words: Mary Walsh
photos: Peter Morning
Not in recent memory has an event been cancelled in Aspen. With TV cameras running, riders that have been prepping for days, and a packed weekend schedule, the show definitively goes on, even if the weather isn't ideal. While there's plenty of times that the snow is far from perfect—this is the great outdoors after all—it is rare that conditions are so bad that an event is called off. Men's halfpipe finals, the Saturday evening marquee event at X Games, faced an unfortunate fate on Saturday, January 30th, as a heavy two-in-one storm rolled in just as the sun was setting. During men's practice, as the crowd filed into the Buttermilk base area and lined the decks of the halfpipe, the snow was steady, but the Snow Park Technologies-built behemouth is legendary for being one of the best pipes of the year and it remained rideable. Twelve of the best wall-to-wall snowboarders were lapping, finding speed, and adjusting to the conditions. Gabe Ferguson, Scotty James, Jan Scherrer, Brett Esser, Chase Josey, Christian Haller, Matt Ladley, Ben Ferguson, Taku Hiraoka, Ayumu Hirano, Iouri Podladtchikov and 2015 X Games Aspen halfpipe champion, Danny Davis were finding their lines despite the weather. As the brilliant X Games lights illuminated the falling snow, the coterie of competitors took to the pipe, sending double overhead airs, launching double corks, and finding their lines despite the storm.
Matt Ladley, Colorado native and X Games veteran sent a back 900 into a front twelve, kicked out a method and followed up with back-to-back doubles. He was awarded and 82.33. He moved into the top spot with a strong run that he would likely build on in his next two attempts, but just after the first runs had been completed, during a break in the contest, the storm surged, creating near white out conditions, blanketing the flatbottom with fresh flakes and sticking to the walls. It was impossible to see, it was slow to ride. It was full on dumping. As the start order reset, the chilliest Ferguson pointed it into the superpipe and came up empty handed. Australian transition terror Scotty James dropped next and after a mammoth method first hit on his initial run, couldn't get speed to get out of the lip. Contest organizers paused the proceedings, the team of slippers repeatedly lapped, but the snow kept falling harder and harder. After a confused fifteen minutes, the contest was shut down and the decision was made to award medals based on first run standings. Matt Ladley would earn his first X Games medal, bright, shiny and gold. In second place was Bend, Oregon-bred Ben Ferguson, whose crowd pleasing run included a front seven crippler Japan, cab double ten, double cripper, back nine, front double ten, and a Ferg-signature butter, high on the wall to close things out. Scotty James would pick up the bronze with a 76.00 after launching a humungous method on his first wall, and then following it up with a double crippler, backside nine, front double ten and cab double ten. While men's pipe finals suffered an abrupt and unexpected ending, we applaud the winners for the runs they put down, as well as the entire field for rolling with the punches in lackluster weather circumstances.
By the time women's pipe finals were beginning on Sunday afternoon, the storm was still raging on. Luckily, things were not as treacherous as the previous evening, but flat light and fresh snow does no make for an inviting or easy-to-ride halfpipe. At the top of the tube, Maddie Maestro, Elena Hight, Xuetong Cai, Hannah Teter, Jaiyu Liu, Arielle Gold, Kelly Clark, and Chloe Kim cranked down bindings and readied to drop.
Right out of the gate, these transition saavy women were sending it in this snowy pipe. Despite the meteorological conditions, the women had little problem getting speed. X Games vet Kelly Clark, X Games rookie Jaiyu Liu, and 2015 X Games gold medalist Chloe Kim were sending hits clear into the sky, causing the assembled Aspen crowd to go nuts along the length of the pipe deck.
The second rider on the start list was 22-year old Xuetong Cai. Cai set a solid tone during her first run with back-to-back fives and back-to-back sevens and throwing a method in for good measure. When she dropped in for the second time, a front nine, front seven, and cab seven impressed both spectators and judges and her aerial acumen was rewarded with a 80.33. Cai moved her into podium contention and would remain there the rest of the competition, finishing in third place and earning her first X Games medal.
Arielle Gold is no stranger to the Aspen podium and at the 2016 event, having earned two medals in only four previous X Games appearances. Her first run was her best of the day, including a Michalchuk and back-to-back sevens. Her score of 86.00 was plenty to add a silver medal to her trophy case.
The last rider to drop, Mammoth Mountain rider, Chloe Kim made her intentions for a two-peat clear when she dropped into her second run and sent one of the most picture-perfect 1080s that has ever been done in women's pipe competition. At only fifteen-years-old, Chloe's prodigious abilities are matched only by her competent style. Chloe launched into the atmosphere with thirteen-foot method, effortlessly put down the ten, and for good measure, included a McTwist and alley oop five to shut things down. The most accurate sentiment of the afternoon was echoed by X Games announcer Craig McMorris who whooped that Chloe "absolutely punched me in the face with that last run." Not only did the run earn Chloe a 95.00 and her third gold medal in three appearances in X Games, but it is a succession of tricks that will undoubtedly go down in the canon of women's halfpipe.
The snow continued to fall as the sky grew darker and the last of the crowd filtered out of the sponsor village and headed into downtown Aspen. The events were over, the celebration was waning and the riders were heading to the next contest or out to film. Another X Games was in the books and the proliferation of tricks and momentum of riding would continue in Innbruck, in China, and in Vail. As the snow fell on the trails of Aspen, it was time for powder runs, slate to be wiped clean for next year.
First – Matt Ladley
Second – Ben Ferguson
Third – Scotty James
First – Chloe Kim
Second – Arielle Gold
Third – Xuetong Cai