The Winter X Games turned 20 years old this weekend, and the four-day-long milestone event had a little bit of everything, for better or worse. The highlights were bright; the men’s snowboard Big Air event was arguably one of the most entertaining events we’ve seen in Aspen or any earlier location of the Games. Maddie Bowman’s four-peat was historic. The list of injured athletes making X Games returns gave this year’s edition a very positive vibe. But the storm that came over the mountains on Saturday night made the last stage of the weekend a bit chaotic; in every case but Jossi Well’s and Chloe Kim’s, the scores and winners reflected that to some degree.
Overall, the 20th Winter X Games (15th in Aspen) were the hit the world’s biggest action sports event is always expected to be. The last thing winter athletes can complain about is snow, though it’s never ideal to be in competition while it’s falling. There’s a sizeable list of big names who will be champing at the bit in 2017 to set things straight. In the meantime, here’s how 2016 panned out...
Despite the blizzard that had marched onto the base of Buttermilk Mountain a few hours earlier, the men’s ski Big Air final went on. As expected, the weather was a dominating factor, as the skiers were unable to get the kind of airtime that they wanted for their biggest tricks. That led to a host of wipeouts and subdued runs and kept podium scores lower than normal. When the snow settled, Fabian Bosch had taken gold with a combined score (remember, the Big Air format is a rapid-fire jam session in which a rider’s top two scores combine for the final) of 86. He just edged Bobby Brown, who took silver with an 85, despite the fact that Brown got the highest total for a single run (45 points).
Prediction: Gus Kenworthy
Result: Fabian Bosch (Brown 2nd)
Skier X (Men’s & Women’s)
The men’s and women’s Skier X races made very successful returns on Saturday, with both featuring qualifying heats and finals with photo finishes. On the men’s side, Brady Leman (48.571 seconds) took gold after barely holding off the rest of the field; Jonas Lenherr, who finished sixth and last, was just 1.5 seconds off the pace for gold. The margin between first and last was the same for the women; gold medalist Kelsey Serwa (51.417) finished the course 1.6 seconds ahead of last-place Anna Holund. Marielle Thompson and Alizee Baron won the silver and bronze medals, respectively.
Prediction: N/A (first Skier X event in three years)
Result: (Men's) Brady Leman | (Women's) Kelsey Serwa
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The men’s SuperPipe final, simply by virtue of being held under good weather conditions, was easily the beat men’s ski event of the three practices. At the start of round 3, Gus Kenworthy was sitting in the gold-medal position after putting up the best marks of each of the first two rounds. However, Kevin Rolland’s final run through the SuperPipe edged Kenworthy by a full point, knocking him down to second and extending his quest for a first X Games gold medal. Benoit Valentin took the bronze.
Prediction: Kevin Rolland
Result: Kevin Rolland
It is truly amazing what Maddie Bowman has been able to do over the last four years. It’s getting tougher and tougher to argue against dubbing her one of the best freeskiers in the world. If you don’t want to give that title to her, you certainly have to settle for “most successful right now.” She won her fourth-consecutive gold medal in the Buttermilk SuperPipe on Friday on her first run. Maddie dropped in, did her thing, earned a score of 85.33, and the contest was effectively over. The closest any competitor came was when Ayana Ozuna scored an 85 in her final run. Though Bowman knew victory was hers, the four-time champ nonetheless put up an 89 on her victory lap to punctuate a dominant performance. Bowman’s tip to watch Annalisa Drew was a good one as she took the bronze.
Prediction: Maddie Bowman
Result: Maddie Bowman
The snow wasn’t falling as heavily on Sunday morning as it had been the night before. The riders in the competition, many of whom participated in Saturday night’s Ski Big Air event, said the weather wasn’t as big a factor, but the effect of the precipitation and the snow that had fallen the night before was tangible. The proceedings were delayed while mountain technicians battled to keep the run groomed, but, similar to big air, amplitude was an issue for most of the field. The only riders to land runs that earned scores of 85 or higher were gold medalist Jossi Wells (88.33, 90) and silver medalist (a double silver medalist for the weekend) Gus Kenworthy (87.33)
Prediction: Joss Christensen
Result: Jossi Wells (Christensen 9th)
Going into this year’s X Games, the women’s slopestyle event was expected to surpass last year’s final. One of the big stories around the mountain was Tiril Sjåstad Christiansen’s return to Aspen after two years away from the X Games. But it was a rookie making her first-ever appearance who would steal the show. Kelly Sildaru put down a run that landed her a 91.33 in her first attempt, and rode that score straight to the center of the podium. Christiansen did perform as well as hoped in her comeback; she came just short of tracking down Sildaru, taking silver with a best score of 91.66 in her third and final attempt.
Prediction: Tiril Sjåstad Christiansen
Result: Kelly Sildaru (Christiansen 2nd)
Big Air (Men’s)
The men’s Big Air final was the best event of the weekend, full stop. Mark McMorris came into X Games as the defending gold medalist in slopestyle and big air for the second time in his career. The first time in 2013, he was unable to defend the big air medal. He wouldn’t this time either, but not for lack of trying. The game of hot potato that McMorris and Parrot have played with the Big Air gold medal for four of the past five years continued; Mark won gold in 2012 and 2015, Max in 2014 and this weekend. Yuki Kadono did his best to intercept the spud, as TorsteinHorgmo did when he won over McMorris in 2013, but settled for bronze. Mark put it best when he said afterwards that the event featured the most triplecork 1620s (4.5 rotations, 3 flips) he’d ever seen. Next year might be the time for Parrot to break out that 1800 he’s talked about.
Prediction: Yuki Kadono
Result: Max Parrot (Kadono 3rd)
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Just as in 2013, Mark McMorris was not able to defend his big air gold, but just as in 2013, he was able to defend his slopestyle gold medal. Sebastien Toutant set the bar high early with a 92.66 in his first run and would finish with a silver medal with that score. McMorris, however, put on the run he wanted on his second attempt, netting a score of 92.66 and ensuring himself of at least one title defense. Mons Roisland rounded out the podium with the bronze.
Prediction: Mark McMorris
Result: Mark McMorris
The special mention in the X Games preview wasn’t an empty sentiment. Spencer O’Brien landed the first switch 900 in the history of women’s competition last year, but too many mistakes accompanied the feat on that run kept her off of the podium. This year, a more technically perfect run featuring a series of 720s on her second go won Spencer the gold medal that she had waited 10 years for. Jamie Anderson finished second over Hailey Langland for a tight podium in which gold and bronze were separated by a mere three points. Norendal finished fourth, just missing a medal.
Prediction: Jamie Anderson
Result: Spencer Obrien (Anderson 2nd)
Snowboarder X (Men’s & Women’s)
Neither defending gold medalist Kevin Hill nor SI Edge’s pick to win, Nate Holland, made it to the final round of the Men’s Snowboarder X final. Instead, the gold, silver and bronze medals went to Jarryd Hughes, Alex Pullin and Konstantin Schad, respectively. Holland did win the consolation race made up of those eliminated from the finals. Hill finished last in that race.
On the women’s side, Lindsay Jacobellis’ penchant for winning extremely close races was alive and well in the final. She edged silver medalist Eva Samkova by four tenths of a second to win her 10th X Games Snowboarder X gold medal.
Prediction: (Men’s) Nate Holland | (Women’s) Lindsay Jocabellis
Result: (Men's) Jarryd Hughes | (Women's) Lindsay Jacobellis
The Men’s SuperPipe final was a reminder that as far as X Games has come in its 20 years, things can always be improved. The blizzard that so heavily affected all of the X Games events after its arrival began to show its force halfway through the first round of the event. The riders who went first, Matt Ladley (gold), Ben Ferguson (silver) and Scotty James (bronze), were able to put down runs through falling snow. They weren’t runs that would have been expected to warrant medals, but they got to the bottom without error. The big names in the event, Taku Hiraoka, Ayumu Hirano, Iouri Podladtchikov and two-time defending champion Danny Davis all dropped into a pipe being battered by blizzard-like conditions, and it reflected in their scores. The second round was then delayed, started and restarted before the event was called after one official round. Chalk this up to a victory for the underdogs and hope for better weather next year.
Prediction: Iouri Podladtchikov
Result: Matt Ladley (Podladtchikov 11th)
Last year, Chloe Kim didn’t win her gold medal until Kelly Clark fell at the end of a run that probably would have put her on top of the 2015 podium. This year, Kim defended her gold with a dominant round 2 run in similar yet lighter conditions to the men’s final the night before. Kim’s score of 95 was nine points higher than that of silver medalist Arielle Gold. Clark, like most of the field, had her issues in the pipe. She fell early twice and scored only a 74 on the lone run she was able to finish, good for fifth place. It’s too early to call it a changing of the guard, but Chloe Kim is clearly no flash in the pan.
Prediction: Chloe Kim
Result: Chloe Kim
- MORE EDGE: Chloe Kim is the queen of snowboarding
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Defending champion Colten Moore had a rough night on Friday, crashing during both of his runs in the final and finishing dead last this year. Joe Parsons, who picked Moore to defend his title before the start of the event, won his 15th career medal and fourth gold. Heath Frisby and Brett Turcotte rounded out the podium.
Prediction: Colten Moore
Result: Joe Parsons (Moore 8th)
Levi Lavallee had a bad luck X Games in his return from injury. He failed to qualify for the final of either snowmobile event, actually taking a DNF in the qualifying heat after a bump at the beginning of the race doomed his chances. The SnoCross gold medal machine that is Tucker Hibbert tightened his grip on the event, winning for an incredible 10th time.
Prediction: Levi Lavallee
Result: Tucker Hibbert (Lavallee DNF in Qualifiers)
Adaptive Action Sports: Olympics Unified Snowboarding dual slalom, SnoCross Adaptive, Mono Skier X, Snowboarder X Adaptive
In the Special Olympics Unified Snowboarding dual slalom event, athletes with and without special disabilities compete alongside one other. The event paired male and female snowboarders across the spectrum of practices (Slopestyle, Big Air, HalfPipe) and one Nyjah Huston, much better known for his skateboarding at the Summer X Gams, with special Olympians—with all working together to reach the podium. The event finished with Chris Klug & Henry Meece in the gold position, Danny Davis & Zach Elder with the silver and Hannah Teter & Daina Shilts taking bronze.
Mike Schutlz won his eighth X Games medal and sixth gold when he won the SnoCross adaptive event over Paul Thacker (silver) and E.J. Poplawski (bronze).
In a very close Mono Skier X race event, Jerome Elbrycht won gold in a final field of four racers that were separated by eight tenths of a second. Nikko Landeros and Kevin Bramble took silver and bronze, respectively.
Matti Suur-Hamari won gold in the Snowboarder X Adaptive race by almost seven tenths of a second. It doesn’t sound like much, but it was the most comfortable margin of victory for any race at this year’s Winter X Games, adaptive or not. The was a full three-second difference between silver medalist Alex Massie and bronze winner Ben Tudhope.