X Games Aspen 2023: Predicting who comes out on top in snowboarding
Let’s send it.
X Games is back for its 22nd consecutive year at Buttermilk Ski Area starting Friday, with many of the world’s best skiers and snowboarders set to compete in halfpipe, slopestyle, big air, and knucklehuck over three days.
The big story this year is the new ownership, with MSP Sports Capital having purchased the majority stake in the franchise from ESPN. So far, the message from the new bosses has been a desire to return X Games to its glory days — welcome back, Selema Masekela — which is more than enough reason to be hyped about this year’s contests.
As I’ve done in recent years, I’m making my predictions on who will win each contest this weekend, beginning with the snowboarders. Surely, I’ll get at least one of them correct.
Women’s Slopestyle, 11:30 a.m. Friday
Projected winner: Zoi Sadowski-Synnott
The first contest of X Games 2023 has one giant omission in Tahoe’s Jamie Anderson, the unquestioned GOAT of the discipline, who is sitting this one out due to her pregnancy. Her heir to the throne, New Zealand’s Zoi Sadowski-Synnott, is back and the unquestioned favorite. Sadowski-Synnott has won slopestyle gold in Aspen twice — first in 2019 and again last year — on top of her big air gold from 2022. She’s also the reigning Olympic gold medalist in slopestyle and won the Laax Open over the weekend. Only 21, she’s the sport’s new star.
Men’s Halfpipe, 8:30 p.m. Friday
Projected winner: Ayumu Hirano
The entire Olympic podium from Beijing is here, including the champ, Japan’s Ayumu Hirano. Hirano, who won X Games Aspen gold in 2018, dazzled last February at the Winter Games, putting down arguably the best halfpipe run ever in finals — he did it twice, actually — to hold off Australia’s Scotty James and Swiss Jan Scherrer. James did edge Hirano to win X Games Aspen gold in 2022, but my money is on Hirano this time. The halfpipe belongs to the Japanese these days — half of the eight-man field on Friday comes from the country — and Hirano is their leader. The only American slated to compete this year is Telluride’s Lucas Foster, who was fifth last year.
Women’s Halfpipe, 1:30 p.m. Saturday
Projected winner: Xuetong Cai
There is no Chloe Kim this year, with the superstar sitting out. Her absence means the contest is again wide open, and any of the eight women could realistically win. The lone American in the field is California’s Maddie Mastro, who took silver here in 2021 and probably has the most upside, but I’m going with China’s Xuetong Cai. She’s a savvy veteran with three prior medals in Aspen, including silver in 2017. Although, last year’s runner-up is back, the timeless Spaniard Queralt Castellet, so it should be a close contest. Last year’s winner, Sena Tomita, is not slated to compete, although her sister, Ruki, is in the projected lineup.
Women’s Big Air, 6:15 p.m. Saturday
Projected winner: Zoi Sadowski-Synnott
Picking Sadowski-Synnott again may be boring and a bit cowardly, but she’s simply on another level, and I’m not much of a gambler. Austria’s Anna Gasser did beat the Kiwi to win Olympic gold in February, with Japan’s Kokomo Murase winning bronze, but I’m going with Sadowski-Synnott to get Gasser back at X Games. Zoi swept the two contests last year at Buttermilk. No reason she can’t do the same this weekend.
Men’s Big Air, 8 p.m. Saturday
Projected winner: Chris Corning
I’m trying to will this win into existence for Chris Corning, who is a Colorado native who even spent a few years training here in Aspen. He has immense big air talent but has struggled at X Games since his 2018 debut, for various reasons. His lone X Games medal is a bronze from Norway in 2018, while his best Aspen finish was fourth in 2021. Maybe it finally comes together for him? His competition includes the best the sport has, like superstar Mark McMorris of Canada and Marcus Kleveland of Norway, who pound-for-pound might be the best big air snowboarder ever. The name to watch is China’s Yiming Su, the shocking gold-medal winner from the Beijing Olympics last winter who is making his X Games debut.
Men’s Slopestyle, 12:40 p.m. Sunday
Projected winner: Red Gerard
A smart bet here is always Mark McMorris, whose 21 Winter X Games medals are second to none (other than Jamie Anderson, of course, who also has 21). He won Aspen slopestyle gold in 2022 (and 2019, 2016, 2015, 2013 and 2012, but who’s counting?) so picking against the GOAT is a brave move. My confidence in Summit County’s Red Gerard to win isn’t all that high, but the 2018 Olympic gold medalist is due. The reigning Olympic champ, Max Parrot, isn’t competing at X Games, but silver medalist Yiming Su of China is. McMorris won yet another bronze in Beijing (he’s now 3 for 3 in third-place finishes at the Olympics), while Gerard just missed the Olympic podium in fourth.
Knuckle huck, 4:30 p.m. Sunday
Projected winner: Moritz Boll
Yep, knuckle huck is back. Now, let’s be real, there is no rhyme or reason to the judging or who wins, but it’s super fun and will undoubtedly lead to at least one entry into SportsCenter’s Top 10 that night. So, how do you begin to predict a winner? No idea, but this is a contest where any random Joe can legitimately win. So, why not Moritz Boll? He’s a Swiss rider making his X Games debut, so he’ll probably be pumped and want to put on a show. His competition only includes the discipline’s inspiration, Marcus Kleveland, fan favorite Zeb Powell, and Colorado’s own Jake Canter, another rider with Aspen ties. Should be an easy win for Boll, right?