“Slope Finals is gonna be nuts.”
The level of slopestyle riding at this year’s Winter X Games 15 is like nothing you’ve seen before. The overall talent and precision of tricks have increased so much this season, we’re almost to the point where “Nearly-flawless!” just isn’t nearly good enough. As multiple double-corks become the norm and gap hardway 270s are labeled as “stock”, scores are running consistently into the high 90s—yet the names you might expect to be up there seem to be a bit missing. With an average age of just 20 years old, Sunday’s Final is now set. Slopestyle Elim. showed us once again that the guard’s been changed—and the youth won’t stop until they’ve fully taken this s—t over.
The big draw at Friday’s Elimination involved the newly-fashioned “Dark Knight” yet again. The promise of Shaun White’s return to Slopestyle brought out the fans, piqued interest of the riders, and got the “Media” train chugging along at full steam. Because, as we were all wondering, could he still compete? It’s been a long time since anyone had seen Shaun hit a jump, let alone an entire Slope run. Calm and collected, Shaun spent most of the morning shooting the shit with friends and TMs, and relaxing in the sun atop the course. As the event began, he entered the Athlete Tent to join the others and cheer on as the first riders began to drop in. But all changed as his name began to be called. Quiet focus took over, and Shaun, the 5-time X Games Slope Champion, climbed the stairs. As he began to strap in atop the scafolding, the scene in the Tent immediately changed. The other riders turned quiet, people sat down, TMs and staff jostled for viewing angles, and all eyes turned towards the screen. The silence was broken by Mikkel Bang, with a echoed “DAMN” as Shaun finished up (Mikkel would also announc that he was “Now legal!” and just bought his first beer. Cheers, Banger!). Front double tens, new-found tech on the jib section, and clean landings were good enough for 7th. The Dark Knight would end up finding his way into 13th after the three rounds were completed, missing the cutoff for Sunday’s Final. Asked about the return to Slope, Shaun was in great spirits: “Pipe to slope transition isn’t easy! I was hoping it was going to be simple, but … [laughs]”. “This is perfect, though. Now I can focus on pipe, and even get a day off tomorrow!” He looks over to his Coach, Bud Keene, who begins to say, “Um… there’s a practice for…” and Shaun cuts him off: “Well, probably not! [laughs]”
Bud, also the U.S. Team Coach, put it best: “I’m just so proud of him. He’s gaining so much respect for being here. Because you know, there are very few events he’s entered where he doesn’t ‘know’ he’s going to win, you know? And people, especially the other riders, are really stoked on that.”
It would take Top 8 to advance to Slopestyle Finals, and from the very beginning, the kids were sending ‘er hard—no “qualifier-treaties” here. Halldór Helgason (8th), Eric Willett (7th), and Tyler Flanagan (6th) made the final cut, with Mikkel Bang sliding into 5th. Mikkel was sitting on the bubble seat for much of the competition, but after an impromptu Justin Bieber dance session with Scotty Lago (Scotty: “Whoa, hold on! ‘We Are The World’ just came on! Justin Bieber time!”), cleaned things up and advanced. Chas Guldemond fell on the very first hit of his opening run, yet still returned to stomp some of the biggest doubles of the day and gain his spot in 4th. 17-year old Mark McMorris is a robot—3rd. Torstein Horgmo continued to fight off pain and fatigue to astonishing results, pulling a score of 95, good enough for 2nd. Tor was so beat up after his first run, he had to leave the competition for treatment. We’ll see him back for Finals.
But the real talk from Slopestyle Elim. was 18-year old Canadian phenom, Sebastien Toutant. His third and final run of the day may have been one of the best slope runs of all time. And in actuality, ended up being the highest-scored in Winter X Games history. Earning him a score of 97 and mounds of momentum heading into Finals, Seb’s looking strong for Sunday.
Last thing — when asked about his tight black pants and the ridiculous controversy on the Internet regarding his wardrobe choice, Shaun not only laughed off the hate, he pointed out the questionable attention being paid to his man-parts. “Yeah, [ESPN] even asked Tor about my pants during his interview! They caught me checking out my ass or something? [Laughs] I guess everyone’s just really interested in my booty cheeks.” You know, he’s got one helluva point there. Gotta hand it to him—one classy response by the King of X.
With Superpipe, Slopestyle, Best Method, Real Snow, and Big Air Finals all on the schedule, this year's X Games at Aspen/Snowmass promises to tear the roof off. Stay up on all the epic Winter X Games 15 coverage at Facebook.com/TWSnow, Twitter.com/TWSnow, and right here at TWSnow.com.