Spencer O’Brien wins gold in women’s slopestyle at X Games Aspen 2016

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words: Mary Walsh
photos: Peter Morning

On Friday, January 29th, the town of Aspen awoke to a gray cloudcover and a few inches of fresh snow that had fallen overnight. As the lifts at Buttermilk began to turn and electronica began to emanate from the assembled sponsor village, the clouds parted overhead, unveiling a pretty perfect blue sky. Soft snow, warm weather and it was the perfect start to X Games Aspen 2016 as eight riders took to the drop in for women's slopestyle finals.

The talented snow sculptors of Snow Park Technologies brought another behemoth slope course to life for the 2015 iteration of this X Games. Three multi-option rail plazas populated the upper half of the course, directly followed by three towering cheesewedges. Pristine course, perfect weather and eight riders were poised at the top of the set ready to stake their claim at X Games gold. New for 2016, X Games eliminated the qualifying round of slope, pipe and big air, instead allowing a group of invited riders to compete for the podium in one round over the course of the standard three runs. For women's slopestyle, a stacked crew of both X Games notables and newcomers had been assembled: Christy Prior, Spencer O'Brien, Jamie Anderson, Katie Ormerod, Klaudia Medlova, Cheryl Maas, and 2015 champion, Silje Norendal.

Today at the base of Aspen Buttermilk all things aligned for a momentous women's competition, loaded with flawless trickery and substantial style. With many of the field stomping their first run, the gates were opened for attempts at heavier tricks and the ante kept being upped through the very last run. The group-spurred progression was exciting. Slovak snowboarder Klaudia Medlova attempted to bring her double back rodeo on course, but wasn't able to ride away clean. On the first jump, Cheryl Maas put down the first-ever X Games women's slope switch back nine during her second run and then attempted to follow it up with a back nine on the final kicker. She was close, but scratched the landing of what would have been an insane line. Not lost at all, is the technicality she proffered on course with the first two-and-a-half rotation spin. With the contest's quick tenacity, it was clear that landing in the top three was going to require an exceptional performance.

Hailey Langland is a Southern California-raised, Tahoe-groomed rider, who at only fifteen years old has been making waves with some of the smoothest style within the ranks of the up and comers, male or female. While on lookers in-the-know had been pausing to watch her back one Japans for the past few seasons, Hailey began to step into the limelight when her first showing in a major contest became her first official podium at Dew Tour Breckenridge in December. Women's slope finals would be her debut in Aspen and even though young Hail was the youngest contestant in the field, she firmly established her mettle by coming out of the gate firing, landing her first run and taking the lead immediately with a nosepress, frontlip and backlip on the rail platforms, and a front three, back five and cab five on the jumps. More than the number of rotations, Hailey oozed a style as well as an unwavering and collected ability that belies both her age and her rookie status. Each time she dropped into the slope course, Hailey added an additional spin to her run, upping the ante to back-to-back, poked out fives during her second attempt and bringing out the seven-five-seven on her final go. She received her highest score for her second showing, an 88, which would be plenty to kick off what is surely to be an X Games career loaded with heavy metal with her very first bronze.

Spencer O'Brien has long been a dominating force in the competitive realm, not only because of her command of technical tricks and consistent elevation of her repertoire, but also because of her commitment to imbuing ample style into every run she takes. The combination of this Canadian impresario's a masterful rail game and easy jump skills have long made her a threat to any podium she eyes, yet while Spencer is an X Games veteran, with four medals (three bronze and one silver) to her name, she had yet to add a gold trophy to her collection. That is, until this year. Amidst the all-around gifted field, Spencer secured her first X Games win with her second run, which included a backlip and noseslide hardway 270 out in the upper rail section and a switch back seven, cab five, and front seven on the bottom jumps. Not only was her go impressive in terms of trick selection, but it was the clean style in each hit that would earn Spencer a 91.00.

There was plenty of competition left after Spencer took the lead during the second round of drops. Considering that the three final riders to take to the course were Christy Prior, Jamie Anderson, and Silje Norendal, there was no time to rest easy that any scores were secure. Christy, in her second turn at X Games Aspen, brought loads of proper style to the proceedings by throwing proper frontlips, easy cab underflips, and front sevens that were pure beauty. While her efforts earned her an 84 from the judges, it wasn't enough to crack the podium and she ended the day in fifth place. Silje, last winter's winner couldn't seem to crack into the top of the field. Her best performance was her last run, when she threw one of the nicest nines seen in women's slopestyle to date, a cab variation and possibly an NBD in women's finals at X Games.

For the first two of her runs, Jamie Anderson was uncharacteristically off, having trouble with the second of the three jumps. But with such a strong competitor, two scuff attempts are never a sign of what can happen on run number three and on the second-to-last drop of the day, Jamie came in hot with a boardslide 270 out, backlip to fakie, halfcab to butterpad to boardslide on the down rail, and landing two sevens and a back rodeo on the jumps. Just in the nick of time, Jamie took an 89 and earned yet another silver medal for her collection.

Congratulations to Spencer, Jamie and Hailey, as well as to the entire roster of riders that threw down in Aspen during finals today.

RESULTS
First – Spencer O’Brien
Second – Jamie Anderson
Third – Hailey Langland
Fourth – Silje Norendal
Fifth – Christy Prior
Sixth – Katie Ormerod
Seventh – Klaudia Medlova
Eighth – Cheryl Maas