words: Mary Walsh
photos: Aaron Blatt
The 2017 X Games Aspen opened up on Thursday night under the night skies of the Colorado Rockies. Temperatures were in the single digits, but spectators came by the thousands to watch one of the weekend's favorite events, men's halfpipe finals.
Snowpark Technologies always rolls out the white carpet for X Games and this year was no different–the pristinely cut walls of the superpipe shone bright against the dark sky as twelve of snowboarding's most proficient pipe riders gathered at the drop in. In 2016, men's finals had suffered a wintery fate, succumbing to a snowstorm that forced the cancellation of the event after the first runs. This year, Scotty James, Chase Josey, Ben Ferguson, Ayumu Hirano, Taku Hiraoka, Iouri Podladtchikov, Matt Ladley, Taylor Gold, Shaun White, Louie Vito, Pat Burgener and Danny Davis were ready for a proper rebate on last winter's low vis, fresh snow conditions.
For this iteration of the famed halfpipe event, each rider was provided two runs in order to lock in the highest score possible. With just two drops, the stakes were high and from the start. Safety runs were non-existant as each person strapping in at the top of the behemoth walls needed to stomp their best runs in order to rise admidst the loaded field.
Scotty James, young Aussie master turner, led off the proceedings and set the bar incredibly high—21-feet and eight inches, to be particular—with a run that was as smooth as it was technical. Scotty arrived at the bottom of the pipe with a massive smile and was awarded a 90.00 from the judges, a mighty score for any run, let along the very first of the event. Scotty has one of the nicest triple overhead methods out there and he launched high above the wall on his first hit, kicking it out for the crowd. He followed with back-to-back double tens and a front nine before adding a final double-dipped ten. In a serendipitous snowboarding celebration coming in just at the tail end of Australia Day, Scotty wouldn't look back from this point, earning his first Aspen gold to add to his collection of accolades, including a 2016 X Games bronze. The Aussie flag draped across Scotty's shoulders was a fitting match the shiny new medallion hanging from his neck.
"With a l lot of really strong guys, it was definitely one of the heaviest fields I have ever been a part of," said Scotty. "And obviously, I'm sitting down at the bottom, thinking that someone is going to knock me off my pedestal, but I held up and it was awesome. I am frickin stoked."
Watch Scotty's winning run.
Scotty's off-the-bat 90 catalyzed a banner night of transition tricks. Danny Davis, always a crowd favorite was launching McTwists high into the night sky. Bend, OR native, Ben Ferguson brought ample style to the night, but wasn't able to put down the run he was looking for in order to add to his existing X Games hardwear, though his riding, per usual, made the crowd go nuts. Chase Josey emerged with a plethora of doubles, further staking his claim in the hierarchy of the stunt ditch and earning fourth place for the night. Ayumu Hirano was sending it absolutely huge, standard for the young Japanese snowboarder, and rocketed through the stratosphere with a mental double cork 1440, but bobble on his runs run kept him out of medal contention. Pat Burgener, a new face in Aspen was the first person to land a switch back double cork in the pipe at the Grand Prix in December, but wasn't able to get his feet beneath him on either run—watch for more from this Swiss rider. Shaun White returned to Winter X after a hiatus in 2016, but uncharacteristically fell on both runs. The stakes were high on Thursday night, resulting in big spins that risked ample reward or profuse busts. The entire group of rose to the challenge further making galactically-high, multi-axis spins look abstractly normal, which is as strange as it is impressive.
On the last drop of the evening, 2016 winner and hometown favorite, Matt Ladley dropped into a very clean run and snagged the silver just before the buzzer sounded. Taylor Gold earned his first X Games bronze by stomping his second run.
Huge congratulations to Scotty, Matt, and Taylor and happy Australia Day to everyone.
X Games Aspen 2017 Men's Superpipe Finals Results:
first – Scotty James
second – Matt Ladley
third – Taylor Gold