For the past four days, all eyes have been on Aspen to see which riders will break out, get broke off, repeat their regimen of glory, or go home disappointed at what has become the pinnacle of the competitive snowboarding calendar, the Winter X Games.
The marquee event of Winter X has always been the halfpipe, and while the u-tube may have been usurped by Big Air, Real Snow, and Slopestyle at this years games in terms of progression, showmanship and drama, this year’s pipe played out as the most bizarre snowboarding contest in recent memory.
In Saturday nights Women's Halfpipe Final, Torah Bright returned to the Aspen spotlight with her consistent brand of stylish technicality, but her airs to fakie and legit McTwists weren't enough to warrant a return to the X podium. Relative newcomer Arielle Gold's first hit overhead methods provided a stylish contrast to her frontside and cab 900 spins to earn her third place. In 2003, Elena Hight became the first female to land a 900 in competition and a decade later NBD's are still part of her MO. On the last hit of her first run of finals, Elena ushered women's halfpipe riding into a whole new era by landing an alley-oop double backside rodeo and was rewarded with a score 90 and the lead, which she would keep up until the last rider of the evening dropped. Kelly Clark's formula for competition dominance is pretty straight forward. In one word: amplitude. Kelly routinely goes twenty-five percent higher on every hit than her closest rivals and Saturday evening was no different. While the Southern Vermont native didn't double cork, her multi-rotation spins and Haakon flips were enough to eclipse Elena's double cork and earn Kelly an X Games Halfpipe three-peat.
Twenty-four hours later it was the men's turn to take to the main stage as the highly anticipated showdown between the top qualifier, Russia's Iuori Podlatchikov and America's Shaun White was set to go down. While Iouri is no stranger to getting sick air, projectile vomiting fifteen feet above the deck of a halfpipe isn't the way anyone wants to make it onto Sportcenter and the whole shitting your pants on National TV thing is so Todd Richards in 1992. Perhaps while Iouri was getting halfpipe shots he should have been getting flu shots, because the rider most likely to end Shaun's Aspen dominance had to drop out before the finals even began. Another notable contender, Colorado's Matt Ladley, had to withdraw before the finals after his foot withdrew from his binding while setting up for a massive spin. The loose-legged Ladley was pitched out of the pipe, over the fence and beyond the assembled crowd with a harrowing crash.
The pre-event happenings only left seven riders at the top of the Aspen pipe, with but two having a realistic shot at beating Shaun White. Olympic Bronze Medalist, Scotty Lago set down a stunner on his first run. The 2004 World Quarterpipe Champion’s multi-directional frontside 540 pokes and frontside 900 off-axis rocket airs were easily the most respected moves of the night, but like Elena Hight the evening before, the Seabrook, New Hampshire native peaked on his first run, which denied him the benefits of the scoring inertia inherent to all multi-run judged events. Then, on his final run of the event, as the second to last competitor, Lago dropped in to pump his frontside wall before his sure-to-be-massive first hit method and he washed out in the entry transition. Under any circumstance this would be a sour note to end the evening, but the matter was made worse when Scotty quickly hiked back to the top to exorcise a rarely used X Games rule that allows for a rider to receive a re-run if they don't execute their first hit. Apparently ESPN overlooked their own policy, didn't allow the rerun and unfairly denied Lago redemption.
This was fourteen-year-old Japanese snowboarding savant, Ayumu Hirano's first trip to Aspen as an invited athlete. While he can't communicate a world of English, his riding speaks volumes. Though less-seasoned than the rest of the roster, Ayumu showed the most poise and constancy of the whole field. The 0nly-116-pounds Ayumu outmatched most other riders in terms of airtime and his last hit double corks probably contained enough loft to provide the possibilities of a triple. Ayumu is leaving Aspen with a silver medal in his first X Games ever and the respect of riders across the globe. Many people are already speculating that Ayumu's arc could take him on a path to Sochi gold in a little over a year. Well, SNOWBOARDER is here to state that this won't be happening. The skiers who run snowboarding in the Olympics have deemed that no competitors under the age of 16 are allowed to compete in Russia in 2014. Unless Ayumu is keen on the idea of defecting to China where creative birth certificates are commonplace, he'll have to wait till 2018 when he is nineteen.
For the sixth time in as many years, Shaun White stood atop the Aspen podium. Though Shaun's slopestyle comeback has yet to produce the expected results, his dominance in halfpipe hasn't wavered one bit. Shaun's first hit method airs peaked out at two and a half stories and are proper. From there, his technically superior tricks are unmatched and SNOWBOARDER wouldn't be surprised if we are typing the words seven-peat in twelve months.
With the culmination of the seventeenth iteration of the Winter X Games, it is time to reflect on four days where snowboarding took center stage. Not only did Big Air and Slopestyle provide more highlight clips than the Halfpipe for the first time ever, Real Snow, live and online, produced podiums that every rider can be proud of. How can't the "core" be stoked to see Louif get two golds; Dylan Alito and Dylan Thompson on TV representing; and Frank April, sitting in Quebec, shirtless and shitfaced, high on pilsner and pride as a newly crowned X Games champion? To that SNOWBOARDER says, “tabernac.”
First – Shaun White
Second – Ayumu Hirano
Third – Markus Malin
First – Kelly Clark
Second – Elena Hight
Third – Arielle Gold