X Games Aspen Preview: Stars of the slopes and pipe go all-out for gold
Everything you need to know going into X Games Aspen 2016...
Big Air Final (Saturday at 8:15 p.m. MT)
Last year’s ski Big Air final was one of the most explosive events of the weekend. Vincent Gagnier had himself a performance. His top run in Round 1 of the qualifiers earned a score of 44 (out of 50), the second highest total for any individual run all night. The only run that surpassed it: the 47.00 Gagnier earned in the final. His exemplary riding didn’t overshadow the exploits of his competition, but it did raise the bar to the point that everyone had to go big if they wanted a podium spot.
For that, there were big scores, small scores from big wipeouts and a couple of injuries, most notably to Alex Schlopy in the final. Bobby Brown, who took silver, will be gunning for a return to the center of the podium, as will Gus Kenworthy, who will be looking to make up for his performance last year, when he failed to make the finals.
Prediction: Gus Kenworthy
Skier X (men's + women's) (Saturday at 2 p.m. MT)
After a three-year hiatus, Skier X will return to the Winter X Games in 2016. The men and women will be flying down the course on skies, with poles, looking for X Games gold in what will be the biggest skicross race to take place on U.S. snow since the last iteration of the event in 2012. No defending champion here, but the contestants are regulars of the U.S. Ski World Cup, so no concerns about quality. Welcome back, Skier X.
Men’s SuperPipe Final (Thursday at 4 p.m. MT)
After serving as the anchor of the 2015 Winter X Games, the Men’s Ski SuperPipe Final will be one of the first events of the weekend this year. That means that fans won’t have to wait long this year to see Simon d’Artois defend his gold medal.
Big names David Wise and Gus Kenworthy were unable to podium last year, so they will be ones to look for better results from. It’ll be interesting to see if silver medalist Kevin Rolland can break through and win his third X Games gold medal. His consistently high finishes over the last few seasons suggest that he may be able to do just that.
Prediction: Kevin Rolland
- MORE EDGE: McMorris on X Games Aspen,In Motion tour, more
Women’s SuperPipe Final (Friday at 6:30 p.m. MT)
Maddie Bowman won the gold medal in the SuperPipe last year in her first run of the night. Her official winning score was 85.33, but her first run was an even 85, and no one else matched it the rest of the night. This year, Bowman is dropping into the Buttermilk SuperPipe looking for her fourth consecutive gold at the venue. She is a strong favorite to find it, though Maddie recently told SI.com that Annalisa Drew is a rider who she is really looking forward to watching at the 2016 X Games. That means you should be too.
Prediction: Maddie Bowman
Men’s Slopestyle Final (Sunday at 10:00 p.m. MT)
Nick Goepper captured his own three-peat on the Slopestyle course last year, besting silver medalist Joss Christensen by exactly three points. Bobby Brown was very excited for the Slopestyle competition, but outside of a solid final run that yielded a score of 75, his finals performance was extremely subpar. Expect his results to better reflect his riding this season. Gus Kenworthy is also a part of this field, making it a deep one. But a finally healthy Joss Christensen is the pick for gold this time around.
Prediction: Joss Christensen
Women’s Slopestyle Final (Friday at 12:30 p.m. MT)
Canadian Kaya Turski was primed to make her long-awaited return to freestyle skiing at this season’s Dew Tour competition. Unfortunately, she broke her arm during training in early December. Her recovery timetable was four to six weeks, meaning she could be good to go in time for this weekend, but that time spent away from the slopes may take it’s toll.
Meanwhile, another comeback is in the works. Norway's Tiril Sjåstad Christiansen is also returning to X Games after missing the last two competitions due to injury. All this is to say that 2015 gold medalist Emma Dahlstrom will have plenty to contend with if she wants to defend her title.
Prediction: Tiril Sjåstad Christiansen
Men’s Big Air Final (Friday at 8:15 p.m. MT)
The Snowboard Big Air final is always one of the most anticipated events of the Winter X Games. Last year, Mark McMorris, the defending champ, who also won in 2012; Max Parrot, winner of the 2014 Big Air event; and Yuki Kadono, the overall winner of the three-leg Air + Style big air event in 2015, were the riders on the podium. They beat out such names as Sven Thorgren, Ståle Sandbech and Torstein Horgmo in the final, for which Sage Kotsenberg didn’t even qualify.
That should tell you all you need to know about this event. Look for McMorris, who is entering X Games looking to successfully defend his double gold from last year, to bring a strong arsenal of tricks again. The technical skill of Max Parrot and Stale Sandbech also can’t be ignored. It will be a good one for sure.
Prediction: Yuki Kadono
- MORE EDGE: Kim gets in some training ahead of X Games Aspen
Men’s Slopestyle Final (Saturday at 12:00 p.m. MT)
As the defending champion in both Big Air and Slopestyle, Mark McMorris probably has the biggest target on his back out of all the athletes competing this weekend. He knows the feeling, though; in 2013, Mark was in exactly the same position. That season, Mark successfully defended his Slopestyle gold, but finished second in Big Air. This year, one can argue that not only is there more competition in both fields, but also that there are riders in both who could actually supplant him. Stale Sandbech, Max Parrot and Sage Kotsenberg are all just as capable of winning this event as McMorris. See you at the bottom.
Prediction: Mark McMorris
Women’s Slopestyle Final (Friday at 10 a.m. MT)
Last year’s women’s Slopestyle final turned into a duel between defending champion Silje Norendal and the perennial Queen of Slopestyle, Jamie Anderson. Norendal put up two 90+ scores in her first two runs, but Anderson’s 91.33 in her second run seemed to put her in a position for another gold medal. Nordenal muscled up in her final run and put down a 93.66, defending her gold and forcing the Queen to settle for silver.
Anderson was another big-name athlete to suffer an injury in the lead-up to X Games last year, and she told SI.com last week that the injury did affect her riding in competition. Recently recovered from a broken collarbone, Anderson is looking to come into Aspen at 100%this year to take back her gold. One of these two riders will more than likely walk away with the win, but a special mention goes out to Spencer O’Brien, who gets an honorable mention for becoming the first female boarder to land a 900 in competition last year.
Prediction: Jamie Anderson
Snowboarder X (men's + women's) (Sunday at 12:00 p.m. MT)
Kevin Hill comes into Aspen this weekend as the defending gold medalist in the Men’s Snowboarder X racing event. He won last year with a time of 50.036 seconds. That’s important to remember because Nick Baumgartner, who failed to podium with a fourth-place finish, had a time in the final race of 52:356. The men’s race came down to the skin of teeth. Expect it to again. Look for Nate Holland, last year’s bronze medalist, to move up the podium this year.
The women’s race was even closer last year. The winner was predictable—Lindsay Jacobellis won her ninth X Games gold—but fifth place finished just 0.7 seconds behind. It’s an event too close to call with any confidence, so just root for the dynasty until it falls and ride Jacobellis until she loses. Or cheer on last year’s fifth-place racer, Michela Moioli; both have near equal chances. Such is the nature of the Snowboarder X field.
Prediction: Nate Holland (men's) + Lindsay Jocabellis (women's)
Men’s SuperPipe Final (Saturday at 6:15 p.m. MT)
The days of Shaun White’s reign in the Buttermilk SuperPipe seem to be over. After pulling out for Olympic preparation in 2014, White failed to make the podium in 2015 and isn’t currently invited to the 2016 competition. But that’s okay; the pipe is filled with memories of the Flying Tomato, and the current roster is filled with guys who can fill the shoes. Two-time defending champion Danny Davis, a favorite among fans and fellow athletes for his stylish riding, headlines that list, but he is not alone.
Ayumu Hirano is one of Davis’ favorite riders to watch and a strong candidate to relieve Davis of his gold. His fellow countryman Taku Hiraoka finished a little more than a point behind Davis last year. Iouri Podladtchikov was a round away from the gold last year before Davis and Hiraoka raised the stakes and forced him to settle for bronze. This is another excitingly stacked field and tough event to call.
Prediction: Iouri Podladtchikov
Women’s SuperPipe Final (Sunday at 1:45 p.m. MT)
Kelly Clark has been one of the best things to happen to women’s halfpipe snowboarding since its inception. She has pushed the boundaries of the event over and over and has the hardware to show for it. But this is Chloe Kim’s time. After earning a silver medal behind Clark in her X Games debut in 2014, Kim took over the reigns from her idol last year when she bested Clark to win her first gold medal. From all accounts, Kim has only elevated her riding since then; look for her to add a second gold medal to her cabinet at X Games 2016.
Prediction: Chloe Kim
Freestyle Final (Friday at 5:00 p.m. MT)
Snowmobile freestyle is making a return to X Games in 2016 after a year away. Snowmobiler Caleb Moore died from injuries he sustained during a nasty crash during the 2013 contest. The following year, his brother Colten Moore won gold. Colton will be back at Aspen in 2016, with his big brother on his mind—and everyone at the base of Buttermilk Mountain will be rooting for him to do well when his name is called. Moore’s main competition for gold this year is a healthy Levi LaVallee and Tucker Hibbert.
Prediction: Colten Moore
SnoCross Round One & Final (Thursday at 4:00 p.m. MT)
Levi Lavallee was a favorite to win or podium in every one of the three events he was scheduled to compete in before he bruised his heels during training in the days leading up to the 2015 Winter X Games. Lavallee's injury put a damper on the snowmobile events, but he’s back this year and will be hungry for a gold medal. This event is Levi's best shot, but as always, Tucker Hibbert will try to keep him off the center of the podium. As his nine SnoCross gold medals indicate, Hibbert is just as capable of capturing this gold medal himself.
Prediction: Levi Lavallee
Adaptive Action Sports
Mono Skier X (Saturday at 11 a.m. MT)
Snowboarder X Adaptive (Sunday at 10 a.m. MT)
SnoCross Adaptive (Thursday at 3:30 p.m. MT)
Special Olympics Unified Snowboarding dual slalom (Thursday at 1 p.m. MT)
The Winter X Games return a full-medal lineup in adaptive sport, featuring Mono Skier X, Snowboarder X Adaptive and SnoCross Adaptive. The Special Olympics Unified Snowboarding dual slalom event—a competition in which athletes both with and without disabilities compete alongside one another—is also back after a successful debut last winter.
Snowboard X Adaptive also made its debut as a medal event at the 2015 Winter X Games after featuring as a demonstration event in Aspen in 2011-12. The snowboard adaptive sports join with Mono Skier X and Adaptive SnoCross, which debuted in 2007 and 2010 respectively, to offer a wide variety of competition for winter athletes with special disabilities.
Last year in Mono Skier X, Chris Devlin-Young took the gold with a time in the final of 1:03.246. Brandon Adam and Ravi Drugan rounded out the podium. In the Snowboarder X Adaptive event, Keith Gabel and his final time of 57.168 earned gold ahead of Carl Murphy and Alex Massie. Garrett Goodwin won the Adaptive SnoCross gold with a mark in the final of 6:25.099. Doug Henry finished less than seven seconds behind, while Jim Wazny was a distant third.
X Games Aspen 2016 will air on ESPN and ABC beginning on Thursday, Jan. 28 at 5:30 p.m. ET