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THE X GAMES
by Paul Maraschiello
Photos by Paul & Jessie Maraschiello
The X-Games at Mt. Snow consisted of some of the most thrilling events in winter sports. Skiing, snowboarding, and snowmobiling have been joined by motorcycling for one of the most thrilling spectacles ever staged on the snow. This year, there were incredible skiing events, sick snowboarding contests, new snowmobile events and the addition of outrageous motorcycle stunts to thrill the crowd. This was four days of the most electrifying contests that have ever been staged at a ski area. There was something here for everyone. To add to spectator enjoyment, they once again had a 20ft. TV screen at the base of every venue so that you could view the action all the way down the hill and see the thrilling events as viewed by stationary cameras, boom cameras, cameras sliding down the hill on cables and hand-held cameras operated by skiers who skied alongside the competitors. This presentation combined the excitement of watching an event live with the vantage point of multiple TV camera shots broadcasting the live action. If you were not able to attend, catch the action on ESPN.
Skiers, riders and spectators thrilled to the incredible aerial stunts and sick, sick Big Air tricks and got off on the Skier X head-to-head competition where six skiers diced it out over jumps, curves and other obstacles that make running gates look like a walk in the park. With cameras following the skiers down the hill and through the jumps, the crowd at the bottom could catch the action live and then see it on the big screen from different perspectives.
The Skiing Big Air event at the X Games this year, was one of the best Big Air competitions I have ever seen outside of World Cup and Olympic events. This was the third year for this event, where 20 male skiers vied for the gold. There were no female competitors, much to the lament of a girl I spoke with, who desperately wanted to compete.
Tricks picked up from sick snowboarders that were unheard of on skis a couple of years ago, were common at this truly thrilling venue. Skis with turned up tails allow the aerialists to take of "switch" (backwards) while landings forward, switch or head first, as some crashed and burned. Airborne athletes took three jumps off a 60-foot "kicker"(ramp) with the most technical trick taking the prize. Skiers were judged on height, amplitude, difficulty, and landing but style was the big factor that separated the winners from the pack. Every skier went bigger and bigger with more and more amplitude. The event was so competitive and suspense-filled that the winner wasn't decided until the very last jump.
The excitement skyrocketed as the event came to a conclusion with Tanner Hall winning the gold medal by executing a flawless Switch Rodeo 720 with a Mute Grab (Iron Cross tail grab). Evan Raps placed second by stomping a Cork 900 with an Indy Grab and switch landing. C.R. Johnson nailed a 900 with a Luke Hang Grab and switch landing to win the bronze.
The competition was SICK. There were inverted jumps, 360s, 720s and 900 degree turns in the air with plenty of grabs, corks, mutes and forward and/or backward landings. Many competitors executed more difficult aerial maneuvers but could not stick the landing and just touching a hand to the snow could cost you points. Style was critical and stomping the landing was mandatory.
This was Tanner's third win in a row this year and you could tell just by looking at him with his spiked blond hair, evil grin and weird sunglasses that he was a wild man who will definitely make his mark in the annals of Big Air.
All of these fine athletes deserve a really big hand for their outstanding performance: Rex Thomas was fourth, followed by Mike Nick, Candide Thovex , Boyd Easley, Jon Olsson , Philippe Belanger, Vincent Dorion, Philippe Poirier, Toben Sutherland, Andrew Woods, Adam Schrab, J.F. Cusson, Yuki Kadota , Eric Pollard, Mickael Deschenaux, Jon Turkula and Chris Miolane.
Men's Skier X saw 30 skiers dicing it out and Women's Skier X had 18 gals competing in this fast and furious event. Skiers race to the bottom of a course filled with tabletop jumps, rollers, and gaps. The race is reminiscent of the Chinese Downhill from the classic ski movie "Hotdog" with lots of carnage. Some say Skier X represents the future of the sport and they may be correct. In this fusion of motocross and downhill racing, they have taken ski racing and hiked it up a notch by having six competitors coming down a motocross style course that is 2,200 feet in length. With all the skiers coming down all at once, anything goes. There are very few rules in Skier X except one . . . the first one over the finish line wins.
The Women's event saw Aleisha Cline win with a time of 50:685 seconds followed by Magdalena Jonsson from Sweden taking the silver and Chiara Lawrence winning the bronze. Megan Brown was fourth, followed by: Noel Lyons, and Lela Hebard. In the consolation heat Katie Shackelford led the pack for an overall ranking of 7th, followed by Michaela Boyle, Patti Sherman-Kauf, Christy Kromer, Anik Demers and Julia Lejolle.
I had the pleasure of riding up the chair with second place winner, Magdalena Jonsson and learned that this attractive athlete traveled all the way to the USA from Sweden, just to compete in this event. Eric Anderson was also on the chair with us and was competing in the Mens Skier X but he did not make it through the preliminaries. Both are excellent athletes who are willing to risk it all in one of the toughest and most thrilling ski races you can watch or participate in. I've been skiing for years and the thought of careening down this difficult course gives me the shudders but I have an out. I tell people that my mother doesn't let me ski like that!
The Men's Skier X was won by Zack Crist from Sun Valley with a time of 45.689 seconds, Tom Anderson placed second and Enak Gavaggio was third, followed by: Bill Hudson, Roman Torn and Reggie Crist. In the consolation race Anders Wiggerud led the pack and placed 7th, followed by Jamey Parks, Janez Demsar, Jon Orarbeck, Tom Rinfert, and Eric Archer.
Christ liked the course and described it as, "Skiing in its purest form. It's like what you grew up doing as a kid . . . it's wild." And, it was wild, with racers taking big spills, cutting each other off and inching their way up in the pack.
This event pairs a skier with a snowboarder in a relay version of Snowboarder/Skier X. Four competitors at a time duked it out for the gold. The event was packed with thrills and spills and lots of carnage. In the final run, snowboarder Shaun Palmer took an early lead and kept it all the way to the finish line, giving his partner, Hiroomi Takizawa from Japan, a huge head start that he turned into gold. The team of Evans and Gruener took the silver and Staalkloo and Murphy won the bronze medal with Morency and Crist finishing forth in this tag-team event.
This was Palmer's last chance to bring home an X Games medal this year. He medaled in every X Games so far and this time Ultracross gave him the gold. He was on fire and the sick sauce he had on the bottom of his board gave him the speed he needed. This was the first medal for a Japanese competitor at the X Games.
Snowboarding was by far, the most well-represented sport at the X Games, with Snowboarder X, Big Air, Slopestyle, Superpipe, and Ultracross venues. Snowboarder X began with a field of 30 riders fighting for the gold with the same number of gals entered in the Women's Snowboarder X race. Big Air saw male and female riders stomping sick, sick tricks with three jumps from a 60-foot kicker. Slopestyle pitted riders against each other on rails, picnic tables, mail boxes, jumps and other tests of ability. In the Superpipe there were 24 guys competing and gals going for the gold as they linked tricks all the way down the pipe.
In a three-round, bracketed competition, six riders at a time raced down the course, fighting for first place in the pack. The rules are the same as Skier X . . . there are no rules. Riders flew over tabletops, rollers and gaps, edging each other out with crashes and upsets that made the outcome of every heat a question mark.
Scott Gaffney won the gold with a time of 55:597, Mark Schulz the silver and Seth Wescott the bronze. Gaffney took an early lead and set the pace through the booters and held on to the lead all the way to the finish line. Gaffney definitely pulled off the old 3-2-1. He was third in this event in '99, second last year and now a first place winner.
Rob Fagan was fourth, followed by: Harald Putz, Jason Evans, Matt Shrive, Drew Neilson, Jason Ford, Gernot Raitmair, Dave Dowd, with favorite Shaun Palmer 12th. The other racers finished in the following order: Jason Brown, Brandon Steig, Pontus Staahlkloo, Mathieu Morency, Henrik Jansson, Cooper Hall, Travis McLain, Lucas Dehmlow, Ryan Neptune, Andy Hetzel, Eric Beauregard, and Paul Henderson.
For the women, it was Line Oestvold bringing home the gold with a time of 1:03:349, Erin Simmons won the silver, and Amy Johnson took the bronze. Maelle Ricker took an early lead with Oestvold on her tail. They zoomed over the Cowgirl Kicker and both fell down but Oestvold did a wheelie bar and was back up in nanoseconds to cross the finish line ahead of the pack. Maelle Ricker finished fourth followed by Mayumi Fukuda, and Megan Pischke. Nillard Pilavakis, led the consolation run followed by Marni Yamada, Dena Melinn, Candice Drouin, Alison Clark, Leslee Olson. The other racers finished in the following order: Jamie Warner, Gwen Foster, Beth Fletcher, Jenny Karcsinski, Julie Zell, Amy Gorham, April Lawyer, Lindsey Jacobellis, Snow Petersen, Ali Bernsten, Jessica Dalpiaz, Maryl Winterscheid, Rosemarie Dittfach, Sara Osterberg, and Kate Fletcher.
In the Men's Big Air, Jussi Oksanen stomped 900s all day long and took home the gold with a Switch Backside 900 which was the sickest trick of the day. Todd Richards landed the silver with his Cab 900, sticking three for three. Josh Dirksen took home the bronze with his one-footed back flip that had a lot of style.
The other high-flying competitors placed in the following order: Sani Alibabic, Kevin Jones, Ben Hinkley, Travis Parker, Stefan Gimpl, Marc-Andre Tarte, Kevin Sansalone, Jonas Emery, Jim Rippey, Giacomo Kratter, Roger Hjelmstadstuen, Andrew Crawford, Joni Malmi, Myles Hallen, Jason Borgstede, Kendall Whelpton, Mike Basich, Aaron Bishop, Jason Brown and Chris Engelsman.
A lot of riders were doing switch backside 720s, especially the Europeans. Kevin Jones did his Fontside 900 and did it well, nailing the landing. Jason Brown attempted some interesting maneuvers he invented. Some riders complained that the jump was just too small and made it difficult to pull off really sick maneuvers.
The Women's Big Air thrilled snowboarder fans who watched their favorite riders doing inverted aerials as 20 of the top women riders vied for top prizes. Beautiful blonde Tara Dakides regained her title on her last run. She needing something really sick to take home the gold, so she stomped the first ever, Backside Rodeo 5 completed by a woman in competition. She aced out Barrett Christy who landed a 540 and went from 16th to come in second, beating out Jenna Murano who came in third, by stomping a Switch Backside 180 on her second run.
This was Tara's third consecutive Big Air win at the X Games, bring her Winter X Game medal count to five. She was able to overcome her first and second jump crashes and land the big one for the win. She is one of several female riders bridging the trick gap between men and women. Barrett Christy now has 10 medals with this silver and is the winningist snowboarder in X Games history. Jenna Murano won the bronze medal in her third contest as a professional and looks like she has a bright future in the sport.
The Slopestyle event saw 24 men and 20 women battle it out on a course with more than nine big hits, including rails, tabletops, mail boxes, picnic benches, gaps, and jumps. Each competitor took three runs and were judged on difficulty, style, amplitude, execution and landings. The riders were throwing 450s on the rail, Backside 7's, Backside 3s, and Frontside and Backside 9s. They ended their runs with a big jump that could make or brake a rider. The course was pretty hard and icy and at the same time, it was hard to get speed but both the guys and gals I talked to said it was fun.
Women's Slopestyle was won by Jaime MacLeod who put together a dynamic combo of solid hits and gnarly tricks. The silver went to Shannon Dunn with Marni Yamada taking the bronze medal. The rest of the field finished in this order: Katrina Voutilainen, Barrett Christy, Jessica Dalpiaz, Tara Dakides, Krista Bradford, Dresden Howell, Kelly Clark, Jacqui Berg, Natasza Zurek, Pauline Richon, Sara Osterberg, Juanita Platz, Ali Berntsen, and Leah Wagner.
Jamie said, "The course was really good but the weather kind of put a damper on it. It could have been a lot better if it had been a little faster. It was hard to hit all the jumps and consistently make it to the landings without skipping a few here and there." This awesome rider is from Mt. Sunapee in New Hampshire. "Okemo did a good job since they took Sunapee over but there's more room for progression . . . and some day it'll be the sickest mountain in New Hampshire," she quipped.
Kevin Jones took the gold with an incredible third run, doing a 450 on the kinked rail, a big Backside 7, a nice Frontside Board Slide on the hinie box, followed by a Frontside 270 on a rail, a big Backside 360, ending his run with a Frontside 900 to edge out Todd Richards who took the silver and Jussi Oksanen who place third. Jason Borgstede was fourth, followed by: Chad Otterstrom, Josh Dirksen, Shaun White, Travis Parker, Aaron Bishop, J.J. Thomas, Andrew Crawford, Rahm Klampert, Chris Engelsman, Gian Simmen Jeff Anderson, Guillaume Morisset, Marc-Andre Tarte, Kevin Sansalone, Jim Rippey, Jason Brown, Joni Malmi, and Brandon Bybee in that order.
This event also had a best of three runs format. Riding on a Superpipe 50-feet wide and 400-foot long, sick shred-heads performed Rodeo 900s and 720s.The level of pipe riding for the men was rad. Tricks that were sure to win contests like 720s and Haakon Flips were common. There were lots of great tricks like Super Cool Airs to Fakie, big McTwists, and compact Haakon Flips, Crossrockets, and double grabs.
Dan Kass was cooking and made a tasty Kass-a-role. He was the big winner with his Switch 9 Kass-a-role which is his a crazy, inverted 7 corked-out Haakon variation that he combined with other sick tricks that had lots of style. His were the sickest moves of the event. He topped an excellent second run that included nailing a Crippler 720, Switch Backside 720, and Haakon 720. Dan combined amplitude and style with huge gutsy tricks to land a rock-solid first place. Kass has had an amazing year. The X Games made his third major win in four times out.
Tommy the "machine" Czeschin squeaked into second with a Switch 900, a Backside 540, and an Inverted Frontside 540 to just barely edge out Ross Powers, who placed third with a big McTwst and a Frontside 900.
They were followed by Guillaume Morisset in fourth, Mike Michalchuk, Daniel Franck, Rob Kingwill, Gian Simmen, Shaun White, Espen Arvesen, J.J. Thomas, Luke Wynen, Todd Richards, Marius Sommer, Giacomo Kratter, Dani Costandache, Ron Chiodi, Elijah Teter, Rio Tahara, Matt Kass, Adam Petraska, and Jonas Emery.
The women are now pushing the men and the fans saw gals stick a lot of difficult tricks that were only being done by the guys a short time ago. They were throwing Inverteds, 720s, Rodeos and a lot of progression.
It was Shannon Dunn in first place, throwing a Frontside 720 then a Cab Method, a perfect McTwist, and the clincher, a stomped Haakon Flip. Natasza Zurek nailed second with a Backflip and McTwist. Fabienne Reuteler placed third by stomping multiple spins, including Frontside and Backside 540s and a Frontside 720. She was followed by: Stine Brun Kjeldaas, Kelly Clark, Tricia Byrnes, Gretchen Bleiler, Cara-Beth Burnside, Minna Hesso, Barrett Christy, Michele Taggart, Caroline Ehrenstrasser, Martina Tscharner, Kim Stacey, Kirstin Bedard, Amy Johnson, Doriane Vidal, and Maryl Winterscheid.
Moto X has been a part of the X Games since 1999. It debuted at the Winter X Games this year in the Big Air competition and the tricks were incredible. The riders started out easy and soon progressed to the sickest stuff you can do on a motorcycle. Cycles with studded tires careened off a huge jump with the riders doing tricks while their bikes sailed through the air. This was the first time this event was held on the snow and had a best of three jump format.
The event was won by "Mad" Mike Jones who performed the "Kiss of Death" where he touched the front of his helmet to his front fender while doing a handstand perpendicular to his bike in the air. Tommy "Tom Cat" Clowers came in second, executing a handstand on his bike's handlebars where he is fully extended and looking backwards. The trick is called a Look Back Hart Attack and almost gave me a heart attack, just watching. Clifford Adoptante placed third in this crowd-thrilling event by executing a double Saran Wrap where he brought each leg over the handlebars and then back again.
On his last run, Clifford Adoptante attempted a Sterilizer. This is a trick he invented, where he thrusts both feet through his arms, over the handlebars and fender, and lands that way. He was looking rad but he fell after sticking the landing. He was thrown from his bike on this trick but was not injured. Indeed, there was mucho style at this inaugural event performed by ballsy bikers who have no fear.
A number of bikers did Supermans, where they kicked their feet and bodies straight back in the air. This progressed to Superman Grabs where they slid back on the bike, holding on to the seat. Then someone kicked it up a notch and did a one hand Superman Seat Grab, where he was only holding on with one hand after he careened off a 15-foot ramp that hurled him over a 70-foot gap to the landing area. There were several variations of the Superman, with names like: the Militia Grab Indian Air where the rider totally lets go of the bike as he goes back for the grab and throws his feet apart. He lets go again as he comes forward for the landing. Obviously this guy was insane.
The crowd was presented with a variety of hair-raising tricks and daredevil antics that brought huge cheers from the spectators. Guys let go of the handlebars until after they landed, As the riders gained more confidence performing these stunts on the snow, they rose higher and higher in the air, performing more and more dangerous stunts like the No Footed Knack Knack and other stunts with strange names. It's a good thing my mother doesn't let me drive my motorcycle like that, I'd kill myself for sure.
Snocross is like motocross on snow. The event pits racers against each other on an oval track. Hillcross is another new event, where racers fly up the hill from the bottom of the course hitting jumps as they speed to the top. The roar of engines and flying snow delighted the crowd. Competition was tough as many racers sacrificed the clutch on their snowmobiles to the god of the mountain with crashes, carnage and dead sleds punctuating the event.
Last year, 15-year-old Tucker Hibbert shocked the snowmobiling world by taking home the X Game gold and it looked like he would do it again. He won the first and second heats but had to bail out on the fourth lap of the final race, when he blew a disk on a jump and his sled's nose just would not come down. He landed on his butt and was badly shaken up.
The event was won by Blair Morgan who did a Superman as he crossed the finish line. Second place was taken be Kent Ipsen. D.J. Eckstrom was third with Yuji Nakazawa forth, followed by Trevor John, T.J. Gulla, Chris Vincent, Noel Kohanski, Jesse Strege and Tucker Hibbert.
Hillcross, a head-to-head competition where sleds race to the top of the hill, is really gnarly. This event is new to the Winter X Games this year and is an anything-goes race for the gold. Sleds tear up the hill over rollers and through gates. A few transmissions gave out in the preliminaries to the consternation of the drivers.
This event was won by Carl Kuster of Canada with Vinny Clark, also a Canadian second and Matt Luczynski third. Matt hit a hole at the top of the hill allowing Clark to scoot ahead of him. Matt is just 16 and comes from Massachusetts, just a 40-minute ride from Mt. Snow. Some of his crazy friends had his name spelled out across their bare chests. "My friends are nuts . . . they are best," he said.
Shane Hart hit hard and flipped over the handlebars. His sled hit him hard but he was able to walk off the hill
under his own power.
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