The triple cork Games: Sochi 2014 men's Olympic slopestyle outlook

In our guide to Vancouver 2010 we dubbed those Olympics the double-cork Games. For any truly competitive pipe rider back then, going twice around upside-down was a must for a shot at a medal. Four years later as we head into the Sochi Olympics, doubles have become so standard in both pipe and slopestyle that throwing a few into your run just means you're keeping up with the pack, not really going for gold.

When slopestyle makes its Olympic debut with qualifications on February 6, Sochi will be the triple-cork Games. Triple corks have been around since Torstein Horgmo landed the first frontside triple in 2010, followed by Mark McMorris who landed the first backside triple in 2011. But it took a while for riders to consistently add those tricks to their contest runs. The biggest leap forward in slopestyle progression emerged last year at the 2013 Winter X Games where Mark McMorris, Max Parrot, and Seppe Smits all threw triples in their runs for the first time. And then Mark really set the bar by adding a Cab 1260 to his line. At the 2014 X Games, the last major contest before Sochi, we saw that trend continue with more riders throwing triple corks and Max stomping the piss out back-to-back triples for the first time.

Mark’s 2013 X Games winning run

Max’s 2014 X Games winning run

With Max winning the 2014 X Games and Mark coming in second after hanging up on a rail and breaking his rib, it’s looking like the most heated slopestyle battle in Sochi will be Mark versus Max, not the whole Mark versus Shaun White thing that was played up in the mainstream media before the season started. As the favorite to win, Mark is now heading to Sochi with a nagging injury to overcome while Max is riding the stoke of his ground-breaking X Games runs. In a recent email Mark told the Associated Press that he is feeling “pretty good.” When asked if he thought his injury might hold him back he replied, “I can’t predict it until I get out there and try.”

The bail Mark broke his ribs on

But while Mark and Max both have a legitimate chance of standing on the podium there are a gang of other global slopestyle threats heading to Sochi. Joining Mark and Max are fellow Canadians Seb Toutant and Charles Reid. The US has Shaun White, Sage Kotsenburg, and Chas Guldemond. Norway's got Torstein Horgmo, Stale Sandbech, Gjermund Braaten, and Emil Andre Usletten. Sweden's bringing Sven Throgren, while Japan's Yuki Kadono is their best hope for a medal. With a crew like this and rumors coming out of Sochi that the slope course looks good and the jumps are big, things are going to get crazy.

That the course is reportedly solid will come as relief to most riders. The subtropical climate in Sochi has been a constant topic of conversation heading into the Olympics after the slopestyle test event was cancelled last year. But a good dump of natural snow just hit the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park where slopestyle will be held and there is literally tons of manmade backup snow on hand. However, Accuweather.com is calling for sunny, slightly warmer temperatures starting February 7.

Update: The slopestyle course design has drawn criticism from riders after Torstein Horgmo fell on a rail at the top of the course and broke his collar bone. When asked about the course design, Finnish rider Roope Tonteri said “It looks pretty sketchy, the rail are sticky.” Some riders were also concerned that the jumps were too steep prompting course builder Anders Forsell and his crew to trim the tops of the jumps and smooth out the transitions. Sage Kotsenburg at least seemed postitive, saying that “It’s what we should be jumping at this level. It’s the Olympics. They need a little bit of work. That’s how it happens. We ride, and after the first day the riders give feedback on the course. Then they work on it.”

Ultimately, what everyone hopes to see is the highest level of snowboarding from the best riders in the world when slope finals go down on February 8. Looking at past Games, the level is always elevated the moment someone drops into an Olympic course and riders at Sochi will no doubt be pushing for that next spin or tweak as the world watches.

TWSNOW lands in Sochi on February 4. Stay tuned for full coverage of the slopestyle and halfpipe events, plus daily blogs.

More Sochi 2014 Olympic stories here