A Preview of the Winter X Games Aspen 2013

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Mark your cal­en­dars and set your DVR — the U.S. Win­ter X Games are almost here. This year’s four-day Aspen event will kick off Thurs­day, Jan. 24, and some of the par­tic­i­pants have already gar­nered a fair deal of buzz. Here are some of the ath­letes to watch dur­ing this year’s WXG Aspen festivities.

Ski Big Air
All eyes are on Bobby Brown this year; he nabbed a Gold in the Big Air con­test two of the last three years (includ­ing 2012), and was the first skier to earn top hon­ors in two X Games events in the same year. Last year’s respec­tive Sil­ver and Bronze recip­i­ents, Switzerland’s Kai Mahler (who made his X Games debut last year at the age of 16) and New Zealand’s Jossi Wells (who has earned medals in all three ski­ing events), will do their best to claim the Gold in 2013. But with this year’s ros­ter, the top prize could eas­ily go to a dark horse con­tender like Australia’s Russ Hen­shaw, the first WXG con­tes­tant to land a triple cork dur­ing the com­pe­ti­tion, or Switzerland’s Elias Ambühl, who won three big air comps in 2011 with his sig­na­ture 1440 mute grab. And the three other Amer­i­cans – Tom Wal­lisch, Alex Schlopy, and Gus Ken­wor­thy – are all com­ing off strong per­for­mances last year. If we’re going by momen­tum, the con­test is Brown’s to lose – but this is def­i­nitely anybody’s race.

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Ski Slopestyle (Women’s)
Cana­dian gals fill out half of the four-person ros­ter for this year’s Women Slopestyle event. Mon­treal native Kaya Turski is arguably the strongest con­tender in the group; she’s earned Gold at the last three events and the last three Win­ter X Games Europe com­pe­ti­tions, and is gen­er­ally con­sid­ered one of the most dom­i­nant female skiers in the world. Dara How­ell, the other Canuck on the ros­ter, is also impres­sive – but she’s a rel­a­tive new­bie; she made her X Games debut last year and, at 18, is the youngest com­peti­tor (though she notably earned a Bronze in last year’s X Games Europe event in Tignes, France). Austria’s Anna Segal won the inau­gural Women’s Slopestyle event in 2009 and, despite a bro­ken thumb, earned a Bronze and Sil­ver at the 2012 Aspen and Tignes com­pe­ti­tions, respec­tively. And lone Amer­i­can Keri Her­man, skilled as she is, failed to make the podium at either of last year’s Slopestyle events. Look for Turski to notch a four-peat this year – hardly sus­pense­ful, but man is she fun to watch.

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Ski Slopestyle (Men’s)
Five Big Air con­tes­tants – Brown, Wal­lisch, Ken­wor­thy, Hen­shaw and Sweden’s Hen­rik Har­laut – will take part in the Men’s Slopestyle comp along with eight other com­peti­tors. Wal­lisch and fel­low Amer­i­can Nick Goep­per respec­tively took Gold and Sil­ver last year, so look for them to shine once again. But the Bronze recip­i­ent at both 2012 X Games slopestyle events, Norway’s Andreas Håtveit, is a five-time WXG medal-winner who is a force to be reck­oned with on both rails and jumps – and no doubt he’s hun­gry after last year’s third-place fin­ishes. Other strong con­tenders include: Brown, who, despite a pal­try sev­enth place fin­ish at the 2012 event, notched a Gold dur­ing last year’s Tignes comp; England’s James Woods, this year’s only British con­tes­tant in any event, who earned the Bronze in 2011 and placed fourth in Tignes last year; and USA’s Sammy Carl­son, a five-time medal win­ner who took the Gold dur­ing the 2011 com­pe­ti­tion. Odds favor Wal­lisch, the 2012 cham­pion who also placed sec­ond at Tignes last year, but this event is known for its incon­sis­tency from year-to-year.

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Ski Super­Pipe (Women’s)
Last year’s Women’s Super­Pipe com­pe­ti­tion was marred by tragedy; just one week before the 2012 X Games began, four-time Super­Pipe Gold medal­ist Sarah Burke suf­fered a fatal con­cus­sion while train­ing for the 2014 Win­ter Olympics. When fel­low Cana­dian Roz Groe­newoud took first place at both Aspen and Tignes, many saw it as a fit­ting trib­ute to her fallen com­rade. But in the process, Groe­newoud estab­lished her­self as a highly skilled com­peti­tor; she reached a height of 14.5 feet dur­ing her final run and went on to earn a score of 93.66 – the high­est ever recorded by a woman in this event. Her com­pe­ti­tion this year includes last year’s respec­tive Sil­ver and Bronze win­ners, Mad­die Bow­man and Brita Sigour­ney (both USA), as well as two ladies who com­peted in 2012 but failed to make the podium: France’s Anais Cardeaux (4th) and Canada’s Megan Dun­ning (8th). It’s a stel­lar line-up, but Groenewoud’s dual 2012 per­for­mances can’t be ignored going into this year’s event. It also bears men­tion that, at 5-feet 10-inches, she is the tallest woman to take home the Gold in this competition.

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Ski Super­Pipe (Men’s)
Two Amer­i­cans earned Gold in last year’s Men’s Super­Pipe events; David Wise took the tro­phy in Aspen, and Torin Yater-Wallace won first place in Tignes (inter­est­ingly, each man also earned a Bronze in the oppo­site event). They’re both back this year, as are the 2012 Sil­ver win­ners, USA’s Noah Bow­man (Aspen) and France’s Thomas Krief (Tignes). Other strong con­tenders include France’s Kevin Rol­land, who placed fourth last year in Aspen; Canada’s Justin Dorey, who placed fourth last year in Tignes; and USA’s Tucker Perkins, who placed fifth in Aspen and is a mem­ber of the USA Freeski­ing Team. And while Gus Ken­wor­thy is hardly the favorite (espe­cially after his abysmal per­for­mance in Aspen last year), wouldn’t it be sweet if he took Gold (or at least won medals) in all three ski­ing events? Many favor Yater-Wallace, who, at 15, became the youngest WXG medal­ist in Men’s Super­Pipe his­tory when he earned the Sil­ver in 2011, and has since won three more medals. The word ‘prodigy’ comes to mind here.

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Snow­board Super­Pipe (Men’s)
Six­teen guys will be com­pet­ing in this year’s Snow­board Super­Pipe event; or, more accu­rately, 15 guys will attempt to dethrone Shaun White. The Fly­ing Tomato has won more WXG medals than any­one else in his­tory (17). He’s nabbed the Gold in this cat­e­gory for five con­sec­u­tive years in Aspen, topped off by a per­fect score in 2012; he also notched an impres­sive first place fin­ish at last year’s Tignes event, earn­ing a score of 98.  White’s chal­lengers include eight Amer­i­can rid­ers, but it’s like­lier that a for­eign par­tic­i­pant will snatch the crown — per­haps Switzerland’s Iouri Pod­ladtchikov or Japan’s Ryo Aono, who respec­tively picked up Sil­ver and Bronze last year. But let’s not kid our­selves: White is the heavy favorite going into this year’s comp.

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Snow­board Super­Pipe (Women’s)
Just as Shaun White has dom­i­nated the Men’s Super­Pipe comps in recent years, USA’s Kelly Clark has reigned over the Women’s Super­Pipe. She’s earned nine X Games medals in this cat­e­gory, more than any other female rider, and took home the Gold at Aspen and Tignes last year. In 2011, she became the first female to land a 1080 dur­ing a com­pe­ti­tion. Her wor­thi­est oppo­nent is prob­a­bly fel­low Amer­i­can Elena Hight, who earned Sil­ver in both of last year’s WXG comps; notably, she also took first prize over Clark at last year’s Bur­ton U.S. Open. Another par­tic­i­pant to watch is Gretchen Bleiler, who, like Clark, has won four Gold medals in the Women’s Super­Pipe cat­e­gory — though her last win came in 2010. Also keep an eye on the last year’s Bronze recip­i­ents, Han­nah Teter and Kait­lyn Far­ring­ton (both USA). But ulti­mately, this race comes down to the vet­eran (Clark, 29) and the young up-and-comer (Hight, 23).

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Snow­board Slopestyle (Men’s)
Not sur­pris­ingly, Shaun White is the front-runner for this comp; he earned a Gold at last year’s Tignes event, and has earned an addi­tional eight Slopestyle medals (includ­ing five Gold) in Aspen through­out the course of his career. How­ever, he did not com­pete in Aspen last year due to an ankle injury. The top prize went to Mark McMor­ris, a young Cana­dian hot­shot who also earned the Sil­ver medal at the 2012 Tignes event. The dark horse can­di­date for this comp is USA’s Eric Wil­lett, who has earned a few medals in Aspen and Europe since he debuted in 2009, includ­ing a Bronze at Tignes last year. He’s got plenty of dou­ble corks and grind skills in his arse­nal, and many feel he’s due for a break­out year. Another one to watch is Sage Kot­sen­burg, who placed sec­ond in Aspen in 2012 and became the first per­son to land a Cab-double cork 1440 at the Air & Style con­test in Aus­tria the pre­vi­ous year. The bot­tom line: this year’s ros­ter is filled with tal­ent, but White is (still) the surest bet.

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Snow­board Slopestyle (Women’s)
Jamie Ander­son took home the Gold at both 2012 Women’s Slopestyle events; her win at Aspen was par­tic­u­larly note­wor­thy, as she bested Sil­ver medal win­ner Enni Ruka­jarvi of Fin­land by more than 12 points. This year, Ander­son — the comp’s sole Amer­i­can par­tic­i­pant — takes on pre­vi­ous Slopestyle medal­ists like Canada’s Spencer O’Brien (Sil­ver at 2012 Tignes) and Norway’s Kjer­sti Oest­gaard Buaas (Bronze at 2012 Aspen). Ireland’s Aimee Fuller is def­i­nitely one to watch; in the past, she’s pulled off maneu­vers like the Cab 540 and back­side 720, and she took sec­ond place at the Roxy Snow Pro event last Feb­ru­ary. Another poten­tial upset could come from Norway’s Sina Can­drian, who took sec­ond place at last year’s Bur­ton Cana­dian Open. But as the only par­tic­i­pant to pre­vi­ously earn a Gold medal in this event, Ander­son has a defin­i­tive edge over her competitors.

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Snow­board Big Air
Last year’s Big Air comp yielded some inter­est­ing results. Mark McMor­ris took home the Gold medal, but he did so with a rel­a­tively low score of 80 despite a near-perfect score of 49 on his first run. The Sil­ver medal­ist, Norway’s Torstein Horgmo, earned a per­fect score on his first run but failed to earn more than 26 points on any of his three sub­se­quent runs. And while Sebas­t­ian Toutant of Canada also earned a total of 76 points, his indi­vid­ual run scores fell below Horgmo’s and he ulti­mately took home the Bronze. This opens up the 2013 event for a poten­tial upset; can­di­dates include Norway’s Ståle Sand­bech, who recently landed a back­side 1440 at the Bei­jing Air & Style event, or Israel’s  Hall­dor Hel­ga­son, who earned a Gold medal in the 2010 Aspen event. McMor­ris has the momen­tum from last year’s win, but he’s far from a sure bet in 2013.

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Snow­board Street
Here’s a bold pre­dic­tion: an Amer­i­can will take home the Gold in this event. OK, so it’s not that auda­cious — the 7-man ros­ter is entirely com­prised of US rid­ers. Last year’s Gold medal­ist, For­est Bai­ley, was the only par­tic­i­pant to notch two runs that exceeded 40 points. The 2012 Sil­ver and Bronze earn­ers, Ryan Paul and Nick Vis­conti, will also take part in this year’s comp. The remain­ing four rid­ers are X Games rook­ies, but con­sid­er­ing the Street comp was only added to the X Games lineup two years ago, all of the 2013 par­tic­i­pants are rel­a­tively green. It’s hard to ignore Bailey’s per­for­mance last year, though his 270 to frontside on a large metal cargo con­tainer was eas­ily the high­light of the competition.

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Snow­mo­bile Freestyle
Last year’s Freestyle comp lit­er­ally pit brother against brother. Colten Moore picked up the Gold medal, while his older brother Caleb earned his third con­sec­u­tive Bronze medal — talk about sib­ling rivalry! Both Moores are back this year, as is last year’s Sil­ver recip­i­ent and 2009 Gold win­ner, USA’s Joe Par­sons; the first place fin­isher in 2011, Sweden’s Daniel Bodin; USA’s Heath Frisby, who has picked up six WXG snow­mo­bil­ing medals since he debuted in 2007; and USA’s Justin Hoyer, who earned Gold in this cat­e­gory at the 2010 event. Round­ing out the 7-man ros­ter is Levi LaVallee, a three-time WXG Gold win­ner who became the first per­son to (unsuc­cess­fully) attempt a dou­ble back­flip on a snow­mo­bile dur­ing the 2009 con­test. This should make for a stiff com­pe­ti­tion for all involved — so the edge goes to Bodin, the only 2013 con­tes­tant to par­tic­i­pate in the Freestyle comp every year since it was added six years ago.

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Snow­mo­bile Best Trick
The ros­ters for this event and the Freestyle comp are nearly iden­ti­cal — Australia’s Jack­son Strong, bet­ter known for his skills on the motocross track, is the only Best Trick par­tic­i­pant not com­pet­ing in the lat­ter. The lead­ing can­di­date for 2013 Gold is arguably Heath Frisby, who anni­hi­lated the com­pe­ti­tion in last year’s event with a fin­ish that placed him seven points ahead of Sil­ver win­ner Colten Moore. Like all trick-based comps, how­ever, this one is tough to pre­dict using pre­vi­ous results; the slight­est mis­take can lead to a dis­as­trous fin­ish. But Frisby has proven con­sis­tent from year-to-year; he also earned the top prize in 2010, and has seem­ingly mas­tered the tsunami back­flip, one of the tough­est snow­mo­bile maneu­vers. He could very eas­ily notch a two-peat this year, though Daniel Bodin and Levi LaVallee — who both missed last year’s comp due to injuries — are undoubt­edly hun­gry for another WXG Gold medal.

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Snow­mo­bile SnoCross
In 2011, offi­cials announced that the Snocross, Adap­tive Snocross and Speed & Style events would no longer be part of the X Games Aspen fes­tiv­i­ties — but thanks to an out­pour­ing of oppo­si­tion, these three comps will return in 2013. At 20 par­tic­i­pants, this year boasts the event’s longest ros­ter — but one of them, USA’s Tucker Hib­bert, stands out among the rest. Prior to the one-year hia­tus, Hib­bert won five con­sec­u­tive Gold medals, tying a record pre­vi­ously set by the leg­endary Blair Mor­gan. In order to break the record and fur­ther bol­ster his WXG mythos, the Min­nesota native must first out­per­form some truly tough com­pe­ti­tion. 2011’s respec­tive Sil­ver and Bronze win­ners, Ross Mar­tin and Rob­bie Mali­noski (both from the USA), will be com­pet­ing, as will Kyle Pallin and Cody Thom­sen, who placed fourth and sixth (respec­tively) that year. But bar­ring any unfore­seen devel­op­ments, Hib­bert will likely notch his place in X Games his­tory this January.

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Snow­mo­bile SnoCross Adap­tive
At the 2011 event, Mike Schultz didn’t just win the Gold — he beat Sil­ver medal­ist Jeff Tweet by more than 40 sec­onds. Schultz will defend his title this year against seven chal­lengers, includ­ing the 2011 third-place fin­isher Jim Wazny and three rac­ers who failed to make the podium that year (Dave Turner, Doug Henry, and Chris Hep­pding). The most intrigu­ing entry on the ros­ter (and the only non-American) is Canada’s Dar­ryl Keith Tait, who was nearly par­a­lyzed in a 2009 crash, but has since made a full recov­ery. Still, Schultz is seem­ingly unstop­pable; he also earned a Gold in the inau­gural Adap­tive SnoCross event in 2010, which makes him not only a con­sec­u­tive first-place fin­isher but also the only ath­lete to take the top prize in this event.

Snow­mo­bile Speed & Style
Among the six entries in this year’s Speed & Style comp, Joe Par­sons is the clear favorite. He’s gone home with the Gold medal in the last three con­tests. Among the com­peti­tors, he’ll do bat­tle with are Heath Frisby, who earned the Sil­ver in 2011, Cory Davis, who placed third that same year, and Levi LaVallee, who won the Gold in 2008 and placed sec­ond the fol­low­ing year. One of the X Games’ more inter­est­ing comps, Speed & Style com­bines rac­ing and freestyle. Par­sons has his­tory on his side, but a slip-up in either speed or style on his part could lead to an upset.

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Best of luck to all of the 2013 Aspen participants!