words: Mary Walsh
photos: Aaron Blatt
captions: Pat Bridges
On Friday, January 23, 2015, eight snowboarders who had spent the afternoon riding in the qualifying round for Sunday’s Slope finals, took a short respite and then returned to the Buttermilk base area, joining two more riders, to drop into what has become one of the most anticipated of Winter X events, Big Air, which each January promises bright lights, a hefty cheesewedge, and the most massive one-hitters in snowboarding.
2015’s iteration of the event continued the momentum from the past few years, including more rotations than ever before and a handful of never-been-done’s from snowboarding’s elite air aware riders. This is no surprise, of course, because the contest’s roster is a comprehensive list of snowboarding’s most consistent park jumpers, collectively decorated with a litany of medals from previous X Games in multiple disciplines, US Opens, Air & Styles, and the Olympics. These are the riders that can throw down mind-bogglingly technical tricks in the most pressurized situations. This year, it’s worth noting that while the degrees of rotation were high, style was steeped throughout. Snowboarding’s biggest spins are now being thrown with a variety of grabs, pokes, and individual touches that tear down the archetypes of what a 1440 is supposed to look like and instead defines what it can be when a rider delivers their own succinct take on it.
The competition began with two rounds of five riders each. Fifteen minute heats would provide time for half a dozen or so attempts for each competitor to do their best to earn a place in the top three in order to advance to the eighteen-minute finals. Round 1 included the 2014 Big Air gold medalist Maxence Parrot; second-time competitor, Sven Thorgren; Torstein Horgmo, owner of six X Games medals in Big Air, three gold and three silver, but who failed to qualify for finals in 2014; and fellow Norweigians and big air upstarts, Torgeir Bergrem and Kim Rune Hansen.
The second heat was equally stacked: Mark McMorris, six-time X Games Aspen medalist with a gold and a silver in 2012’s and 2013’s Big Airs, respectively; Sage Kotsenburg, 2014 Sochi Olympic gold medalist; first-time X Games competitor, Antoine Truchon; 2014 Big Air silver medalist Yuki Kadono; and Stale Sandbech, Sochi silver medalist and bronze finisher for the past two years in Aspen.
While the event is best experienced in video format (coming soon), a handful of highlights from the first two rounds include Sage Kotsenburg’s first drop into a clean, new trick, an off-the-heels backside 1260 tail. That guy has got style for days. Sven Thorgren’s frontside 1440 roast beef. Torstein’s textbook triple back 1440 stale as well as a fakie-to-fakie 1440 triple cork. Stale’s effortless backside triple 1440 indy as well as McMorris’ first time landing the same trick in a contest, something he had dialed only in practice.
But only six could advance to finals and lined up at the top of the massive drop in was Horgmo, McMorris, Thorgren, Sandbech, Parrot, and Kadono. Dropping second, Mark put down his best backside triple cork 1440 indy and set the scoring pace with a 35. The pack responded in kind. Stale landed the backside triple 1440 as well—a signature trick for the Norwegian rider, though was scored only a 32. Yuki wasted absolutely no time and put down his cleanest 1620 of the evening and rocketed into first place with a 43.
Over the next eighteen minutes, the six riders dropped quickly one after another, in pursuit of the highest pair of scores. The level of riding escalated quickly; at no point were any of the guys complacent or comfortable. While each competitor brought a versatility and unique sense of style to the event, which is impressive in its own right due to the warp speed rotations required to stay in contention, slight aberrations made major differences in the scoring. Stale, Torstein and Sven, three riders whose style is unassailable, didn’t find the consistent landings they needed to reach the podium.
As the clock reached the halfway point, McMorris seemed to accelerate, generating a rhythm that would propel him into first place. For his second trick, Mark bested his previous score by stomping the blind landing of a frontside triple 1440—another first in competition. Then, building upon his first two drops, he further cemented a points lead with a backside triple 1620 loaded with a style and precision that only seems to increase the more pressure that is put on the Canadian rider.
So, the battle was on for silver and bronze. Max Parrot, double gold winner in 2014 in Slopestyle and Big Air, had uncharacteristically failed to qualify for Slope finals earlier in the day and it was visible that he had a stake to claim. A triple cork 1620 on his second turn scored the French Canadian a 41 and on his last drop he landed another NBD in contest riding: a cab triple cork 1440 with a double grab—indy to mute—that looked seamless. For his efforts, Parrot would add a silver medal to his collection.
Rounding out the podium was Yuki Kadono. Over the past few seasons, this Japanese wunderkid has turned heads as he’s soared through the air and helped to introduce 1620’s to the common vernacular in jump contests. His first drop would be his highest scoring, and bolster his podium run. Yuki put down two more sixteens throughout the night, though as the trick had already been stomped, they yielded significantly lower scores. A bronze medal is no small feat when considering the riders Yuki had to best in order to obtain the metal.
Stay tuned to Snowboarder.com for more from X Games Aspen 2015. Check out Men’s Halfpipe Finals video and photos.
Read the full Mark McMorris wins gold in X Games Big Air 2015 article on Snowboarder Magazine.