After tough breaks, Chris Corning earns alternate spot for X Games big air

Dillon’s Chase Blackwell gets alternate spot for Sunday night snowboard superpipe competition

Antonio Olivero
Summit Daily News
Chris Corning practices on Thursday Jan. 28 at Buttermilk Ski Area in Aspen in advance of the 2021 X Games men's snowboard big air final on Sunday, Jan. 31
Photo by Kelsey Brunner / The Aspen Times

A jolting January finally turned in Chris Corning’s favor last week after it dealt him some bad fortune earlier this month.

Though he was the top-scoring American at the season-opening Kreischberg, Austria World Cup big air contest, Corning did not make the cut for finals. His performance came after his gear was lost in transportation to Europe, meaning Corning had to compete on borrowed gear he was unfamiliar with.

A week later, Corning got word he and the majority of the U.S. Snowboard Team’s other slopestyle pros would not be able to compete at the Laax Open in Switzerland. Corning quarantined but never tested positive for the virus.

Those developments seemed to put him in a truly terrible professional predicament. A week ago he was not slated to compete in slopestyle or big air for X Games Aspen. This year’s event has a much smaller number of athletes to limit on-site numbers amid the novel coronavirus pandemic as well as not permitting fans to attend. After X Games Aspen, when — or even if — another contest will take place this season is still up in the air.

Earlier this week, Corning got a message from his coaches that his name had been moved into the list of eight athletes set to drop into the big air jump at Buttermilk Ski Area on Sunday after other Mark McMorris dropped out due to a positive COVID-19 test and Max Parrot had to withdraw after getting conflicting COVID-19 test results. Corning’s fellow Never Summer rider Chase Blackwell, a U.S. halfpipe pro, also got word on Saturday that he’ll be dropping into the men’s final Sunday at 6:30 p.m.

“My coaches sent me a screenshot that I was in,” Corning said. “I was so excited I’m able to ride.”

Suddenly Corning’s situation went from difficult to ideal, as he had six hours worth of practice time on Buttermilk’s big air jump. Before X Games, the only big air jump Corning hit since two days of preseason practice was at the Austria big air — in somebody else’s bindings and boots.

The practice time on this year’s big air jump — which is located on the slopestyle course and is one foot longer than last year’s jump — has allowed for Corning to focus on building up the number of inversions while spinning toward his board’s backside. Corning’s also worked on switch (riding backward) spins to his board’s front side and regular frontside spins.

The backside work, Corning said, is to help him land his physics-bending four-inversion, five-spin quad-cork 1800 much more comfortably. And the frontside work is to feel out new grabs — including a “Stalemaskey,” with his front hand between his legs on his heel edge — which make his landing much more blind — and his score potential higher. Corning is tackling more difficult variations on frontside 1440-degree spins in a career when he’s become known as one of the most impressive, flawless stompers of tricky, soaring flat spins.

Then, late Saturday night, Corning posted a video to his Instagram of him tweaking out a flat-spin switch frontside 1800 — a brand-new trick for him.

If Corning can stomp one of the switch frontside or frontside spins he’s working on, as well as that massive quad cork he may be in line for his first X Games Aspen medal — something the 21-year-old has been on the edge of grasping for several years.

“It’s a different jump, bigger jump, than we normally practice on, so the spotting on the trick can be different,” Corning said, “and the knuckle can be a little bit different — you have to learn where that spot is.”

In this year’s 30-minute, jam-format big air competition — which will still feature heavy-hitters including American teen Dusty Henricksen, Norwegian star Marcus Kleveland and Japanese senders Takeru Otsuka and Yuki Kadono — Corning and other riders will be scored on their two best tricks. That’s a departure from last year’s scoreless “overall impression” judging that confounded and frustrated Corning and other riders.

The good news for the powerful, poppy Corning is after injuries affected him at recent X Games, he’s feeling healthy ahead of the Sunday night lights show.

“I’ll be ready to go,” he said.