words: Pat Bridges
photo: Ryan “Huggy’ Hughes and Aaron Blatt
On the evening of January 27th, 2014 style prevailed as the preeminent showdown of the professional halfpipe circuit took place in Aspen, Colorado at the X Games. In front of a seemingly condensed crowd of spectators, eight contenders took to the pristine 22-foot pipe to face-off in what would be their last test before the Sochi Olympics. Noticeably absent from the stage that set his fame in motion was Shaun White, possibly creating what some have referred to as the "Tiger Woods Effect" where an individual's presence, or as the case may be their absence, can seemingly swing the exposure of an event. Yet, White's choice to abstain from X in 2014 opened the door for a new, more palatable take on modern halfpipe trickery to receive the hype it deserves.
Twenty-four hours before the men took to the Buttermilk transitions, the ladies had their chance to shine and keep the progressive momentum initiated by their slopestyle counterparts on track. There has been a lot of buzz surrounding Sun Valley, Idaho's Kaitlyn Farrington as of late. The twenty-four year old goofy footer has emerged as a practitioner of proper style amongst a female field where no grabs, flat spins, and predictable combos have become the norm. Kaitlyn took the X Games bronze, her second top tier podium in seven days, by dropping into an overhead backside air to fakie followed by a highly technical switch backside 720, corkscrew backside 900 stalefish to backside alley-oop 540 mute, and a crippler seven to end her last contest run before she heads overseas to represent the US in Russia.
At just 13 years old, Mammoth Lakes, California's Chloe Kim has quickly become one of the most talked about riders in snowboarding. She appears to be the perfect pairing of charisma and talent and watching her send it in person alleviates any speculation that she is being overscored due to her age. At her first X Games, Chloe began grabbing her seven-foot high McTwists on her early runs which was something she had yet to do in competition this season. Chloe also came out swinging in Aspen with a more mature bag of tricks, including a second hit frontside 900 mute, a crippler seven and cab 720 truck driver in her runs to earn a well deserved silver medal. In a post-podium interview, Chloe elaborated on the evolution of her most acclaimed trick, "I actually just started grabbing my McTwists" Kim explained. "I would never be able to grab it before and it just felt so sketchy. It feels so much better to grab.”
While it may seem redundant, the fact remains that Kelly Clark is the most dominant women's halfpipe rider in the world today and she has been for more than a decade. Kelly Clark continues to progress her riding in real time, ending her second run of the evening with a cab 1080 attempt. Had she stomped this spin, Kelly's seventieth career superpipe victory would have been even sweeter. Despite this bobble, Kelly's top scoring run, which included a tweve-foot high frontside 1080, was more than enough to enable her to achieve her fifth X Games Gold medal in a row! "These guys have done a great job," Clark said. "Tonight was the best the pipe has been all week. Earlier in practice the wall was softer, so I was able to dig my edge in and get the cab 1080, but tonight I couldn't quite get the grip I wanted." When asked about her longtime friend, teammate, and rival Gretchen Bleiler announcing her retirement from X Games competition, Kelly took a more melancholy tone revealing that "Gretchen and I have been competing and traveling the world together for the last fifteen years. She'll be very missed by me personally and she has done so much for the sport. Even though she's done competing, I'm sure she'll still be involved and very influential."
Amongst the field of eight men in the 2014 X Games halfpipe finals were a few new faces, including Benji Farrow, Yiwei Zhang, Scotty James, and Ben Ferguson. Finishing towards the back of the pack amongst these up and comers was the inventor of the cab 1440 double cork, aka the Yolo Flip, Iouri Podladtchikov. Iouri had the tricks and the airtime to take the whole contest, yet a 70-degree deficit of rotation on his aforementioned Yolo Flip kept him off the podium. Two-time US Olympic Halfpipe Team member Greg Bretz set a strong score on his second run with a frontside 1080 doublecork to cab 1080 doublecork combo. From there, Bretz boosted back-to-back corkscrew 900's and corkscrew 1080's on his last four hits and walked away with the bronze. Since he wears a helmet when he rides you technically can't say that Louie Vito was wearing two hats at X, but there is no denying that his opting to announce and compete in Aspen was an ambitious undertaking. When all was said and done, it appears as though being a commentator and contender didn't hold Louie back at all as he linked enough corkscrews together to find himself on the second rung of the podium.
People bring up style when celebrating Danny Davis' strengths, but few reference his soul. While the Detroit-born boarder plies his trade between the walls of a pipe, his snowboarding spirit is a pure as can be. How he chooses to channel this soul is by taking an uncommon line through the contest quagmire. Rather than conform to the spin-to-win ethos, Davis divides his routines between multi-degree and multi-cork moves and less flamboyant, yet infinitely more timeless tricks like switch methods and backside threes. While his X Games halfpipe resume includes over ten appearances, this is the first time that the rootsy regular-footer has made the finals and he set out to make the most of it, albeit on his own terms. After boosting a first-hit backside three stale on his second run, Danny sent a switch method with full rear leg extension above the fifteen-foot mark on the height meters. From there, Davis put down a sequence of more judge-friendly fare, including an off-axis cab 1080 and a frontside double crippler. With some high scoring spins in the bag, Danny returned to his core-pleasing regimen with his double overhead chicken wing McTwist, followed by a cab 1080 doublecork and a switch alley-oop backside rodeo. While this run scored the highest, his other two drops were equally eclectic and aesthetically pleasing including a blind cab on the first hit of his first run. After the results became official, Davis was noticeably stoked to be keeping his streak alive saying, "this win is very special and it is very special to share it with friends. Louie was my roommate in high school and Greg is a good friend of mine." When asked about how he arrives at his seemingly off the cuff routine, Danny affirmed the spontaneity of it all. "I get a little sidetracked and excited. It happens. I call an audible real quick and change it up." He also added that, "it is no fun to do the same run over and over again for me. I've been riding the same halfpipes since I was fifteen years old so I've got to keep having fun and changing things up." They say change is good, but on this night at the Winter X Games, change was better than good. It was great. Keep clicking back to Snowboardermag.com for more news on Danny Davis and the rest of America's US Olympic Snowboard Team as we begin our coverage of the upcoming Sochi Games within the next few weeks.
Watch the X Games Aspen 2014 halfpipe finals video.
Men’s Halfpipe Finals
First – Danny Davis
Second – Louie Vito
Third – Greg Bretz
Women’s Halfpipe Finals
First – Kelly Clark
Second – Chloe Kim
Third – Kaitlyn Farrington