words: Mary Walsh
photos: Ryan “Huggy” Hughes and Aaron Blatt
The tricks that are commonplace in a given slopestyle contest have shifted greatly in the past 365 days. Only a year ago, spectators lined the bottom of the slope course at X Games Aspen wondering if the triplecork would make an appearance in the event at all, and the complete transition of this multi-axis trick from big air one-hitter to one in a succession in slope marked a new level of progression in men's competition snowboarding. Flash forward twelve months and the triple cork is ubiquitous in high level events and in today's men's slopestyle finals at X Games Aspen 2014, the winner wasn't walking onto the podium without one.
There is no arguing that the amount talent in the field of competitors at the top of the SPT-built X Games slopestyle course was monumental. Alek Ostreng, Sebastien Toutant, Emil Ulsletten, Max Parrot, Chas Guldemond, Stale Sandbech, Mark McMorris, and Torstein Horgmo all have acute air awareness and enviable ability to consistently perform under pressure. This made it all the more striking when after two rotations through the lineup, only two riders had landed their runs, Mark McMorris and Max Parrot. Many other competitors had come close, flawlessly linking doublecork after doublecork only to scratch on the last jump when trying a triple. Torstein Horgmo, whose attempted run started off with a switch back lip, 270's on and off, and three doubles all spun in different directions had only one flaw in each go: a landing on the last jumped that proved elusive. This points to a continued evolution in current men's competitive riding. In one short year, what's required of a placing run has skyrocketed and while it may at times, all contest disciplines become the subject of a style verses spin debate, it can not be argued that the technicality and ability of the current crop of riders is ascending at a lightening pace.
Ståle Sandbech is a rider who comes up often when discussing spinning and snowboarding style. This Norwegian has found a line that pleases both the judges and the core community and which comes naturally to him. Doublecorks are sprinkled in between smooth flat spins and clean grabs. His third run was proper, including a switch backside doublecork ten, frontside twelve, switch frontside double ten, and a backside triplecork 1440. For his efforts, he was awarded third place.
Mark McMorris, who has won back-to-back gold medals in X Games slope in 2012 and 2013, put pressure on the rest of the field when he overtook Parrot's high score during his second run with a 95.66. A hardway 270 on the down-flat-down, cab double twelve, frontside ten, double wildcat, and backside triplecork 1440 put Mark in contention for a three-peat going into the final runs, but Max Parrot was intent to answer back
Maxence Parrot made a name for himself in Winter X history last January when he became the first snowboarder to land a triplecork in competition. On Friday night, his continued corkage earned him the gold medal in Big Air. On Saturday, Max's first slope run included a triplecork underflip to triplecork 1440 on the final two jumps--the first time triples have been linked and notably the first time that Mr. Parrot has ever landed them back-to-back. His run put him in first place with a 94, a hefty score to beat, but veteran X Games slope rider, Mark McMorris threw down on his second run, which included a doublecork wildcat to triplecork backside 1440 and moved into first place going into the final go.
Max Parrot was on a roll, though and on his final run he upped his rail line with yet another personal NBD, a 450 off on the second rail, before again linking two triples on the bottom two jumps. This run would give him the gold medal. Though McMorris and Horgmo followed Parrot's final run, McMorris took an uncharacteristic fall in the rail section hooking an edge on the storage container and taking the fall on his chest, and cracking a few ribs. While this won't derail his chances in Sochi, it was an unfortunate end to the contest for Mark. Torstein, spinning all four ways in his run but unable to stomp the last jump. While the depth of talent displayed on the slope course was heavy, Max Parrot asserted himself as currently the most consistent triplecorker in the world.
The women's finals followed and would prove to be one of the most exciting ladies' events of the season. X Games rookie, Anna Gasser was throwing picturesque frontside sevens and attempting double backflips. Aimee Fuller put together a heck of a run that included a cab underflip, double backflip, front three, and an additional backflip attempt that, had she landed, would have undoubtedly made for a high score. Kjersti Buaas infused her usual dose of style into the contest with slow backside ones, a switch back five, and easy frontside sevens. Even beyond the podium finishers, both the level of riding and the judges' scoring was high.
As the contest neared its end, the final three riders of the day were all ensured a podium position before they made their last drops, setting the stage for no-holds-barred runs as any one of the women could claim the top spot. Spencer O'Brien, sitting in second, dropped first. After a solid showing on the top rail section, Spencer wasn't able to land the first jump and she held onto her second run score of 94 (her previous performance had included a switch backside five and back-to-back sevens in Spencer's signature, clean style). Silje Norendal dropped next and stomped one of the most technical runs seen in women's slopestyle to date, including a backside 270 out on the first rail, a 50-50 container to rail transfer, and a frontside seven rodeo off her toes, backside five, cab seven, and switch backside five on the jumps. The judges rewarded Silje with a score of 96, bumping the Norwegian into first place and causing speculation on whether Jamie Anderson would attempt a 900 in order to regain first place. Jamie began her run strong in the upper section and spun a clean switch backside five to frontside seven to backside five, but didn't land the last jump. When it was all said and done, Jamie took the silver medal, Spencer earned bronze, and Silje took her first gold at X Games Aspen in a more-than-exciting preview of what can be expected at the Olympics in a few short weeks.
First - Max Parrot
Second - Mark McMorris
Third - Stale Sandbech
First - Silje Norendal
Second - Jamie Anderson
Third - Spencer O'Brien