By Nick Butler at the Main Press Centre in Sochi

Canada's Max Parrot led the way on the men's side as slopestyle action began amid criticism of the difficulty of the course ©AFP/Getty ImagesFebruary 6 - Winter Olympic action began here today with slopestyle snowboard qualification taking place under a cloud of controversy over the ultra-difficult nature of the course.

This came after a series of crashes on training days leading up to the competition - the most serious of which ruled Norwegian medal contender Torstein Horgmo out of the Games with a broken collar-bone.

United States superstar Shaun White then pulled out of the event on the eve of competition to avoid an injury preventing him from challenging for a third consecutive gold medal in his favoured halfpipe discipline later in the Games. 

Various other athletes voiced concerns over the size of the jumps, as well as the proximity of rails out the top of the course, and this led organises making some late adjustments.

But the course at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park was stoutly defended by designer Roberto Moresi.

"It's only him [White] that's pulled out, but people had already started to get into the course and like it a lot," he said.

"We came out of a meeting with the snowboarders and they're starting to really appreciate and enjoy it - the freestyle skiers also liked it a lot this afternoon.

"You can see it's improved rapidly from the first day.

"It's normal - you fine-tune and make small tweaks and after a couple of days it is ready for competition."

Despite some heavy crashes the competitors indeed seemed more satisfied than earlier in the week during qualification action, although much focus remained on White.

Shaun White has received criticism for pulling out of the slopestyle event to focus on the halfpipe ©AFP/Getty ImagesShaun White has received criticism for pulling out of the slopestyle event to focus on the halfpipe ©AFP/Getty Images

Opposition of the Americans decision to pull out was led by Canadian's Maxence Parrot and Sebastien Toutant, who had each posted critical message on Twitter before deleting them on the grounds that they were misunderstood.

They both defended the gist of their messages which was that White had used course safety issues as a pretence to pull out of a competition he feared he would not win, and that a question mark will now hang over the final result because of his absence.

Both backed up this bullishness by safely making it through qualifying - with Parrot particularly impressive as he notched a total score of 97.50 - just 0.50 down on the highest ever slopestyle score recorded by another Canadian Mark McMorris in 2013.

Austria's Anna Gasser led the way on the women's side with the men's final due to take place on Saturday (February 8) ahead of the women's the following day. 

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