura Biathlon and Ski Complex in Krasnaya Polyana (37 miles NE of Sochi)

How it works

Biathlon had men’s and women’s relays in previous Games. The mixed relay team consists of two men and two women. The women ski three laps of six kilometers and the men three laps of 7.5 kilometers, with two rounds of shooting (prone and standing). The start order is woman-woman-man-man. In the handover zone, competitors must touch the hand of the next teammate to ski.

Outlook

The first mixed relay at the World Cup level was held just this past November, so there could be some surprises. The Czechs won that event in November, but the Germans have also won gold. Watch France, Austria, Norway – and the host country.

Team figure skating

Venue: Iceberg Skating Palace

Silver medallist and Team USA Olympic team member Jason Brown skates during an exhibition event at the conclusion of the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Boston, Massachusetts January 12, 2014. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

How it works

The competition begins with 10 countries using six skaters apiece performing short programs: men’s and women’s singles, pairs and ice dancing. The countries with the top five combined scores move on to the long programs to determine the medals. Countries do not have to use the same skaters in the long program as they did in the short program. The team event will be held before the individual events. In fact, the short program phase takes place the day before Opening Ceremonies.

See it in action

Outlook

The United States took the gold medal in 2009 and 2013 team world championship events. But the Americans may not be as strong in all four disciplines. Canada and Japan are teams to watch, and so, of course, are the Russians.

Women’s ski jumping

Venue: RusSki Gorki Jumping Center

Jessica Jerome #33 of the USA competes in the Normal Hill Individual 1st Round during the FIS Women's Ski Jumping World Cup Zao at Zao Jump Stadium on January 19, 2014 in Yamagata, Japan. (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

How it works

Just like men’s ski jumping: Athletes get one jump, and those with the top scores get a second jump. The top aggregate score wins.

See it in action

Outlook

Sara Takanashi has almost a clean sweep of World Cup gold medals this season, and she should be the favorite. Russia’s Irina Awakumova and Germany’s Carina Vogt should also be in the hunt. The United States, which led a decades-long push for the inclusion of the sport, will be represented by former world champion Lindsey Van and reigning world champion Sarah Hendrickson, who is returning to competition after tearing her ACL, MCL and meniscus last August.

Freestyle skiing halfpipe (Men's and women's)

Venue: Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, Krasnaya Polyana

Devin Logan flies above the lip of the halfpipe during the World Cup U.S. Grand Prix freestyle skiing finals, Friday, Dec. 20, 2013, in Frisco, Colo. (Julie Jacobson/AP)

How it works

It’s like halfpipe snowboarding (think Shaun White) but on skis. Skiers try many of the same maneuvers – flips, grabs, somersaults and twists – as you see in the snowboarding event. Each skier gets two runs in a qualifying heat, and the top scorers advance to the final, where again each gets two runs. This is a scored event; judges look for difficulty and execution, but also can consider the overall impression of the performance.

See it in action

Outlook

American Devin Logan is atop the World Cup leader board, followed closely by teammate Maddie Bowman. In fact, five of the top nine spots in the women’s standings are held by Americans. On the men’s side, Canadian Justin Dorey has a commanding lead over Aaron Blunck of the United States.

Freestyle skiing slopestyle (Men's and women's)

Venue: Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, Krasnaya Polyana

Jonas Hunziker of Switzerland competes in the men's ski slopestyle qualification during day one of the U.S. Snowboarding and Freeskiing Grand Prix Breckenridge on January 8, 2014 in Breckenridge, Colorado. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

How it works

Competitors perform on a slope with a variety of obstacles – rails, quarter-pipes and jumps. The event follows an elimination format: two runs each round, with semifinals and finals. Judges look for overall impression, weighing execution, difficulty and variety, among other things.

Outlook

The U.S. women have a strong contingent, led by Keri Herman and Devin Logan, but Germany’s Lisa Zimmermann has dominated the World Cup season. American Nick Goepper is tied for the World Cup lead with Jesper Tjader of Sweden; 80 points separate them from third-place Bobby Brown, another American.

Snowboarding slopestyle (Men's and women's)

Venue: Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, Krasnaya Polyana

Stale Sandbech of Norway soars to third place in the men's Snowboard Slopestyle at Winter X-Games 2014 Aspen at Buttermilk Mountain on January 25, 2014 in Aspen, Colorado. (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

How it works

Competitors are judged on tricks performed over jumps on a downhill course.

See it in action

Outlook

Mark McMorris – sometimes called the next Shaun White – is a two-time X Games gold medalist in this event. On the women’s side, American Jamie Anderson, a four-time X-Games champion, is the one to beat.

Snowboarding parallel special slalom (Men's and women's)

Venue: Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, Krasnaya Polyana

Czech Republic's second placed Ester Ledecka speeds down the course during the women's parallel slalom race at the Snowboard World Cup event in Bad Gastein, Austria, on Friday, Jan. 10. 2014. (Kerstin Joensson/AP)

How it works

Athletes compete in pairs, hence the “parallel.” They must maneuver around tightly spaced flags, hence the “slalom.” And it’s new this year, hence the “special.”

See it in action

Outlook

Lukas Mathies of Austria, France’s Sylvain Dufour and Alexander Bergmann of Germany are among the top competitors in the men’s event, but Vic Wild – a former American turned Russian citizen – will be the crowd favorite. Patrizia Kummer of Switzerland and Caroline Calve of Canada are among the favorites in the women’s competition. Justin Reiter is the lone American entrant.