If he has his way in qualifiers, when Bobby Brown pulls up to drop into the Winter X Games Slopestyle course on Saturday afternoon, he’ll be competing in the first of two events that day. Slopestyle isn’t his specialty, but even on the Big Air jump, where he has done his best work, Bobby would feel his nerves running wild. It will be his first Winter X Games event in two years, and Brown has one goal in mind: reclaiming his podiums.
Brown made a modest X Games debut in 2009, earning a sixth place showing in the Men’s Ski Slopestyle event. The 2010 X Games was his most successful tournament to date; Brown swept gold in the Slopestyle and Big Air events. During the next two X Games, Brown earned two more podium appearances in the Big Air event, including a second gold in 2012.
Then came the injuries.
Brown broke his right ankle during a training jump in July 2012. Feeling the weight of his early success, he rushed back onto the scene for X Games 2013 without giving his body the time it needed to heal. The results weren’t pretty; Brown placed fourth and sixth in the Men’s Ski Big Air and Slopestyle competitions respectively.
“I didn’t ski very well at X Games 2013. I’m not going to blame it on my injuries, though they definitely didn’t give me too much confidence,” Brown says.
“I also let the pressure get to me. The hype was built really big after the first few years. I let it swarm over me. Now I’m in a good place, my body is feeling good, and I’m looking to change that this year.”
During the X Games in 2013, Bobby competed on an unhealed ankle and with other people’s expectations affecting his thoughts and priorities. He was his own worst enemy during that competition. In that context, his lackluster results are understandable.
The injuries didn’t stop there for Brown. He broke the same ankle again in Austria after the competition. This time, he rehabbed through the rest of 2013, and took time off in 2014 ahead of the ski season. Brown will return to Aspen this week in, he says, the best physical condition he has been in since the 2012 X Games when he conquered the Big Air event. His brushes with adversity, he adds, have strengthened him mentally.
Brown has been training for the X Games in his hometown of Breckenridge, Colo., for the past three weeks. He’s been working on new tricks and riding with the U.S Olympic Ski Team to get right ahead of his return to the X Games.
“Breck is the best park in the world for sure. It’s where I grew up skiing. There are a lot of pros; everybody gets ready for X Games up there because it’s where the best jumps are,” Brown says.
“I put a lot of thought into X Games this year. I want to get my runs down, so I’ve been out at Breck really getting after it.”
Brown is looking to showcase the fruits of his labor this week. Big Air is historically where he has done the most damage, but Brown likes his chances in both events.
“I’m actually feeling really confident about Slopestyle and Big Air coming into these events," he says. "I feel like Big Air is definitely my specialty, doing one big trick, but I’m really good about the slope this year. I’ve been working on some stuff, I finally feel healthy, and my mind is in a good spot. I’m just looking forward to both events, putting it all out there and seeing how it goes.”
Slopestyle is considered the more difficult event because scores are derived from a series of tricks, whereas Big Air is your best one time. Since winning gold in 2010, Brown hasn’t faired very well in the event, but his words exude confidence when he speaks of his plan to change that.
“I’m going to bring my triple cork to the slope course, probably a few times, but not too consistently. That’s something I’m really looking to throw down up towards the top,” Brown says.
“In Big Air, I want to pull off some new stuff that I have in my mind. We’ll see what the judges think, but I’m just trying to land it and see where it takes me. You can’t really worry about what the judges say, as long as you’re stoked on what you’re doing, you’re doing it the right way."
Given all of the rehab, thought and preparation it took to make it back to Aspen, nerves may end up being Brown’s greatest adversary when he gets on top of a run at X Games. That could be key, given that the ideal mindset just before a run is nestled at the midway point between Zen master and adrenaline junkie.
“There’s a point when you want to be super-hyped, and the other times when you have to be chill. It feels so good to get psyched up, but then you run out of energy and your adrenaline kind of flushes,” Brown says.
“You have to find that perfect little mid-line where you’re right in between those areas, where you can focus but have enough adrenaline to do what you want to do.”
His explanation of something so difficult to do is so nonchalant, yet his track record shows he knows what he’s talking about. How does he do it?
“For me, it’s mostly just listening to music super loud. ‘Black and Yellow’ by Wiz Khalifa is always a good one to pump me up. Led Zeppelin, ‘Stairway To Heaven,’ the guitar solo gets me going. I usually find a song before a contest and just bump that song throughout just so I can have it down for when I drop in,” Brown says.
“I’ve also got my brother Peter up there usually at the contests, so I’ll say what’s up to him. He definitely calms me down. I ask him what I should do, and he tells me. Having good people around at the contest definitely settles your nerves. It’s very important.”
Peter will likely be there with Bobby when he looks out over the course, nerves running wild. Peter will crack a joke and suggest a few tricks to his brother, likely including the triple cork. Then Brown will plug in his music, on full-tilt of course, and complete his road back to the X Games.
The song of choice for this year's tournament? “If I can’t” by rapper 50 Cent.