words: Mary Walsh
photos: Aaron Blatt
Sunday, January 25th was the final day of the 2015 X Games in Aspen, Colorado. As throngs of people crowded into the Buttermilk base area, sixteen of the most talented snowboarders in the world were poised to drop in for Men’s and Women’s Slopestyle finals to close out the four days of competition. An SPT-built course was filled with three rail sections—with a variety of downrails and wallrides and named according to sponsor—and three massive booters.
The chilly morning opened up with graybird skies and very flat light. Women’s slope was up first. Jamie Anderson, Cheryl Maas, Anna Gasser, Enni Rukajarvi, Spencer O’Brien, Christy Prior, Kjersti Buaas, and Silje Norendal started off the day’s events and under the cloud cover, navigated the course deftly.
Enni Rukajarvi came out of the gate charging, throwing a frontside seven, backside five nose and cab five in the jump section, earning a 71.33. Jamie Anderson suffered a gnarly crash during practice, yet was still able to throw down an impressive first run that included a 50-50 to layback on the wallride and a boardslide in the upper rail section, along with a seven and back-to-back fives on the jumps that sent her to the top of the pack with an 85.00.
But it was Norway’s Silje Norendal, gold medalist in 2014 and last rider to drop that morning who would edge out Jamie in the beginning of the finals with a 180 on the parking structure, 180 into the wallride, 270 out combinations, and her signature toedeo—a rodeo off the toes—followed by a back five and cab seven. From that point, the fire had been lit and as the clouds burned off and the sun appeared, the group of premium park riders threw down. Spencer O’Brien had a banger run that included a cab seven, switch back five, and backside nine. Kjersti Buaas had one of the most stylish runs of the day that was highlighted with perfect a front seven and back five indy and ended with a switch backside 180 method, which was a beaut. Kjersti always brings some of the fluid tricks to the contest field and this year was no different.
Christy Prior was a new face in Aspen in 2015, but her strong riding has been turning heads worldwide for the past couple of seasons. After having some difficulty on her first two runs, she pulled through in the clutch and strung together a cab underflip, backside seven melon and frontside five off the toes to earn third place and a bronze medal at her first X Games showing.
Similar to Saturday night’s women’s halfpipe contest, when the final two riders were about to drop, they were secured either first or second place, though which woman would win was anyone’s guess. Jamie Anderson, who has competed in seven X Games slope events and medaled every time, dropped in first and while her rail section was strong, she fell on a front five mute and was unable to increase her score. With less than a point separating the two riders, Silje finished the contest by putting down the same run as before, but cleaner and her score improved to a 93.66, the highest score by two points, adding another X Games gold to Silje’s collection.
As the skies turned to a perfect blue hue, it was the men’s turn to take to the set up and after a heated Big Air on Friday, the anticipation surrounding the riders who were set to drop was electric. At the top of the course, eight of snowboarding’s best lined up: Nik Baden, Emil Ulsletten, Sage Kotsenburg, Seb Toots, Torstein Horgmo, Mark McMorris, Sven Thorgren, Stale Sandbech and right from the start it was no surprise that the crew came out firing; safety runs are a thing of the past.
Sage Kotsenburg is a favorite for his creative sensibility combined with hammer tricks and while he didn’t break onto the podium in Aspen, his runs were real fun to watch. Eschewing a straight-on approach to the second rail, he opted for a low carve into the wallride perpendicularly for a handplant before setting his sights on the jumpline and setting down monster off-the-heels backside twelves.
Sven Thorgren has been on the come up the past few seasons and was a standout all weekend in Aspen. His 1440 roast beef in Big Air turned plenty of heads and when he applied the same grab to a double cork cab twelve and followed it with a frontside 1080 and then a flat backside 1440, he scored a 92.00, which was enough to position the Swede on the podium with a bronze medal.
When it came to the top two seats, it was a battle between Norwegian Stale Sandbech and Canadian Mark McMorris. Stale has some of the most flawless style in snowboarding and Mark is one of the most consistent and smooth riders out there—both are well deserving of a gold medal for the profusion of tricks they are able to put down. Stale landed a perfect run right out of the gate, going back 180 onto the down rail followed by a switch boardslide and then sending a cab twelve, frontside fourteen and a back triple fourteen indy. Not only was the run on point technically, but Stale made it all—including high spin back-to-back fourteens—look really, really good. And for his efforts, he was awarded a 95.00 from the judges.
Mark wasn’t able to keep his feet under him on his first run, but had no issues landing an impeccable line of tricks the second time around. Multiple 270 combos in the upper rail section led to a switch back 1260, frontside double 1080, and a backside triple cork 1440 mute. He was given a 96.00 and moved into first place.
Two riders who both possess such technical prowess and poise on the slopestyle course commanded similarly gnarly runs and in the end, the award for the X Games gold was won by a small margin, a nod to not only the talent of both Mark and Stale, but also the high level of men’s competitive snowboarding. Most importantly, regardless of the total sum of rotations that went down on the immaculate SPT-built course this year in Aspen, for all three men on the podium, style was instrumental in their success. Since doubles and triple have become a mainstay of contest snowboarding, the best riders have taken these complicated rotations and put their own spin, so to speak, on each degree. Throwing a double or triple cork now demands an infusion of smoothness, a unique grab selection, a well-timed tweak, in order to claim accolades. While this doesn’t eliminate the polarization of a triple 1440 verses a slowed down backside 180, it does make it more likely for them both to exist in the same conversation. Congrats to all of the riders who made the podium in the final event of X Games Aspen 2015. See you next year.
First – Mark McMorris
Second – Stale Sandbech
Third – Sven Thorgren
First – Silje Norendal
Second – Jamie Anderson
Third – Christy Prior
Read the full Men’s and Women’s Slopestyle wraps up X Games Aspen 2015: Mark McMorris and Silje Norendal win gold article on Snowboarder Magazine.