Colbert: Looking back on my X Games Aspen 2021 competition predictions

Australia’s Scotty James celebrates after one of his runs during the men’s snowboard superpipe contest at X Games Aspen on Sunday, Jan. 31, 2021, at Buttermilk Ski Area. Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Predicting who will win at X Games can be easy at times, like when Jamie Anderson or Chloe Kim are competing. Otherwise, it’s just about impossible to guess, especially in a year like this one.

X Games Aspen 2021 wrapped up Sunday night after three days of intense competition, albeit without the crowds and usual excitement that comes when we’re not mired in a pandemic. Prior to the comps at Buttermilk, I made my predictions for who would win each of the 14 skiing and snowboarding events and below I’ll again own up to my attempt at being Nostradamus.

I was only 3 of 14, but all things considered, I’m content with my performance. Honestly, I’m just happy we hosted X Games at all.

X Games snowboarder Jamie Anderson poses with her medal after getting gold for the women’s snowboard slopestyle event on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Women’s snowboard slopestyle

My pick: Jamie Anderson

Actual winner: Jamie Anderson

Never bet against Jamie. She owns this event and has now won it seven times in Aspen, including the past two years. New Zealand’s Zoi Sadowski-Synnott gave her a good run and took silver, but Tahoe’s Anderson was too much. The gold gave Anderson an 18th career Winter X Games medal to, at least briefly (see big air), tie Shaun White for second most all-time.

Women’s ski big air

My pick: Giulia Tanno

Actual winner: Mathilde Gremaud

I opened my predictions piece talking about Mathilde Gremaud, the greatest athlete in women’s ski big air history. Probably should have moved forward with that thought. Giulia Tanno never even competed, one of many athletes this past weekend to not drop in because of either injury or a positive COVID-19 test at X Games. Gremaud did compete and destroyed everyone else. Wasn’t much of a contest.

Snowboard knuckle huck

My pick: Rene Rinnekangas

Actual winner: Dusty Henricksen

My good feelings toward Rene Rinnekangas didn’t quite pan out, as he didn’t actually end up competing in knuckle huck. But, to be fair, I did make a note about Dusty Henricksen in my knuckle huck predictions piece. No, I certainly didn’t expect him to have this sort of weekend (see slopestyle). But, in his very first competition, the X Games rookie brought home the coveted knuckles in a competition that also included Jamie Anderson, the first woman to compete in knuckle huck in its three years at X Games Aspen.

Women’s ski superpipe

My pick: Cassie Sharpe

Actual winner: Eileen Gu

Canada’s Cassie Sharpe did end up with silver, but didn’t get to finish the contest after a nasty crash ended her night early. This was all about X Games rookie Eileen Gu, who might have been the star of the entire weekend. Coming off a bronze in big air earlier, the native Californian who represents her mother’s homeland of China in competition won her first career X Games gold. Defending champ Kelly Sildaru pulled out of the contest after getting hurt in practice.

Men’s ski superpipe

My pick: Alex Ferreira

Actual winner: Nico Porteous

While I picked Aspen’s Alex Ferreira to win, I wasn’t overly confident. He was going for the three-peat, and that’s a lot to ask. He finished a disappointing seventh, while New Zealand’s Nico Porteous held off Crested Butte’s Aaron Blunck for the win. Porteous, who might have overtaken everyone in the ski pipe power rankings, landed back-to-back 1620s and certainly deserved that gold. Shout out to Winter Park’s Birk Irving, who won bronze for his first medal at X Games.

Eileen Gu laughs after winning the women's ski slopestyle contest at X Games Aspen on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021, at Buttermilk Ski Area. Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times.

Women’s ski slopestyle

My pick: Kelly Sildaru

Actual winner: Eileen Gu

In my mind, Estonia’s Kelly Sildaru is still the best in women’s ski slopestyle. But that injury in practice didn’t allow her to try and defend her title, paving the way for Eileen Gu’s second gold and third medal overall in three contests. It was an historic performance for an X Games rookie and has instantly shot Gu into the realm of superstars. Sildaru, 18, vs. Gu, 17, going forward is going to be incredible. They both should already be considered favorites for Olympic gold in 2022.

Men’s snowboard slopestyle

My pick: Max Parrot

Actual winner: Dusty Henricksen

Obviously my predictions were published before news that Max Parrot tested positive for COVID-19 and withdrew went public. Mark McMorris was also out because of a positive virus test, so the doors were wide open for anyone to win. That’s when the California teen Dusty Henricksen took charge to win a surprise gold as an X Games rookie, a nice addition to his previous knuckle huck win. He became the first American since Shaun White in 2009 to win the men’s snowboard slopestyle contest.

X Games rookie Dusty Henricksen holds up his gold medal after winning men’s snowboard slopestyle at Buttermilk on Sunday, Jan. 31, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Women’s snowboard big air

My pick: Anna Gasser

Actual winner: Jamie Anderson

Austria’s Anna Gasser remains very much hit and miss. She either crushes or gets crushed, it seems. Jamie Anderson did nothing but crush all at X Games this past weekend. She owned the big air competition to win her first ever big air gold at X Games. If she wasn’t the GOAT before — she was, just to be clear — there is little doubt now. Anderson, 30, finished the weekend with 19 career medals, putting her into solo second place in Winter X Games history behind only Mark McMorris’ 20 medals.

Men’s ski big air

My pick: Andri Ragettli

Actual winner: Andri Ragettli

My best pick of the weekend. I took the risk and went against big air icon Henrik Harlaut, who finished sixth, and went with the rising Swiss star in Andri Ragettli, and it paid off. He won slopestyle gold in Norway a year ago and had a few other medals to his name before this year, but this was his first gold here in Aspen. He’s only 22, so expect to see more of him going forward.

Chloe Kim waits at the top of the superpipe before her first run of the X Games women’s snowboard finals at Buttermilk on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Women’s snowboard superpipe

My pick: Chloe Kim

Actual winner: Chloe Kim

I hardly deserve a pat on the back for this one. California’s Chloe Kim is the best there is and can’t really be touched in the halfpipe, even after sitting last year out to focus on her academics. She didn’t miss a beat in her return to win her fifth Aspen gold medal. Maddie Mastro put down a solid run as well to finally win a long overdue silver medal. When Mastro finally lands her double crippler in competition she might be able to beat Kim at X Games. Maybe.

Men’s ski slopestyle

My pick: Fabian Boesch

Actual winner: Nick Goepper

Fabian Boesch finished well off the podium, so that didn’t work out. Can’t say I expected to see Indiana’s Nick Goepper on top of it. He’s hardly old at 26, but after winning the contest three straight years beginning in 2013 he’s hardly been a factor at X Games. It was reasonable to think his best days were behind him. But here he is, six years after his last Aspen win, standing on top of the podium yet again.

Men’s snowboard superpipe

My pick: Scotty James

Actual winner: Yuto Totsuka

This turned out to be one of the best battles of X Games weekend, even though there was a lot to be disappointed by as well. Shaun White’s return was delayed when he pulled out because of injury, and both Toby Miller and Chase Josey also withdrew due to injury. Only seven athletes actually competed, but the guys up top put on quite the show. Two-time reigning champ Scotty James has been unstoppable the past few years, his only downfall being that of Japan’s Yuto Totsuka. It was the biggest win of Totsuka’s career so far and he now is a bona fide star and should be among the gold medal favorites at the 2022 Winter Olympics, along with James.

Japanese snowboarder Yuto Totsuka, left, fist bumps his teammates and coach before taking his last run during the men’s superpipe finals at X Games Aspen on Sunday, Jan. 31, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Men’s snowboard big air

My pick: Chris Corning

Actual winner: Marcus Kleveland

They are calling this possibly the greatest big air contest ever. Corning, who previously trained with AVSC, landed his famed quad-cork and still only finished fourth. It was a showcase of 1800s and Norway’s Marcus Kleveland came out on top for his third X Games Aspen win. He had twice won slopestyle at Buttermilk (2017 and 2018) but this was his first big air win, after having previously finished in second place on two occasions. That was Corning’s best X Games performance to date, however.

Ski knuckle huck

My pick: Quinn Wolferman

Actual winner: Henrik Harlaut

Personally, I think Henrik Harlaut should have won ski knuckle huck in 2020 as well. Last year’s winner was then-rookie Colby Stevenson, and I went with another young American in Quinn Wolferman to win in 2021. But, Harlaut is an animal. Already a big air and slopestyle icon, he’s one of the most creative and popular skiers on the planet. This wasn’t his best X Games by any means, but he did end the weekend strong by taking home those knuckles.