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X Games Aspen 2022 wrap-up: Seeing what predictions turned into reality

Norway’s Marcus Kleveland competes in the men’s snowboard slopestyle finals at X Games Aspen on Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022, at Buttermilk Ski Area in Aspen.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

And X Games is gone as quickly as it arrived. The 2022 Aspen edition was as entertaining as ever, with many of the world’s best freeskiers and snowboarders getting to compete one final time this past weekend at Buttermilk Ski Area before heading to the Beijing Olympics.

Before the contest, I made my predictions on who would win each of the 12 main contests — I wisely made no guesses on the unpredictable knuckle huck — so let’s look back on how I did in this X Games Aspen 2022 final send.

Women’s snowboard slopestyle

My pick: Zoi Sadowski-Synnott

Actual winner: Zoi Sadowski-Synnott

Picking against Tahoe’s Jamie Anderson paid off, but barely. New Zealand’s Zoi Sadowski-Synnott was one of the stars of X Games and more than proved she’s capable of ending Anderson’s dominance in slopestyle come the Olympics with her back-to-back 1080 combo. The Kiwi is only 20 and is the future of the sport. But Anderson, 31, still won silver and remains the greatest of all time.

Women’s ski big air

My pick: Mathilde Gremaud

Actual winner: Tess Ledeux

Switzerland’s Mathilde Gremaud pulled out after a hard crash and it was France’s Tess Ledeux who took over. She dominated the contest with a 94 — highlighted by a first-ever 1620 — while Canada’s Megan Oldham won silver with 89. Canada’s Olivia Asselin won bronze with 72, meaning the contest was a bit lacking after the top.

France's Tess Ledeux celebrates on the podium after winning gold in the women's slopestyle skiing final at X Games Aspen on Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022, at Buttermilk Ski Area.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Women’s ski superpipe

My pick: Kelly Sildaru

Actual winner: Kelly Sildaru

First off, Basalt’s Hanna Faulhaber crushed her X Games debut and won bronze. She seemed to have silver in the bag until California’s Brita Sigourney swiped it away at the last second. But, to no one’s surprise, Estonia’s Kelly Sildaru won gold behind her highly technical runs. Sildaru and China’s Eileen Gu, who did not compete at X Games, are expected to battle it out for Olympic gold.

Men’s snowboard superpipe

My pick: Ayumu Hirano

Actual winner: Scotty James

Japan’s Ayumu Hirano made his return to X Games after sitting out the past three years and didn’t disappoint, finishing second and even landed the first-ever triple cork at X Games, but the Australian great that is Scotty James wasn’t going to be denied. The battle between those two, not to mention American legend Shaun White and Japan’s Yuto Totsuka, who both skipped X Games, is going to be wild at the Olympics. Good showing from Ayumu’s little brother, Kaishu Hirano, who won bronze at X Games.

Women’s ski slopestyle

My pick: Kelly Sildaru

Actual winner: Tess Ledeux

Sildaru fell on her first run in the rail section and withdrew. Ledeux, the 20-year-old from France, was sensational this year at X Games and went home with two gold medals after stepping in to win slopestyle as well as big air. She’s on fire right now, but will still only be a darkhorse at the Olympics with Sildaru and Gu in the mix.

Canada’s Mark McMorris stands at the bottom of the course after taking the gold medal in the men’s snowboard slopestyle finals at X Games Aspen on Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022, at Buttermilk Ski Area.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Men’s snowboard slopestyle

My pick: Mark McMorris

Actual winner: Mark McMorris

After missing X Games Aspen 2021 because of a positive COVID-19 test, Canada’s Mark McMorris returned to win his record 21st Winter X Games medal in a dramatic battle that went down to the wire with Norway’s Marcus Kleveland. Simply put, X Games is better with McMorris competing. Sweden’s Sven Thorgren won bronze, while Silverthorne’s Red Gerard, the reigning Olympic gold medalist in slopestyle, was fourth.

Women’s snowboard big air

My pick: Miyabi Onitsuka

Actual winner: Zoi Sadowski-Synnott

The Kiwi went 2 for 2 at X Games, edging Anderson both times. Japan’s Miyabi Onitsuka was solid, winning big air bronze, but Sadowski-Synnott and the Tahoe legend have seriously pulled away from the pack. Only five women ultimately competed in big air at X Games. Of note, this was Anderson’s 21st career Winter X Games medal, putting her into a tie with McMorris for the most in the event’s history.

Japan’s Sena Tomita airs out of the superpipe during the women’s finals of X Games Aspen on Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022, at Buttermilk Ski Area. Tomita took home the gold.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Women’s snowboard superpipe

My pick: Maddie Mastro

Actual winner: Sena Tomita

California’s Maddie Mastro just can’t get it to come together at X Games. A bum ankle forced her to withdraw late in the competition and she finished fifth, but she’s only 21 and is still a force in the sport and will be for many more years. Japan’s Sena Tomita, 22, was the surprise winner over Spain’s Queralt Castellet. The end when Tomita was awarded her medal was priceless, as the modest rider didn’t know Mastro had opted out of her final run. Worth watching. Japan’s Haruna Matsumoto won bronze.

Men’s ski big air

My pick: Matej Svancer

Actual winner: Alex Hall

Matej Svancer, the 17-year-old big air sensation from Austria, will have his X Games moment some day. It just wasn’t this year, finishing fifth. That said, Utah’s Alex Hall made a big statement by winning gold and might just be the Olympic frontrunner. His 2160 — yes, 2160, as in six full rotations — was truly one of the “wow” moments at X Games. Connecticut’s Mac Forehand, an X Games rookie and rising star, won silver.

Men’s snowboard big air

My pick: Marcus Kleveland

Actual winner: Marcus Kleveland

Kleveland has left little doubt in recent years that he is the best big air snowboarder on the planet. It was close at X Games, with Kleveland just edging Canada’s Max Parrot and Finland’s Rene Rinnekangas. Kleveland should be the Olympic favorite. He also won the snowboard knuckle huck competition, an event which he inspired. McMorris finished fourth in big air, meaning he remained stuck at 21 career X Games medals with Anderson.

Park City freeskier Alex Hall competes in the men’s ski slopestyle finals at X Games Aspen on Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022, at Buttermilk Ski Area.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Men’s ski slopestyle

My pick: Alex Hall

Actual winner: Andri Ragettli

He didn’t win, but Hall was still impressive in finishing third for another X Games medal. The American is skiing as well as anyone right now and come Beijing should do a heck of a lot better than the 16th he took in slopestyle at the 2018 Olympics. Canada’s Max Moffatt won silver at X Games and looked solid, while Switzerland’s Andri Ragettli held off the pack for his first slopestyle gold in Aspen.

Men’s ski superpipe

My pick: Alex Ferreira

Actual winner: Nico Porteous

Aspen’s Alex Ferreira was a late scratch from the contest, needing to rest up before the Olympics. New Zealand’s Nico Porteous defended his gold from 2021 with another amazing performance this year, winning on his final run over Crested Butte’s Aaron Blunck and Nevada’s David Wise. Porteous should be the Olympic favorite, in all fairness, but any of those names, including Ferreira, can win. Of note, this contest was presumably the final X Games run for the Telluride-raised Gus Kenworthy, who will retire after the Olympics.

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Challenge Aspen athletes make their X Games debut with Special Olympics races

Nevada skier David Wise and Challenge Aspen athlete Tanner Jadwin bump fists after their first run at the Special Olympics Unified skiing event at X Games Aspen on Friday, Jan. 21, 2022.
Kelsey Brunner/Snowmass Sun

Tanner Jadwin knew it wasn’t going to be easy to land on the podium of the Special Olympics Unified Sports ski race held at X Games Aspen on Jan. 21.

“It’s going to be probably some pretty tough competition,” Jadwin said in an interview the night before the race.

He and Matthew Boyles, both longtime Challenge Aspen athletes with cognitive impairments, were feeling some night-before jitters — the nervous kind and the excited kind — for their X Games debut.

“I’m feeling pretty awesome. … I’m so pumped,” Boyles said Jan. 20.

Special Olympics and Challenge Aspen athlete Matthew Boyles races in the Unified snowboarding event at X Games Aspen on Friday, Jan. 21, 2022.
Kelsey Brunner/Snowmass Sun

The Unified Sports races would put the Glenwood Springs residents — 28-year-old Jadwin on skis, 35-year-old Boyles on a snowboard — at the start gates of a venue where they’ve only ever watched the competition from the spectator section.

It turns out that “tough competition” would include Jadwin. He clinched a bronze medal in the ski division with his pro partner David Wise, a two-time Olympic ski halfpipe gold medalist and four-time X Games superpipe gold medalist. (Wise also picked up another bronze in this year’s ski superpipe at the X Games.)

Boyles landed in seventh place in the snowboard division with his teammate Dusty Henricksen, who took home gold medals in the snowboard knuckle huck and slopestyle competitions at the X Games last year.

For Boyles, who’s been racing for nearly a decade and a half, the course was exactly the kind of course he was used to. The race certainly lined up with Boyle’s pre-competition feelings, too.

“(It) felt pretty awesome — it was a great experience,” he said in a Jan. 24 recap interview.

Jadwin and Boyles train together with the Challenge Aspen Locals Program and are no rookies on the slopes or the race course; both have amassed a hefty collection of hardware from years of National Standard Racing (NASTAR) and Special Olympics competitions and are regulars on the NASTAR course at Snowmass.

Californian snowboarder Dusty Henricksen fist bumps Challenge Aspen athlete Matthew Boyles after their runs on the Special Olympics Unified snowboarding course at X Games Aspen on Friday, Jan. 21, 2022.
Kelsey Brunner/Snowmass Sun

But even with plenty of practice, Jadwin figured he had about a “50-50” chance of landing on the podium, he said in a recap interview Jan. 24.

“It was kind of a cool experience,” Jadwin said. “I got a lot of people that were all proud and excited for me — a lot of family and support, which is nice. Even my church yesterday wanted to see it.”

Special Olympics Unified Sports programming “breaks down stereotypes about people with intellectual disabilities and promotes social inclusion and participation through athletics,” according to a news release. This year marked the seventh X Games Aspen go-around for Unified Snowboarding and the second time for Unified Skiing.

Race results from Special Olympics Unified competition were based on a combined time between cognitive adaptive athletes and their partners, all of whom were alums or current competitors from the top of the X Games and Olympic ranks. There were 10 teams in the ski division and 10 in snowboarding.

Special Olympics and Challenge Aspen skier Tanner Jadwin stops at the bottom of the Special Olympics Unified course at X Games Aspen on Friday, Jan. 21, 2022.
Kelsey Brunner/Snowmass Sun

Pairs of adaptive athletes hit the course followed by pairs of pros going head to head, though who crossed the finish line first didn’t have any bearing on the results and was more for the entertainment factor; the clock started for each athlete when they left the gate and stopped when they crossed the finish line.

The gold medal for Unified Skiing this year went to the 2020 champion Palmer Lyons and his pro partner for this year, James Woods; silver went to Halden Pranger and Aaron Blunk and bronze to Jadwin and Wise. In Unified Snowboarding, gold went to Diana Shilts and Mons Roisland, silver to Cody Field and Rene Rinnekangas and bronze to Catherine Darrow and Annika Morgan.

Jadwin had plenty of kudos to share for his fellow athletes, all of whom put out a strong effort on the race course, he said.

“I’m just glad that everybody did the best they could,” Jadwin said. “Trying is all you can really do sometimes.”

Off to the races with Challenge Aspen

Challenge Aspen’s Locals Program offers year-round social and athletic opportunities for people with disabilities in the Roaring Fork Valley as part of its Recreational, Educational and Cultural (REC) programming that focuses on inclusion and access to the outdoors.

Jadwin learned to ski with Challenge Aspen and has been training with the crew there for eight years; Boyles has been snowboarding for 17 years, competing for 15 and training with Challenge Aspen for the past half a decade.

They’re both planning to be back at the start gates for Special Olympics regionals at Sunlight Mountain Resort near Glenwood Springs on Feb. 11 and at states at Copper Mountain in Frisco on March 6.

Both also are likely to race at NASTAR National Championships, which return to Snowmass on April 4-9; Challenge Aspen typically brings a sizeable contingent across multiple divisions to compete on home turf.

kwilliams@aspentimes.com

Porteous again overcomes Blunck to win second straight X Games ski pipe crown

New Zealand’s Nico Porteous throws up his hands in celebration at the end of his final run of the men’s halfpipe skiing finals of X Games Aspen on Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022, at Buttermilk Ski Area.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Last year, Nico Porteous won X Games Aspen gold with his back-to-back 1620s in the halfpipe, something no one had ever done before.

But on Sunday night in his title defense in the Buttermilk Ski Area superpipe, simply putting down back-to-back 16s wasn’t enough to impress the judges, and Porteous found himself sitting in third as he dropped into his final run in the men’s halfpipe skiing final.

“I just wanted to leave everything out there, you know?” Porteous said. “It was just sort of a weird night. I’ve never really had to battle with myself that much. I really wanted to do that switch 14, and it didn’t quite go the way I wanted it to first run. So I switched up the plan and messed it up again on the third run, but to come back and do it all for the first time on the fourth, that’s what dreams are made of.”

Porteous, the 20-year-old halfpipe sensation from New Zealand, again brought out the 16s for his fourth and final run on Sunday — the final run of X Games weekend, in fact — and it all come together in dream-like fashion for the Kiwi.

His dazzling run vaulted him over bronze medalist David Wise and silver medalist Aaron Blunck to secure back-to-back X Games Aspen gold medals. The 2021 contest also came down to Porteous and Blunck, with similar results.

“The level of skiing right now is so high. And I say this every time, but it truly is just going up and up and up and up,” Porteous said. “You can’t control it. Really, really shoutout to those boys, because they are really pushing the sport.”

Like many other contests of X Games weekend, Sunday’s halfpipe skiing final was missing a few key names who opted out because of COVID-19 concerns ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics, which start Feb. 4 in China. This included Aspen’s Alex Ferreira, the reigning Olympic silver medalist and two-time X Games Aspen champion (2019, 2020), who pulled his name out of the mix on Sunday. ESPN PR said Ferreira wanted to rest and stay healthy ahead of his second Olympic appearance.

Still, the level of skiing that remained Sunday was at an all-time high.

From left, Crested Butte’s Aaron Blunck (silver), New Zealand’s Nico Porteous (gold) and Nevada’s David Wise (bronze) stand on the podium for the men’s superpipe skiing finals at X Games Aspen on Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022, at Buttermilk Ski Area.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

“Honestly, in this day and age in the halfpipe, it’s not just me, Nico and Alex, it’s everyone in the field,” Blunck said. “Everybody out there could win at any given point. So it’s not just the three of us. Yeah, we’ve had good seasons in the last couple of years, but it’s everybody out there right now. Everybody is killing it, and it’s just so sick to be a part of such a rad sport and such a rad group of guys. It’s a family.”

Behind Blunck and Wise — the two-time reigning Olympic gold medalist and former X Games champion — Canada’s Noah Bowman finished fourth and Winter Park’s Birk Irving was fifth. In sixth was Oregon’s Hunter Hess, followed by New Zealand’s Miguel Porteous, Nico’s brother, in seventh. New Zealand’s Ben Harrington was eighth and Great Britain’s Gus Kenworthy was ninth in the nine-skier field.

Adaptive skier Trevor Kennison, left, presents David Wise with his bronze medal at the base of the superpipe after the men’s halfpipe skiing finals at Games on Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022, at Buttermilk Ski Area.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

While Kenworthy struggled with his final hit and could never really put together a clean run, he did get plenty of recognition from the announcers and fans alike after his final run. It wasn’t just the final run of his competition, but of his X Games halfpipe career, as the Telluride-raised freeskier plans to retire after next month’s Olympics, meaning that was likely his final X Games contest.

Kenworthy, one of the first openly gay athletes in extreme sports history, was a five-time X Games medalist and 2014 Olympic silver medalist in slopestyle.

With everyone expected to be ready to compete in February’s Olympic Games, the next competition should be as loaded as it’s ever been.

“What brought me here was the fact that it was X Games. It’s the prestige of this event. The crowd being back this year and the halfpipe being perfect, it’s really hard to not come to X Games,” Porteous said of not skipping X Games ahead of the Olympics. “Don’t really have much left, to be honest. That’s the best I’ve skied in my life.”

Halfpipe skiing only made its Olympic debut in 2014, with Nevada’s Wise winning the contest in Sochi, sharing the podium with Canada’s Mike Riddle (silver) and France’s Kevin Rolland (bronze). In 2018, Wise again won gold, holding off Ferreira (silver) and Nico Porteous (bronze). Blunck competed in both Olympics as well, finishing exactly seventh each time.

Blunck, the 25-year-old from Crested Butte, has a different mindset than his past two trips to the Games. He nearly died in October 2020 after hitting the lip of a Swiss halfpipe during a training session that left him with a lacerated kidney and broken pelvis. His remarkably quick return to competition brought with it a new joy for life and for skiing.

Aaron Blunck smiles after earning his silver medal at X Games Aspen in the men’s halfpipe skiing finals on Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022, at Buttermilk Ski Area.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

“At this point, it’s not about the contests and the results. It’s about having fun to me. I feel like I’ve done all that I’ve ever set out to do in my life, so going into the Olympics I just want to keep enjoying skiing,” said Blunck, who is also newly married. “Just being able to all of a sudden in these contests wake up and channel this relaxing energy, it’s weird. I’m really thankful for it, and I think it’s just part of realizing how thankful I am to ski every single day.”

The 2022 U.S. men’s Olympic halfpipe ski team will consist of Blunck, Wise, Ferreira and Irving. Basalt’s Hanna Faulhaber, who won bronze on Friday in her X Games debut, is on the U.S. women’s Olympic halfpipe ski team alongside Brita Sigourney, Devin Logan and Carly Margulies.

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Making spirits soar: Sit-skier Kennison launches off X Games big air jump

Trevor Kennison makes history with his big air jump on a sit-ski during X Games in Aspen on Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022. Kennison broke his back six years ago on Vail Pass.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

From a paralyzing crash on Vail Pass to the green groomers of Snowmass Resort to the top of the X Games big air jump Sunday, Trevor Kennison’s inspiring journey over the past seven years has changed his life and his family’s world for the better.

Yes, a broken back from a 2014 snowboarding accident has been a family’s inspiration for hope, not sorrow and pain.

“I feel super thankful — friends, family, all the support, sponsors. After breaking my back in Colorado and living around in the valley and learning how to sit-ski here, just having the whole thing come full circle is just super, super awesome,” the 29-year-old Kennison said on a beautiful Sunday afternoon after making two attempts off the Buttermilk jump.

And while Kennison might be the mayor of the village who got him atop the X Games course, his sister Ashley Curaso is the town manager from the time he returned to Colorado.

“My sister taught me in Snowmass; that’s where I first learned,” Kennison said of getting on a sit-ski. “My brother-in-law that first year, there’d be a foot of snow and — you know that saying there’s no friends on a powder day — he would follow me on the greens and pick me up. For a whole year he’d do that, and I got better.”

In the years since that fateful day on Vail Pass, Kennison has used his joy of life to find a new journey from promising plumber to inspiring freeskier.

Freestyle sit-skier Trevor Kennison gives an interview after completing two jumps on the Big Air course during X Games in Aspen on Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Kennison landed in Avon shortly after his sister moved to the Roaring Fork Valley in 2014. But within a few months he was fighting to make sense of his new life after weeks at Denver’s Craig Hospital. The accomplished snowboarder crashed in November 2014 while riding Vail Pass with friends. A life-long gifted athlete, Kennison suddenly had to learn how to work for what he wanted.

“He was always into snowboarding and was good, but nothing crazy,” Ashley Caruso said Sunday while watching her brother garner accolades and admiration from his friends and fans. “He’s always been a very talented kid in any sports he’s done — swimming, basketball, soccer, he even decided to play volleyball one year and made all-state.

“The kid’s extremely gifted, but his accident was life-changing in the sense that he knew he had to work. This is the first time he actually had to put some effort into it, and this is what got him where he is today.”

Finding a new path

When Kennison had his accident, his mother, Olga Pardo, was living 2,000 miles away in Rhode Island. When she finally made it to the Colorado hospital, Pardo put her faith into a higher authority for guidance.

“When I came to see my broken son, I got on my knees and I cried when I heard the news that Trevor’s back was broken,” she said Sunday. “I gave it to the guy upstairs, and I said, ‘I’m giving this anxiety to you, and I’m not taking it back, and this is the first and last time I will cry, because I know you got his back, and I’m going to see what you’re going to do with his life and you got his back.’

“Look at what he has done with my son. Look around. He has used a village of people to help my kid, and I have a lot to be thankful for.”

Olga Pardo looks up at the Big Air jump with tears in her eyes as her son, Trevor Kennison, prepares to make history on a sit-ski at X Games in Aspen on Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

It was that faith and family support that helped Kennison get to the top of the big air jump Sunday and another round of inspiring actions for those who might be searching for a purpose.

There was a brief time after his Vail accident that doubt crept in. But the love of his family and renewed optimism have helped him do incredible things on a mono-ski setup that weighs nearly 50 pounds.

Kennison’s mission became being the best freeskier on a sit-ski. After the accident, he spent time back east with his mother and then made his way back to the Colorado mountains, and Ashley’s role as big sister (just one year older) helped give him the kick he needed.

Thomas Caruso holds a sign and cheers along with his wife Ashley Caruso, right, and Trevor Kennison’s mother, Olga Pardo, left, as Kennison made history on the big air course at X Games in Aspen on Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Ashley and her husband, Thomas, live in Basalt, and she works in Snowmass Village. The trio made countless laps on the Snowmass trails that first winter, and Kennison quickly found his flow.

Once that clicked, the drive to go big took hold.

“Ashley has a lot to do with Trevor’s progress, and she is really the backbone of this whole operation. … Ashley saved Trevor’s life,” Pardo said. “He was very depressed, and within six months he was going to commit suicide, and she put him on a mono-ski, and her and her husband saved him. I have a lot to thank Ashley for. She is an incredible little woman who is just as big or bigger than Trevor.”

Finding his people

As he became more bold on his sit-ski, Kennison started posting videos on social media and an inspired-crowd started following him, including Team USA freeskier Colby Stevenson. Others have joined the journey (nearly 65,000 followers on Instagram), and a big part of his village was there Sunday in a show of support.

Those social posts caught Stevenson’s attention, and a friendship grew. Over the past five years, they have done ski trips together, pushing each other. Stevenson was in the big-air start house Sunday and other Olympic-bound freeskiers were in the landing area.

Park City’s freestyle skier Alex Hall congratulates freestyle sit-skier Trevor Kennison after his historic two jumps on the Big Air course during X Games in Aspen on Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

“Two summers ago on Mount Hood he was like, ‘All right, man, what’s the speed for the jump?,’” Stevenson recalled Sunday. “And I was like, ‘I don’t know, man, I don’t know if it’s the right jump for you, it’s super-poppy and big.’ And he was like, ‘I’m going to hit it with or without your help.’ So we figured it out, and he was perfect on the first try.”

Kennison, who lives in Winter Park, said hanging out at the Mount Hood trip “the whole (freeski) crew and we just vibed. … Colby helped me with towing into jumps and filming me, and he let me feel included. And that was the awesome part about it. It is that whole camaraderie that’s amazing.”

It is the validation from the freeski community that has helped in Kennison’s mental recovery, his dad, Bernie Kennison, said at the base of the jump as his son was surrounded by fellow skiers and inspired onlookers.

“I think when they get together that gives him motivation. From the physical standpoint, I think they have a lot of respect for him. I was afraid that people were very superficial, but from what I’ve seen they are very, very …” he paused to gather himself, “they mean a lot to him.”

Trevor Kennison hugs his sister Ashley Caruso after his second big air jump on the course at X Games Aspen on Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Family spirit

Before the accident, Trevor and Ashley grew up as snowboarders in New Hampshire. Bernie owned a snowboard shop and would take them out of school — “We missed a lot of school,” Ashley recalled — but their father’s intent was clearer.

“When I brought these kids up, sportsmanship and being humble was a big factor,” Bernie said at Buttermilk.

Their athletic prowess comes from a mix of impressive genes. Their Colombian mother played semi-professional soccer, ran multiple marathons (including two in one week on three separate occasions) and coached a high school boys varsity soccer team from a no-win season to the state semifinals two years later; their father, when not working in the shop, was completing Ironman races (three of them) and countless marathons.

When Kennison made his way to Colorado in 2014, he was short on cash and couldn’t afford a ski pass. He called his mother, who didn’t skip a beat and gave him a credit card number to buy his pass so he could be outside. It was weeks later the accident happened.

Kennison hit a 40-foot backcountry jump, got sideways and landed squarely on his back. In an instant, he was paralyzed from the waist down. After rehabbing at the renowned Craig Hospital, his new life began, but it came with struggles at the start.

“When Trevor came out of the hospital in Denver he sat in my little car, and he cried and said, ‘Mom, I’m sorry for doing this to you. I was going to retire you. I was a plumber, and I was making great money and going to start my own business, Mom. And I did this to you,’” she recalled with a mother’s love Sunday. “I said, ‘Trevor, this was an accident, and it happened.’ Trevor said, ‘Mom, watch, I’m going to turn this around. I’m going to turn my life around.’ I didn’t know what he was talking about, but he felt bad that he did this to his mother. And I didn’t know what he was feeling bad about.”

She said before her son’s accident he was always very loving, very kind and always smiling. When his sister would beat him up, their mother said, he would still love her and never got mad at her bossing him around.

“Ashley was the boss, and he was very humble,” she said. “He’s always been very humble and kind. But this injury has made Trevor a more beautiful person and genuine. The inspirations that he’s given not only to you and I but millions of children and parents — I have nothing to complain about. I have legs.”

Following her son’s dream has become expensive, and Pardo said at one point she racked up nearly $100,000 in debt. But being resourceful, Ashley got a job at the Aspen airport with one of the airlines so they could get discounted travel, and Pardo started working for a national hotel chain so they could stay around the world at an employee rate.

“That’s what family is about. I have a lot to be thankful for,” she said. “I’m not bragging, it’s about finding a way to survive. … The best thing that happened to me is having my son break his back, because I have inspired through him many millions of children.”

Freestyle sit-skier Trevor Kennison wears his medal at the bottom of the Big Air jump after a historic two jumps at X Games in Aspen on Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022. Kennison broke his back six years ago on Vail Pass.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Getting to Sunday

After his accident and when he moved back to Colorado, he and his family made it to the X Games, and it was then this dream started: I’ll be up there someday, Kennison decided.

While he quickly became a confident sit-skier (he’ll be in Beijing competing in the 2022 Paralympics), he still wanted to be free. And freeskiing, doing what you want on the mountain and not limiting your runs or tricks, became his cause.

Those early years cruising around Snowmass lead to jumps at the gnarly Kings and Queens of Corbet’s extreme competition in 2019 at Jackson Hole, where only the heartiest of souls attempt incredible feats. And it was his freeskiing family who helped give him the drive to keep pushing.

“I have a lot of faith in him. He just does it, no matter what, and he’s not going to let anybody tell him otherwise,” Stevenson said. “It’s very inspirational. It’s amazing. I love being a part of whatever he’s doing, and can’t wait to go on more ski trips with him and watching him progress.”

Kennison’s X Games reality came true Friday when he stared down the 15-foot big air jump at Buttermilk. That practice run didn’t go as planned as Friday’s snowfall hindered Kennison’s attempt. The light flurries slowed the course just enough that Kennison didn’t have the speed off the jump to clear the 70-foot gap to the ‘knuckle’ at the top of the feature, crashing hard.

“I had a pretty gnarly crash during practice because I didn’t have enough speed, and I wanted to make sure I cleared the knuckle,” he said Sunday.

Trevor Kennison hugs friends Riley Strickland, center, and Ramssey Francois after his two big air jumps on the X Games course in Aspen on Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Ashley said it was that Friday crash that made her a little concerned on how crazy this might be.

“I never get nervous, but this is the first time I’ve ever been nervous. Ever,” she said. “It was incredible. I think it was the Friday crash, that made me say ‘oooooohhh.’ I just wanted him to stick the landing and not get hurt.”

In that effort to get more speed for Kennison’s first attempt Sunday, three of those in his village gave him a big push out of the start house, causing too much speed and sending Kennison soaring off the jump and deep into the landing area. He flew an estimated 95 feet in the air before his sit-ski bottomed out and he fell over.

“In the practice, he hit the knuckle and bounced about 30 feet down and we just really didn’t want that to happen,” Stevenson said, “so we made sure it went a little big on that first try, and he was just a little back seat, he would have landed that for sure.”

As he has been for the past seven years, Kennison was not deterred. He got a ride back up to the top, swapped out his ski and made a second go of it.

“On the second one, I figured one push in would be fine,” he said with a grin as big as his personality, “but coming in I was like, ‘Oh, I think I’m cooking,’ and I kind of scrubbed speed in the middle, and I just boosted right off the jump, and I was like, ‘Ahhhh, OK, try to land this.’ But I just couldn’t land it. But it was fun.”

dkrause@aspentimes.com

Ragettli wins ski slopestyle at X Games Aspen as Hall, U.S. look to Olympics

Park City freeskier Alex Hall holds up his bronze medal after taking third in the men’s slopestyle skiing finals at X Games Aspen on Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022, at Buttermilk Ski Area.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

A coronavirus scare prior to the week and some sticky rails on game day weren’t enough to slow Utah’s Alex Hall on Sunday, who won another medal at this year’s X Games Aspen by taking third in the men’s slopestyle skiing final at Buttermilk Ski Area.

“I just had COVID a little over a week ago and tested negative a couple of days before X Games,” Hall said. “We’ve just been super tight in our bubble and wearing a mask whenever I can and just playing it safe. I grew up watching X Games, so I would’t skip it for anything.”

Hall healed up in time to take bronze on Sunday morning, finishing behind runner-up Max Moffatt of Canada and winner Andri Ragettli of Switzerland. Hall’s podium came only a night’s sleep after he won an intense big air skiing contest on Saturday night, highlighted by him putting down a first-ever 2160 that dropped jaws on his final jump. The Park City product now has nine X Games medals — one being a gold in the Real Ski film series — and a defining 2019 slopestyle gold in Aspen.

Hall’s ninth medal came late Sunday when he won bronze in ski knuckle huck to become the first male freeskier with three medals at one X games. Fellow Park City skier Quinn Wolferman won knuckle huck, while Oregon’s Jake Mageau was second.

Hall only jumped into podium position on his fourth and final slopestyle run earlier Sunday, knocking U.S. teammate Mac Forehand down to fourth place in Forehand’s X Games Aspen debut.

“I was actually trying to do a different rail trick at the top, and it wasn’t working this morning, and I had to switch it up,” Hall said, giving credit to the wax technicians for figuring out the sticky rails caused by the cold night and warm day. “Everyone is so good nowadays, it’s so crazy. The skiing level is insane, and I’m just trying to keep up in my own personal style and just have fun with it and not plan too far ahead because I think things are always changing and stay in the moment and focus on the tricks you are trying to do right now.”

Finishing fifth was Norway’s Sebastian Schjerve, another X Games rookie, while Great Britain’s James Woods, the oldest competitor at 30, was sixth. Woods, a veteran with five X Games medals, including big air gold in 2017, had one of the more exciting tricks of the contest, a switch double backflip on his last jump that delighted the crowd, although didn’t do much to improve his standings from the judges.

Utah’s Colby Stevenson finished seventh, Indiana’s Nick Goepper eighth, Canada’s Evan McEachran ninth, and Norway’s Christian Nummedal 10th.

British freeskier James Wood competes in the men’s slopestyle skiing finals at X Games Aspen on Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022, at Buttermilk Ski Area. He finished off the podium.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Goepper, the four-time X Games slopestyle champion, including gold in 2021, crashed hard on his final run but was able to walk away mostly in one piece. He was wearing a Cincinnati Bengals jersey, repping his favorite football team after they knocked off No. 1 seed Tennessee in the NFL playoffs on Saturday.

“It wasn’t really a question of if I was going to come to X Games or not. I took a pretty hard hit just now, so that kind of shook me up. But I feel equally as prepared,” Goepper said of deciding to come to X Games with the Olympics so close. “I can’t relax. It’s just crazy, kids keep getting better and better and better. You think progression might chill out for a couple of years, but it’s really impressive to see what everybody is doing.”

Ragettli was able to take over the top spot after his second run and hung on from there. The Swiss standout had previously won Aspen big air gold in 2021 and slopestyle gold at Norway 2020, but his previous best slopestyle result in Aspen had been bronze from 2018. While the Norway event means a lot to Europeans, even he admits Aspen is held in a much higher regard.

“There are X Games in Norway, but that’s kind of the European X Games, but the real ones are here in America, and if you win those, that’s even crazier. So it means the world to me,” said Ragettli, who is just coming back from a severe knee injury, which he suffered at the world championships last March in Aspen. “To be back competing here and being able to ski on that level, it’s just amazing. Of course, it’s my third X Games gold medal, the first in slopestyle in Aspen. I have one in Norway, but Aspen is the real one, so it feels great.”

Like so many other contests at X Games this week, there were many big names not competing, most deciding to sit out in order to prepare for the Beijing Olympics next month. Still, the Buttermilk competition was good training ground for those who did compete and hope to be a podium factor in China. Ragettli competed at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, taking seventh in slopestyle. That year’s podium included Norway’s Oystein Braaten (gold), Goepper (silver) and Canada’s Alex Beaulieu-Marchand (bronze).

“Of course it gives you motivation and also momentum for the Olympics. I wasn’t sure if I’m able to perform on that level,” Ragettli said of his X Games gold and being within striking distance of the Olympic podium. “Of course it is in reach for me. When you are able to win an X Games gold medal, it is in reach for you. But it’s a totally different event. It starts from zero again. I’ll just try to ski my best at the Olympics as well and see how far I can go.”

The four Americans who competed in Sunday’s slopestyle contest at X Games are the same four who will represent the U.S. at the Olympics. Stevenson, 24, and Connecticut’s Forehand, 20, will be first-time Olympians. Goepper, 27, is going for the third time; on top of his slopestyle silver in 2018, he won slopestyle bronze at the 2014 Sochi Games as part of an American podium sweep behind Gus Kenworthy (silver) and Joss Christensen (gold).

Hall, 23, is headed to his second Olympics after finishing 16th in slopestyle at the 2018 Games.

Most of the slopestyle athletes will also compete in ski big air, which will make its Olympic debut this February in Beijing. Snowboard big air became an Olympic sport in 2018.

American Mac Forehand, left, hugs Canadian Max Moffat after Moffat earned a bronze medal at X Games Aspen, the first X Games medal of his career, on Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022, at Buttermilk Ski Area.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

“It’s amazing. We are all such good friends. I couldn’t be more hyped on the team going,” Hall said. “Despite the crazy times and I think how restrictive it’s going to be when we are there, we are with a good group of guys, so we are going to be having a ton of fun at the events and between the events. That’s a huge factor for a lot of us. … That’s the main reason we do it. I think when we are having fun, that’s when we do the best.”

The U.S. women’s Olympic slopestyle and big air team consists of Montana’s Maggie Voisin, who will be a three-time Olympian, Vermont’s Caroline Claire (second Olympics), Montana’s Darian Stevens (second Olympics) and Utah’s Marin Hamill, an Olympic rookie.

The opening ceremony for the 2022 Beijing Olympics is scheduled for Feb. 4.

acolbert@aspentimes.com

McMorris returns to win X Games Aspen slopestyle gold, edges Kleveland

Canadian snowboarder Mark McMorris stands at the bottom of the course after taking the gold medal in the men’s slopestyle snowboard finals on Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022, at Buttermilk Ski Area in Aspen.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

A year after missing X Games Aspen because of a positive COVID-19 test, Mark McMorris returned to Buttermilk Ski Area on Saturday and did what he’s done for so many years prior — win.

The Canadian superstar held off Norway’s Marcus Kleveland and Sweden’s Sven Thorgren to win the men’s slopestyle snowboard final for his 21st career Winter X Games medal. Tahoe rider Jamie Anderson also has 21 medals after taking silver in Saturday’s women’s big air snowboard final, which is a Winter X Games record.

“He bumped ahead of me and I cleaned up the same run I got into first with and they ended up pushing me back up,” McMorris said of his battle with Kleveland. “I guess I learned that execution is very, very key and doing your tricks super clean and making them look easy. Just showing control is really big. I just hope I can ride like this in a couple of weeks at the (Olympic) Games, because I’m feeling good and it’s a momentum builder.”

Finishing just off the podium with his back-to-back 1620s was Silverthorne’s Red Gerard, who heads to Beijing next month looking to defend his 2018 Olympic gold in slopestyle. Only 21 and already one of the world’s most accomplished and recognizable slopestyle snowboarders, Gerard has struggled over the years at X Games. He only has a single medal at ESPN’s signature winter event, a slopestyle bronze from 2020.

Behind Gerard, Finland’s Rene Rinnekangas was fifth, Canada’s Darcy Sharpe sixth, Canada’s Max Parrot seventh, Norway’s Stale Sandbech eighth, Norway’s Mons Roisland ninth and California’s Dusty Henricksen 10th. Henricksen was the reigning X Games slopestyle champion after an impressive rookie campaign in 2021.

Saturday’s slopestyle contest came down to the final runs, with the leaderboard going through a lot of shuffling as time ticked down. Kleveland took the lead with a run that finished with an impressive 1800, but McMorris, who was the second-to-last to start behind only Henricksen, moved back into first with a run that included a pair of 1620s and a 1440 on the jump section.

“The level of riding today was just through the roof,” Kleveland said. “Mark was doing three triples in a row. It was just a gnarly contest. But I’m glad I made my run on the fourth go and bumped into silver. So I couldn’t be more happy.”

Kleveland’s silver was arguably the worst part of his week at X Games. He started it off by winning snowboard knuckle huck — a contest he is largely the inspiration for — and finished it by winning Saturday night’s snowboard big air final for the second year in a row.

Parrot won silver and Rinnekangas bronze, while McMorris was just off the big air podium in fourth. Colorado’s Chris Corning finished last among the eight big air riders, pulling out of the contest after three of the five runs.

Saturday’s slopestyle contest — and even big air — was likely just a taste of what to expect next month at the Olympics. McMorris is the two-time reigning Olympic bronze medalist in slopestyle, an Olympic gold about the only thing missing from his resume.

While many stars opted out of competing at X Games this week to rest and train for the Beijing Games — although one could argue men’s slopestyle snowboarding was an exception — McMorris never thought about sitting out, especially after missing last year’s event in Aspen.

“I figured it’s like, control the controllable, keep a tight bubble, stay with your crew,” McMorris said about coming to X Games and staying healthy before heading to China, where COVID-19 restrictions will be as harsh as anywhere on the planet. “I missed it last year. I’ve done it leading up to every other Olympics. Yes, it’s a little sketchy because there’s a crowd, but you don’t need to be interacting with it. … This is a huge thing for us, too. I didn’t doubt it, no. I was always going to come. I had to. This is our Super Bowl.”

acolbert@aspentimes.com

X Games Day 2 slideshow: Plenty of action soaring through the clear Aspen sky

Norwegian snowboarder Marcus Kleveland competes in the men’s snowboard slopestyle finals at Buttermilk in Aspen on Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Kokomo Murase hard stops at the bottom of the big air course after her last run in the women’s snowboard big air finals at the 2022 X Games in Aspen on Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
A plane flies over the last jump of the slopestyle course during the men’s snowboard finals at Buttermilk in Aspen on Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Canadian snowboarder Darcy Sharpe competes in the men’s snowboard slopestyle finals at Buttermilk in Aspen on Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Japanese snowboarder Haruna Matsumoto airs out of the superpipe during the women’s finals at Buttermilk in Aspen on Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
A snowboarder competes in the men’s snowboard slopestyle finals at Buttermilk in Aspen on Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Japanese snowboarder Haruna Matsumoto airs out of the superpipe during the women’s finals at Buttermilk in Aspen on Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

 

Maddie Mastro airs out of the superpipe during the women’s finals at Buttermilk in Aspen on Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

 

Norwegian snowboarder Marcus Kleveland competes in the men’s snowboard slopestyle finals at Buttermilk in Aspen on Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Finnish snowboarder Rene Rinnekangas competes on the slopestyle course during the men’s snowboard finals at Buttermilk in Aspen on Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Rene Rinnekangas applauds Mark McMorris on his last run of the men’s snowboard big air finals at Buttermilk on Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Mark McMorris grabs his board off of the big air jump during the men’s snowboard big air finals at Buttermilk on Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Norwegian snowboarder Mons Roisland competes in the men’s snowboard big air finals at Buttermilk during X Games at Aspen on Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Big air, big night: Sadowski-Synnott edges Anderson; Park City skier spins to win

Jamie Anderson hits off the Big Air jump during the women’s snowboard finals at Buttermilk in Aspen on Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022. Anderson secured the silver medal bringing her to 21 X Games medals in her career. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Getting that little extra push just before the Winter Olympics, Jamie Anderson and Zoi Sadowski-Synnott went board-to-board again Saturday on the big air jump at Buttermilk, with the same result as the day before on the X Games Aspen slopestyle course.

Sadowski-Synnott, the 20 year old from New Zealand, didn’t hold back and won her second gold of the weekend after stomping a 1260 (3.5 times around with backside rotation) Saturday on her third run to take the lead from Anderson. Just after that, there was Japanese rider Miyabi Onitsuka who threw a 1260 in her final run and landed it but had to really hang on to ride out the landing to win bronze.

The veteran Anderson said the two jumps pushed her to get out of her comfort zone with some “in the moment inspiration.” On the event’s final run she was compelled to try a 1260 for the first time ever. She didn’t land it like the other riders, but it gave Anderson, who now has a record 21 X Games medals after taking silver, some food for thought before heading to Beijing.

“That was my first time,” the 31-year-old Anderson said of the 1260. “The girls inspired me. I didn’t really want to not try it on the perfect jump on the perfect day. Zoi really gave me a run for my money, so I thought maybe I can do it, but I need a little more practice. … Maybe if the jumps are good in Beijing I’ll be able to give it another shot.”

Anderson, who is the two-time reigning Olympic gold medalist in slopestyle, won silver in big air’s Olympic debut in 2018. She was second to Austrian Anna Gasser, who dropped out of Saturday’s X Games event after finishing fifth Friday in slopestyle.

Sadowski-Synnott double-gold weekend gives her a lift heading to the Olympics and completes her X Games big air medal collection after winning bronze in 2019 and silver in 2021.

“Coming into today I just wanted to land that back 12,” she said. “I’m just stoked to be out here and everyone is pushing everyone.”

Rounding out the five-woman field was Japan’s Kokomo Murase and Canadian Laurie Blouin. Also dropping from Saturday’s big air was American Julia Marino.

Jamie Anderson hugs Zoi Sadowski-Synnott after their last run on the Big Air jump securing Anderson the silver and Sadowski-Synnott the gold medal at the 2022 X Games in Aspen on Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

 

Park City rider makes heads spin

Alex Hall and crew of young freeskiers used Saturday night as a sneak peek of what to expect when skiing big air makes its Olympic debut, and they will have people’s head spinning.

Hall, who hails from Park City, went spinning into the Aspen night and dropped a clean 2160 — yes, six full rotations — on his final trip of six off the kicker to jump into first place. For Hall, it was a move that wasn’t in his head coming in, but got him to the top of the X Games podium after finishing third here last year.

“Everyone just landed the same tricks and it came down to that last jump so I just figured I’d try (it),” Hall said in his post-event interview. “I actually came into the event wanting to do some other tricks and everyone just went off so hard so I just tried to match them. It was super fun.”

Vermont’s Mac Forehand made his X Games debut and the 20-year-old built on his runs and his last two were clean enough to earn him silver, with Canadian Teal Harle finishing third.

Austrian teenager Matej Svancer has been on fire this season, as the X Games rookie previously won October’s World Cup event in Switzerland and then the Steamboat World Cup in December. But with a level of competition at a frenzy in the jam session, the 17-year-old finished fifth.

Timeless Castellet returns to X Games halfpipe podium, Tomita gets first win

Spanish snowboarder Queralt Castellet stands at the bottom of the superpipe after winning the silver medal in the snowboard finals at Winter X Games in Aspen on Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

There’s no quit in Queralt Castellet.

At 32, she’s one of the older snowboarders still on the circuit and even though she admitted her body was pretty beat up after the women’s halfpipe snowboard final at X Games Aspen on Saturday night, the Spanish rider gave no indication she was going to slow down.

“Keep it going,” Castellet laughed after the contest. “Every day I’m on the snowboard I learn, and every year I learn new tricks and every season I come out with better and better riding. I’m happy doing that.”

Castellet returned to the Buttermilk superpipe on Saturday and succeeded in winning her third medal in an X Games career, which goes back more than a decade. She won gold in 2020 over Japan’s Kurumi Imai (silver) and Haruna Matsumoto (bronze) — California’s Chloe Kim sat out that season — a year after winning her first silver medal in 2019.

Kim, the reigning Olympic gold medalist and five-time X Games Aspen champion, also opted out of this year’s event to rest up and train ahead of the Beijing Games next month. However, the bulk of her Olympic competition did drop into the Buttermilk superpipe on Saturday, with Sena Tomita winning gold. It was the 22-year-old Japanese rider’s first X Games medal.

Spanish snowboarder Queralt Castellet airs out of the superpipe during the women’s finals at Buttermilk in Aspen on Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Behind Castellet’s silver, the 28-year-old Matsumoto won bronze for the second consecutive year, while Imai was the first one off the podium.

The competition was a battle of who could best put down a 1080 in their run, and that honor ultimately went to Tomita, who jumped over Castellet after the Spaniard had the lead after the first run. Castellet overcame a couple of gnarly crashes, one in warm ups and another during competition, to win her second career silver medal at X Games.

“It feels amazing. To me X Games is one of the most important events that there is,” Castellet said. “Even though this year is a very intense one for us … I was very excited to be in the X Games and do my best riding. The pipe was in excellent condition today. Everyone was throwing down.”

Japanese snowboarder Sena Tomita gives an interview after winning the women’s gold medal in the superpipe at Winter X Games in Aspen on Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Taking fifth was California’s Maddie Mastro, who put down a solid, albeit safe, first run before unsuccessfully breaking out her double cripplers after that. She ultimately pulled out of the contest, posting later on Instagram that she “made a tough decision to not take my last run tonight due to my ankle.”

She then added that she was “excited for the next few weeks ahead.” The 21-year-old Mastro — who has two X Games medals to her name, including last year’s silver and a 2018 bronze — is perceived by many as Kim’s closest competitor come the Olympics.

Finishing sixth was 27-year-old Californian Summer Fenton, and in seventh was 20-year-old Canadian Elizabeth Hosking.

Like Mastro and arguably all of the Japanese riders, Castellet looks to give Kim a run for her money in Beijing. Castellet is headed to her fifth Olympics next month, her best previous finish having been seventh at the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang.

Even though she’d be 36 by the next Olympics, Castellet wouldn’t close the door on a sixth appearance and largely credits her first Olympics — a 26th-place finish at the 2006 Turin Games in Italy, the same year Aspen’s own Gretchen Bleiler won her Olympic silver medal — as lighting her fire for a long career. As it would be, the 2026 Winter Olympics will also be held in Italy.

“At that moment I was like, ‘I am going to dedicate my sweat, blood and tears and my life to that.’ And that’s what I’ve done,” Castellet said of her first Olympic appearance. “A dream just started there. My eyes opened up to the future. It was the first time I shared that experience with the girls that until then were hanging on the wall of my room.”

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Faces of X Games Aspen: Fans make return to the Buttermilk Ski Area venue

Crowds go wild during the women’s snowboard big air finals on the first day of the Winter X Games in Aspen Friday, Jan. 21, 2022. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Under bluebird skies Saturday, fans flocked to the X Games Aspen venue at the base of Buttermilk. After a year without fans because of the pandemic, thousands returned and were treated to lots of action and great weather.

Athletes said Friday night and again Saturday that having the crowds fill the bottom of the superpipe and the slopestyle course has given them a bit more and it’s much different than the silence of 2021. Last year was a lot more stoic, with just about 500 people allowed inside the “bubble” and no screaming hoards.

“As awesome as it was to do Aspen last year, not to have fans and that energy as part of it, it was missed,” X Games vice president Tim Reed said. “So we are all thrilled to have the fans back.”

Shannon Springhorn and fiancé Garrett Clark gush over their new engagement after Clark proposed at the bottom of the Big Air jump after the women’s ski big air finals at the 2022 X Games in Aspen on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022. The two have been together for 7 years and said that this was their dream trip. Springhorn was so shocked at the proposal and was thrilled. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
The crowd screams for Hanna Faulhaber as she drops in for her final run during her X Games debut in Aspen on Friday, Nov. 21, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Large, light-up Wendy’s french fries are arranged by a crew preparing the X Games village for spectators and the start of finals on Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
People dance along with the DJ in X Games village at the base of Buttermilk in Aspen on Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Fans watch the women’s ski superpipe finals as Svea Irving gets air during the 2022 Winter X Games in Aspen on Friday, Jan. 21, 2022. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)