If you caught my bit last week, you knew that I was excited for Winter X-Games in Aspen this past weekend. And if you caught any of Winter X, then you saw why. With a combination of spectacular skiing, progressive snowboarding, and some unreal snowmobiling performances, this year’s Winter X-Games was an excellent display of all of the talent that action sports athletes possess. And it can only get more mind-blowing from here.
Lets just get this out of the way now; Snowmobilers are crazy! While watching the best trick and freestyle competitions, it is easy to forget that a snowmobile on average weighs 450lbs. And these athletes throw them around like they are BMX bikes. It is ridiculous! Couple that with the fact that a rider like Jackson “Jacko” Strong has only ridden a snowmobile for 4 hours, and you basically get the gist of what these snowmobile trick competitions are like. He was so close to bringing “the Jack” to Winter X. Maybe with 5 hours he would have stuck it… Daniel Bodin was the big winner of the best trick competition. He was also the only one to utilize the 100ft jump. In second was Joe Parsons, who landed a brand new trick called the “Gator Hater.” He definitely didn’t mince his words when he let the reporter at ESPN know how he felt about his history-making trick being rated second best. Heath Frisby, who was the favorite to win, threw down the first ever underflip. He too didn’t mince his words about how he felt about the judging when he finally saw his score. Clearly they were just as confused as the rest of us. I guess progression doesn’t count as much as these days.
Levi LaVallee also was able to take home 2 gold medals from the weekend. Injury kept him from the best trick competition, or he could have made it 3. And while he was going for his first gold in SnoCross, that wasn’t going to happen cause it was definitely the Tucker Hibbert show. Securing the first six-peat in Winter X history, Hibbert proved his dominance in the sport as he cruised to victory with an 11 second gap. He makes it look ridiculously easy to maneuver that 450lb sled throughout the course. Like I said, it was just madness.
I also want to take the time to mention the Moore family. Caleb Moore was known as one of the baddest dudes on a snowmobile, who possessed an unparalleled passion for the sport that he risked his life for. In an unfortunate turn of events, Moore had the gnarliest crash of the weekend, which left him in critical condition. And I am incredibly sad to say that today (1/31/2013), Caleb Moore passed away due to the severe injuries he suffered. The Babes Dig Balls family will definitely be thinking of his family and friends during this incredibly difficult time.
Ski Big Air
Just before Henrik Harlaut was about to drop in on his run, Tanner Hall had a message for him, a pre-game prep talk if you will.
Well I guess that talk worked because Harlaut made freeski history with his nose butter triple cork 1620. Not only did he make history, but he also won the gold medal. Not too shabby eh?
Probably the biggest upset this weekend came in the women’s ski slopestyle competition. Tiril Sjastad Christiansen, a 17-year-old rookie, had a technical run that included a 900 to end it to take the gold away from pre-competition favorite and dominant Kaya Turski.
And in the men’s competition, the gold medal switches hands yet again for the 9th time in 9 years. This year’s man of the hour is Nick Goepper. Goepper’s run consisted of varitions of the double corks, clean grabs and stomped landings. The 18-year-old was stoked, and I was definitely stoked for him.
Well David Wise, you proved me wrong. I definitely didn’t think that he would repeat prior to the contest. But with back-to-back double corks, a switch double cork 1080, massive air and an alley oop flatspin 540, there’s no question he should have won gold. (He is the first repeat gold medalist in this event since Tanner Hall back in 2008). It was definitely the most technically difficult run put together that night and was executed with style. This night also included a killer performance from 17-year-old, local favorite Torin Yater-Wallace and a return to form by Simon Dumont, despite his broken wrist.
While the men’s competition was all about team USA, the women’s competition was all about Canada. Let me preface this though with the fact that 19 year old, Tahoe native Maddie Bowman won the contest with a run that included a pair of 900s. But after Bowman, defending gold medalist Canadian Roz Groenewoud took 2nd while Canadian teammates Megan Gunning and Keltie Hansen took 3rd and 4th.
Snowboard Big Air
If you wanted to see triple corks, you got more than enough for your fill during the Snowboard Big Air competition. If you are a rider and don’t have a triple cork in your arsenal, don’t even bother thinking about being anywhere near the podium. That is how crucial this trick is to the sport of snowboarding now. Torstein Horgmo scored a perfect 50-point run with a switch backside triple cork 1440, which is the first time that has been landed in a competition. Needless to say, he won gold.
Mark McMorris also nailed a critical triple on his final run of the night with a cab triple underflip 1440. I should mention that it is a trick he hadn’t even attempted before that night. It was also a first for competition, but not enough to pass Horgmo. That being said, I’m over triple corks. I definitely didn’t think it was possible to say that, ever. It’s funny to think that last year the triple cork was still a mystery to most people. It was kind of like the 900 in skateboarding. Nowadays, everybody is throwing them. While it is pretty great the sport is in a place of progression where unthinkable tricks like this are possible, it’s incredibly repetitive. Hopefully next year will not be the triple cork show again.
This was all about Saskatchewan native, Mark McMorris. Prior to the race, he set a goal to stomp a triple cork in his slopestyle run. He did. He did not only throw a triple cork, but he also included a 270 to fakie on the down rail, switch lipslide on the up rail, front blunt sameway 270, boardslide gap boardslide to fakie, cab 1260 double cork, frontside 1080 double cork, and a double wildcat. For those of you who don’t know, Saskatchewan is not a mountainous place. It’s unreal to me to think that a kid from the prairies even knows what all of those tricks are.
In the women’s competition, the focus was all on Jamie Anderson. And with a big cab 720, she managed to repeat as the Winter X Snowboard Slopestyle gold medalist.
The conditions of the pipe were stellar the whole weekend. This lent itself well to the madness that was to take place. Kelly Clark is just unreal winning yet another gold in women’s superpipe. The real story though had to be Elena Hight, who became the first to land a double backside alley-oop rodeo in the pipe. I guess it’s good that she had some extra time to think about it (contest got delayed due to a basketball game on ESPN). It was awesome.
In the men’s competition, of course all eyes were on Shaun White. With his decision not to take another qualifying run in the pipe coupled with a lackluster performance in slopestyle left a lot of people questioning his mindset going into the finals. Would he be ready to ride? Has he lost his edge? It should be noted that those questions are incredibly silly and ridiculous. While some people may question his fashion choices on the pipe, his mental competitiveness has always proven to be up to the task, especially in a pipe final. Couple a win with the chance to become the second six-peat in Winter X history; of course he was ready to compete.
And sure, he threw the same run from last year, which received the first perfect score in the pipe ever, to secure him his sixth win. Boring, right? WRONG!! His first hit was on the repeat run from last year was a pipe record breaking 24.1” high. And in case you aren’t aware, the walls of the pipe are already 22” tall. And while he was 2 points shy of scoring the second perfect score in pipe history, his run proved to be far better than the rest on Sunday, securing the six peat and a gold medal.
Going into the final, White qualified second to Iouri Podladtchikov (IPod). However, due to a stomach virus, IPod pulled out last minute and apologized to White for not being there to compete. When asked about it, White said that he was bummed that he wouldn’t be competing against IPod, for it’s always more fun to compete against the best. And while he didn’t wish IPod to pull out of the competition, I’m sure it took at least some of the edge off of White to win. Good thing he didn’t get too comfortable though because the rest of the field was definitely gunning for him.
And while most eyes were on White to complete the six peat, the night was definitely stolen by Ayumu Hirona. Like most other people watch at home, I was pretty unfamiliar with him. I got to witness him at the Breckenridge Dew Tour stop along with the wave of upcoming Japanese snowboard talent, but I definitely didn’t realize how big his potential could be. He told people leading up to the final that his goal was to be on the podium. With a 5th place finish at the Dew Tour and only qualifying 6th for the pipe finals, it was definitely deemed a lofty goal.
And just like everybody else at home, after his first hit of his first run in the finals, we know what his potential could be. With the exception of Shaun White, Hirona sailed higher than every other athlete on the pipe. At just 5’2”, that is pretty unheard of. He has proven that he can handle the pressure of a huge contest final. He has the arsenal to compete with the best and is still growing as a ride. At the tender age of 14, I think it is pretty safe to say that the best is yet to come. Give him another full winter season and he may be looking to upgrade his silver medal for a gold one next year. I am definitely looking forward to seeing more from this kid in the future. Look out Shaun; this may be the kid that keeps you from a seven-peat.
So what did I take away from this Winter X-Games? Well, history was most definitely made. Whether it was a couple of six-peats, a woman joining an elite club with a progressive trick, a 14 year old snowboarding phenom challenging the best snowboarders in the world (just to name a few moments), this year’s showing definitely exceeded expectations and proved why the X-Games are so amazing. And if you’re like me, you’re already counting down to the next installment of the X-Games in Tignes, France! Get excited people, it’s going to be unreal.
(Photo Credit: Instagram: Torsteinhorgmo, Elenahight, MarkMcMorris, ashleybattersby, GoPro)