Skiers send it in big air qualifying, set stage for final day at world champs
As it was with X Games, the new big air jump at Buttermilk Ski Area has a lot of fans this week at the world championship in Aspen. The freeski qualifiers for both men and women took place Monday, and between the ladies consistently throwing down double corks and the guys making 1800s look standard, Tuesday’s final is shaping up to be one for the ages.
“It’s pretty nuts right now. The weather is pretty perfect. The jump is pretty perfect. Everyone is stomping and the level is just insane,” Utah’s Alex Hall said. “Pretty much everyone’s got one psycho trick, so the scoring and the tricks in general have been absolutely insane.”
The big air jump for X Games had long been on the opposite side of the Buttermilk superpipe from the slopestyle course, but ESPN decided to make big air the final jump of the slopestyle course this year to help minimize the event’s footprint. The results were some of the best big air competitions in recent memory, and that jump more or less stayed this week for worlds.
“The level is crazy, but we all know that. There is no holding back in qualifications, for sure,” Switzerland’s Andri Ragettli said. “Now it’s even nice weather. It’s amazing. No problem at all with the snow.”
Sweden’s Oliwer Magnusson and Norway’s Birk Ruud led each of the two heats in the men’s freeski big air qualifiers on Monday. Any score less than 90 from the nearly 50 starters wasn’t good enough to make it into the 12-man final, a possible sign of things to come.
Connecticut’s Mac Forehand (94.25) was second to Magnusson (95.25) in the first heat, followed in third by Ragettli (93), who won slopestyle gold on Saturday. Also qualifying for finals from Heat 1 were Sweden’s Jesper Tjader (92), Canada’s Edouard Therriault (91.25) and Spain’s Thibault Magnin (90.50).
“It feels super good, especially after not performing too well in slope the other day,” said the 19-year-old Forehand, who finished fourth in slopestyle at the 2019 world championships in Utah and came into the week still getting over a leg injury. He did not make slopestyle finals this year. “I’m feeling really strong. I woke up this morning and my knee felt great. Usually in the morning it’s pretty stiff and sore.”
After Ruud (96) and Hall (95.25), who went 1-2 in the second heat, Canada’s Evan McEachran was third (94.50) and Switzerland’s Kim Gubser in fourth (93). Also qualifying from Heat 2 were France’s Antoine Adelisse and Norway’s Sebastian Schjerve (91).
Notable names not to qualify for finals include Sweden’s Henrik Harlaut (88.75), the six-time X Games big air champion, Utah’s Colby Stevenson and England’s James Woods.
Switzerland’s Fabian Boesch, the reigning world champion in ski big air, and Canada’s Alex Beaulieu-Marchand, worlds bronze in 2019, did not compete. Harlaut had been the reigning worlds silver medalist.
“It’s absolutely wild,” McEachran said of the men’s qualifier on Monday. “The level is absolutely insane these days. Everyone’s got pretty much every trick in the bag, so you just got to lay it down when it matters and grab your grabs and go as big as you possibly can and try and make yourself stand out.”
France’s Tess Ledeux, the reigning world champion, led the women’s qualifier, her 95 edging Italy’s Silvia Bertagna (94) for the top spot. Russia’s Anastasia Tatalina was third (93.25), Canada’s Megan Oldham was fourth (92) and Switzerland’s Sarah Hoefflin was fifth (90).
“I had some trouble in the training. I wasn’t really landing things,” said the 34-year-old Bertagna, who is competing in her fourth world championship and finished fifth in Utah two years ago. She only scored 83.50 on her first run of qualifying before stomping her second. “The girls are doing so good. It’s crazy to have a competition with 10 or 12 doubles, but it’s so good to see and I’m so proud to be part of this.”
Qualifying sixth on Monday was China’s Eileen Gu (88.50). The 17-year-old has already won gold in halfpipe and slopestyle, the first freeskier in history with double golds at the same world championships. She also won gold in halfpipe and slopestyle at X Games Aspen in January, to go with big air bronze.
Norway’s Sandra Eie (87.25) and Russia’s Lana Prusakova (81.75) rounded out the eight female qualifiers from a field of 25 starters.
Montana’s Maggie Voisin (80) was the top American woman in qualifying, finishing ninth as the first skier to not make finals. Switzerland’s Mathilde Gremaud, a three-time X Games big air champion, including in 2021, was another surprise as she failed to put down a clean trick and qualified 24th.
Both the men’s and women’s freeski and snowboard big air finals are scheduled for Tuesday at Buttermilk, the final events of the 2021 world championships. After an off day Wednesday, the World Cup and Grand Prix will begin Thursday with the first qualifiers.