It was a year of redemption for a couple of freeskiing veterans at the 2007 X Games at Aspen, Colorado.
Candide Thovex of France took gold in men’s slopestyle in his ninth X Games. Thovex’ attempts at repeating earlier X Games glory had been foiled of late by a number of serious crashes and injuries. The 24-year-old veteran threw down a flawless and typically stylish second run after crashing in his first descent. “I had nothing to lose — even in training, my runs didn’t go well. In my final run, I did some tricks I haven’t done in so long … it was magic!
IT WAS A YEAR of redemption for a couple of freeskiing veterans at the 2007 X Games at Aspen, Colorado.
Candide Thovex of France took gold in men’s slopestyle in his ninth X Games. Thovex’ attempts at repeating earlier X Games glory had been foiled of late by a number of serious crashes and injuries. The 24-year-old veteran threw down a flawless and typically stylish second run after crashing in his first descent. “I had nothing to lose — even in training, my runs didn’t go well. In my final run, I did some tricks I haven’t done in so long … it was magic!”
Thovex has had two previous X Games gold medals, reaching back to 2000 and 2003. “I’m getting old too, with all the young kids coming, I was waiting a long time for a good result. I thought maybe on my 10th X, my luck would change, but instead it was my ninth.”
“I just said to myself this year, I don’t care anymore, I’ve done enough stuff on skis, so I just want to have fun,” said Thovex, who was expected to do better in pipe (finished fifth) than slopestyle.
With the expectations of the halfpipe behind him, Thovex was able to cut loose. After falling in his first run, he did a completely different run on his second outing — this is practically unheard of in freeskiing. In the words of bronze medalist Colby James West, “That’s nuts!”
His effortless grace in spinning, flipping and melding into the landing hills was a sheer delight to watch. Thovex was in keeping with the theme of trying new things at this year’s X. His run was accented by a Lincoln loop flip over the step-up gap and a 630 (1¾ rotations) onto the rail.
Silver medalist Sammy Carlson has the prettiest rail switch-up in the business, and he used it to his advantage. He skips up the front slope of the box, spins 180, lands on the flat, spins again, lands again, then 270’s off. On the second rail, he throws a 360 in the middle of the rail and lands again!
“It’s getting crazy up there; you really have to be on your game. One hand touch on the landing can be the difference between silver and eighth,” said Carlson.
West also tried three new tricks that he modestly claimed he “didn’t even know how to do,” a switch 1080 mute, a switch 900 double flip and a 450 to the rail. His execution was flawless. “I had an idea of what I wanted to do while I was practicing, and I started to do the switch ten then. I tried them in practice and it was going pretty well.”
“I knew I couldn’t win with the tricks I had, so I stepped it up,” said West. It turns out necessity is the mother of invention, which is why these contests drive innovation in the sport in the first place. West also took bronze at the U.S. Open halfpipe last weekend in Copper and said he’s going out dancing to celebrate.
Friday saw ski superpipe madness, with Sarah Burke claiming top spot on the women’s podium. Burke is still the only woman to throw a 900 in the pipe. “After this year, I think all the girls are going to get out there and start throwing them,” said Burke, referring to her high score and the large gap she had over her rivals.
“The X Games is the best contest of the year. There are so many different athletes. The crowd here is amazing, the kids at the bottom all shouting and high-fiving you. It really gets me going.”
Despite her newfound love of powder and backcountry, Burke plans to return for many more contests and is headed to the Queen’s Cup in Park City, then the Nippon Open in Japan.
Burke’s main rival in pipe. Grete Eliassen, took home silver. She clipped the deck slightly on her first hit but didn’t lose a significant amount of speed or fluidity and was not penalized heavily. Eliassen loves the X Games course, and said that the only pipe that compares is the Breckenridge pipe. “They cut the pipe every day, and that’s what you need to do,” she said.
Eliassen calls Salt Lake City home and is skiing Snowbird and Alta regularly. “There’s not much of a park scene, but it’s a good time. We just ski pow. That’s what I dig more and more. I’m not going to do comps forever, you know, and I just love to ski.” That said, she’s looking forward to the all-star, all-women’s Queen’s Cup in Park City next weekend.
It was redemption, too, for Jen Hudak, who had struggled to regain her form after a season of scary crashes last year. Returning to prominence with an X bronze, Hudak was ecstatic. “It was really tough to get my mojo back,” she said. “I hurt my back at the U.S. Open last weekend, and I was basically in therapy for it all week. I had a really rough day yesterday, it just was not there, and things just came together today. I love having a crowd, so that helped.”
She crashed in training on her hardest move, a 720, but pulled it off in her second run and snagged the bronze.
Hall secures gold
In men’s pipe, Tanner Hall’s new run kicks off and ends with a switch 1080. Hall skied well en route to the victory, but had a bad deck-out on his second run and looked quite hurt for a moment.
He was responding to the gauntlet thrown down by Simon Dumont, his main rival in halfpipe. Dumont’s enormous first air is a 540, and he is going so huge that he has time for a truck driver and a mute grab as he descends through the layers of the atmosphere.
But that’s not all! For his third hit, Dumont is hitting a 1260, or three and a half rotations, on the right side of the pipe. His height is about 13 feet max, as he travels about 30 feet down the pipe.
The two superstars were separated by a mere one point at the end of the night, and Dumont accepted this gracefully. “We both went out there and skied well, and he’s been training really hard, and it paid off. Now we have two golds each, so it sets up a little drama for next year.”
Dumont pooh-poohed the idea that he and Hall are hardcore rivals. “Before the run, we’re both in the zone keeping focused. After the run, we talk. We’re friends the whole time, but after the run it gets a lot lighter.” After finishing his second run, Dumont immediately skied over to Tanner and asked him if he was all right after Hall’s deck-out.
Hall’s injury turned out to be fairly minor. “I’m a little hurt, but I’ll be all right with a couple of days off,” he said. He is planning to do The Honda Ski Tour halfpipe event in Breckenridge, Colorado, t
Hall is quite vocal about his love for powder and heli-skiing taking precedence over doing tons of competitions. For this reason, he does not plan to do all The Ski Tour events, just Breck and Squaw Valley. “I’m kind of getting older, I’ll be 24 next year, and I just like riding soft natural snow. That’s what I’m into, getting out in the middle of nowhere, with a bunch of friends, just livin’ it, that’s life right there man. That’s what I love.” To that end, he’ll be getting up to Retallack, British Columbia, to heli-ski after Breckenridge.
Peter Olenick threw down three crazy pipe runs, all kicked off with a double back -flip 180. He is the only athlete do a trick like this in the pipe, and he’s going 16 feet out. “It is scary, it’s the first time ever I’m scared of the actual tricks I’m doing and not the competition,” he said. When he gets the landings completely clean, the run will be hard to beat.
All in all, it was a fantastic X Games for the progression of freeskiing, and a welcome change of direction after last year’s “big air” (that was a last-minute substitute when a blizzard canceled slopestyle) featuring all switch 1080s.
It seems like everyone is trying something new: Dumont was doing double front flips over the step-up gap in slopestyle, Jon Olsson with his kangaroo double flip, and Olenick doing double backs in the pipe.
The flip is back, creativity is booming and the future is bright. Ah, long live freeskiing!