Words: Mary Walsh
Photos: Ryan “Huggy” Hughes
Captions: Pat Bridges
As the Saturday of the X Games began and throngs of people filtered into the viewing area at the Slopestyle course in Aspen, the big question hanging over the venue was, of course, will the triple cork make the transition from Big Air one-hitter to a part of a run of linked tricks. After Friday's Big Air competition, which came down to the final two runs of the night and subsequently yielded two new triple variations, the assembled crowd at the base of the X Games' infamous Money Booter was eagerly awaiting the competition.
Snowpark Technologies built what has been described by competitors as the best slopestyle course, ever, with thirteen jib options and a succession of massive jumps with quick transitions between them. Each rider was given three runs to make it to the podium, with their top score deciding their final standing.
The men took to the set up first. For weeks, media had been building up Shaun White's return to slope and a supposed rivalry with Mark McMorris, but this is largely hyperbole (despite the fact that a large onsite split screen showcased images contrasting the previous night for both guys: Shaun in an ice-filled bathtub, Mark high-fiving friends at the bottom of Big Air). While Mark headed into the competition a favorite, the level of talent is deep in this discipline and it was far from only two riders vying for the top spot. Seppe Smitts, Alek Oestreng, Chas Guldemond, Gjermand Braaten, Max Parrot and Peetu Piiroinen were all eyeing the podium and it was likely that any of them could be the victor come the final runs.
Shaun White's last gold medal in the event was in 2009, which isn't long in time, but is distant in progression. Dropping second of the day, White struggled a bit with the rail section, but found his balance in the jumps and attempted the first triple cork of the competition, a backside 1440, dragging his hand on the landing. More telling than the 71 points White was awarded, was the bar that had been set: triple corks had entered the slopestyle lexicon on Saturday, January 26th, 2013. As the line up of riders continued, variations of double corks, 1080s, and 1260s were thrown in various sequences. Chas Guldemond came out strong, linking a cab 1260 double cork to a backside 1260 double cork, followed by Seppe Smitts, who continued to push the top score higher with a strong rail showing and a jump line that included a cab 1260 double cork. Max Parrot, an 18 year old X Games rookie from Quebec, landed a backlip and 270 combinations in the upper rail section, and continued to put down a cab double underflip, frontside double cork 1080, double wildcat, and a lofty triple cork on the final jump. Parrot's inaugural run as a Winter X competitor solidified his name into the history books as the first rider to land the triple cork in a slopestyle competition.
When it came time for Mark McMorris to drop, the young Canadian showed no signs of weariness from the previous night's competition. Going through the rail section, McMorris stomped multiple 270s, both on and off, and then deftly handled each kicker that stood in his way toward the podium: cab nine double underflip, front double cork 1080, double wildcat, and an enormous backside 1440 triplecork. His score went up: 94.66 and he was in first place after one run.
McMorris' run was a tough act to follow. As the start list returned to the top, the sun hid behind clouds and visibility decreased significantly, contributing to more challenging riding conditions. As direct examples of how good these riders are, Alek Oestreng, who stomped an impressive first run that included a 900, 1080, and smooth double cork 1260, attempted his first-ever triple cork on the final jump and almost landed it. Seppe Smitts, who honed his triple corks during Big Air the night before, chanced another triple on the last jump during his final run and realized in midair that he didn't have enough time to complete the rotation. So, he opened up and downgraded his triple to a double. While this didn't positively affect his score, it was a spectacle of superlative air awareness.
When the level of riding is at such a paramount level, hefty point margins for the most technical tricks provide the opportunity for any rider to change the standings at any time. McMorris' high score lasted throughout, though, and he earned his second consecutive X Games Slopestyle gold, as well as his second medal in two days. Once Mark dropped in for his last run, he performed an atypical victory lap by not holding back one bit, despite having it all in the bag. This is representative of how much this new generation of competitive snowboarders rule and for his efforts, Mark was awarded the highest score ever in X Games Slopestyle history, a 98.
Jamie Anderson continued her reign as the rider to beat on the women's side. Similar to the men's competition, Jamie put down her winning run in her first go and never looked back. Enni Rukajarvi, Silje Norendal, Sina Candrian, Kjersti Buaas rode well, but fell short of the podium, though collectively, they performed a slew of technical tricks, from floaty switch back 180s to frontside sevens. X Games rookie, Amy Fuller didn't find the landings she needed, but her double backflip attempt and corked sevens off of the first jump left a lasting impression that she is a force to watch in the future. Spencer O'Brien had arguably the best run through the upper rail zone, which included a lipslide as well as a solid boardslide pretzel 270 out, and she followed that with a backside 360, frontside 720 off her toes, and back to back 540s of the backside and switch backside varieties. For her strong showing, she took third place. Sarka Pancochova, the Czech Republic standout, earned her first X Games medal in silver with a banger run full of style, as she poked each grab and stacked spins from switch backside 180 up to backside 720. In fitting celebration of her first time on the podium, Sarka brought her own champagne to soak the crowd and share with Jamie and Spencer.
First: Mark McMorris
Second: Max Parrot
Third: Seppe Smitts
First: Jamie Anderson
Second: Sarka Pancochova
Third: Spencer O'Brien