X Games Aspen: Predicting the 2021 winners of all 14 ski, snowboard events
X Games is back, but it’s far from familiar.
The 2021 iteration — the 20th straight year ESPN’s winter spectacle has been held at Buttermilk Ski Area — will be nothing but the bare bones because of the coronavirus pandemic. There will be no spectators, no motorsports and no concerts during the condensed three-day event that starts Friday and runs through Sunday.
However, the heart of the skiing and snowboarding competitions are back, with most of the sports’ biggest stars expected to compete this weekend in a truly made-for-TV showcase of talent.
As I did last year, I’ll break down the 14 major events and give my predictions, presented chronologically, on who I think will win.
I went 5 for 12 in 2020, so believe what you will. Like batters in baseball, if I’m hitting anywhere near 50% I’m doing pretty darn good.
WOMEN’S SNOWBOARD SLOPESTYLE
Projected winner: Jamie Anderson
Jamie Anderson is competing, so I’m picking Jamie Anderson to win. Again. Because that’s all she does. The 30-year-old Tahoe superstar is among the sport’s all-time greats and owns 17 total X Games medals, including six golds. Her X Games Aspen slopestyle wins came in 2007, 2008, 2012, 2013, 2018 and 2020. And she’s obviously still got it, having won the Laax Open this past week, the only major competition of the season so far. New Zealand’s Zoi Sadowski-Synnott (second in Laax) won the 2019 contest at X Games despite having entered only as an alternate after Anderson pulled out due to a crash during the big air competition. She’s also high on my podium list, along with the great Anna Gasser.
WOMEN’S SKI BIG AIR
Friday, 2 p.m.
Projected winner: Giulia Tanno
Switzerland’s Mathilde Gremaud arguably is the best in the discipline, having medaled in every X Games big air comp she’s been in with gold medals in 2017 (Norway) and 2019 (Aspen). But I’m banking on her fellow countrywoman Giulia Tanno to snag gold in 2021. Tanno has twice won X Games silver (both in Norway) but did miss last year’s event by withdrawing after suffering a concussion in practice. Defending big air champion Tess Ledeux isn’t competing this year, so there will be a new champ. Gremaud was second and Sarah Hoefflin — yet another Swiss skier who won big air gold in 2018 — was third in 2020, so a Swiss podium sweep isn’t out of the question. Do watch out for teen phenom Kelly Sildaru, however.
SNOWBOARD KNUCKLE HUCK
Friday, 6 p.m.
Projected winner: Rene Rinnekangas
Back for a third year, the quirky and fun competition has quickly become a fan favorite and likely is going to stick around. Fridtjof “Fridge” Tischendorf won the inaugural event in 2019 and is back, although 2020 winner Zeb Powell is not. Picking a 2021 winner isn’t easy, although it’s also difficult to go against Marcus Kleveland, who is largely credited with being the inspiration behind knuckle huck’s addition to X Games. That said, for no good reason at all, I’m picking Finland’s Rene Rinnekangas. The 21-year-old won Aspen slopestyle silver in 2019 and the knuckle huck winner tends to be a surprise, so Rinnekangas fits that mold. Watch out for the lone American in Dusty Henricksen, a 17-year-old X Games rookie who is rising the ranks quickly.
WOMEN’S SKI SUPERPIPE
Friday, 7 p.m.
Projected winner: Cassie Sharpe
Reigning champ Kelly Sildaru is back and I honestly think she’s become the best women’s halfpipe skier on the planet, or is at least knocking on that door. But I wonder how fresh her legs will be after also competing in big air earlier in the day. Only 18, the Estonian already has nine X Games medals — including five gold — and has competed in all three of the main ski events in the past few years. All I’m saying is don’t count her out. But my guess is Canada’s Cassie Sharpe returns to the top for now. She’s twice won X Games gold (2016 in Oslo, 2019 in Aspen) with bronzes in 2018 and 2020. Oh, and Sharpe also is the reigning Olympic gold medalist.
MEN’S SKI SUPERPIPE
Friday, 8:30 p.m.
Projected winner: Alex Ferreira
No, I’m not picking against the hometown hero. Too many people know where I live. But, to be honest, winning a third straight X Games Aspen gold medal will be a tall task for the 2018 Olympic silver medalist who, like most of his comrades, hasn’t had a chance to compete yet this season. But, to be honest, Ferreira is the best in the world when he’s on top of his game, and competing at X Games in his hometown halfpipe usually brings out his best. So a three-peat is certainly possible. His competition are all familiar foes, including two-time Olympic gold medalist David Wise of Nevada and two-time world champion Aaron Blunck from over the hill in Crested Butte.
WOMEN’S SKI SLOPESTYLE
Saturday, 11 a.m.
Projected winner: Kelly Sildaru
Three events in less than 24 hours for Sildaru? Kind of a normal X Games for her, honestly. She’s the best female slopestyle skier in the world and quite frankly it’s not close. She’s won X Games gold in slopestyle every year since winning her first in 2016, outside of the 2018 season in which she missed due to injury (that same injury also kept her out of the 2018 Olympics). American Maggie Voisin won in 2018 and also won 2020 slopestyle gold in Norway and is likely to be Sildaru’s main competition. But I’m using the word “competition” loosely, and that’s not a slight toward Voisin, who is great. Sildaru is just next-level amazing.
MEN’S SNOWBOARD SLOPESTYLE
Saturday, 12:30 p.m.
Projected winner: Max Parrot
Yeah, I know, I’m going to regret not picking Mark McMorris. The Canadian legend has won 20 medals at Winter X, winning both No. 19 and 20 at X Games Norway in 2020 to surpass the great Shaun White (more on him later) for most all time. But McMorris only finished seventh in Aspen last year (a stupid reason to pick against him, maybe). Max Parrot, a fellow Canadian who also is among the all-time greats, has 13 X Games medals and won slopestyle gold in Norway last year (this after beating cancer the previous year). Parrot has only won slopestyle gold in Aspen once, way back in 2014, but he’s due for a return to the top. Summit County’s Red Gerard, the reigning Olympic gold medalist, is the American to watch, although he only has one X Games medal to his name, a slopestyle bronze in 2020. Canada’s Darcy Sharpe is the reigning champ.
WOMEN’S SNOWBOARD BIG AIR
Saturday, 1:45 p.m.
Projected winner: Anna Gasser
The 2020 contest was a dominant Japanese podium sweep, with Miyabi Onitsuka winning gold, Kokomo Murase silver and Reira Iwabuchi bronze. All three are back and all should be among the favorites. A key note to make here is that the contest will be held on the final jump of the slopestyle course, and not the traditional big air jump. How that ultimately impacts the contest is anyone’s guess. Jamie Anderson is set to compete, but it’s worth pointing out the shocking fact that she has NEVER (I felt the capitalization was necessary) finished higher than third in an X Games big air contest. Maybe it’s her time, but I’ll go with reigning Olympic champion Anna Gasser, who probably has the most tools to work with as far as tricks. Gasser is a four-time X Games gold medalist (three in big air), but only one of those came in Aspen when she won the 2018 big air contest. Zoi Sadowski-Synnott, who also is competing in this year’s big air contest, won the only World Cup contest of the season so far.
MEN’S SKI BIG AIR
Saturday, 6 p.m.
Projected winner: Andri Ragettli
Do you bet against Henrik Harlaut here? Not if you’re smart. He’s a big air legend with six X Games gold medals to his name (plus a seventh with his 2018 Aspen slopestyle win). His last big air gold came only a year ago here in Aspen. But, if I’m to guess, the big air jump moving to the slopestyle course will make things a bit unpredictable, and a surprise winner will come at some point. I’m not sure Andri Ragettli would be a surprise, but I’ll go with it. The Swiss skier has four X Games medals, including slopestyle gold in Norway last winter. He won big air bronze in Aspen last year and I say he moves up to the podium a couple spots this year. Yes, that’s another Swiss skier on a big air podium, joining his female counterparts.
WOMEN’S SNOWBOARD SUPERPIPE
Saturday, 8 p.m.
Projected winner: Chloe Kim
Chloe Kim is back and along with Kelly Sildaru in ski slopestyle is probably the easiest winner to predict at X Games this year. The Californian sat out the entire 2019-20 season to focus on being a Princeton University student, but is back for the next Olympic push. With all due respect to the other halfpipe greats in women’s snowboarding — Kelly Clark, Gretchen Bleiler, etc. — Kim is the greatest there has ever been. She’s won Aspen gold four times (2015, 2016, 2018, 2019), with a bronze in 2017, a contest won by Elena Hight. Kim also is the reigning Olympic champion. Should we worry about rust with Kim after a long layoff? Well, she easily won the Laax Open this past weekend, her first competition in roughly two years, so I’d say not at all. Last year’s surprise winner, Spain’s Queralt Castellet, is back, as is California’s Maddie Mastro, but it’s Kim’s to lose. Or more likely hers to win big.
MEN’S SKI SLOPESTYLE
Sunday, 11 a.m.
Projected winner: Fabian Boesch
I’m really, really tempted to pick Andri Ragletti again here, but I’ll stick with my Swiss fascination and go with another. Fabian Boesch (yes, he’s also from Switzerland) had most of his early success in big air, winning Aspen gold in 2016 as an X Games rookie. But he’s come on strong in slopestyle in recent years, coming away with a pair of 2020 bronze medals in both Aspen and Norway. He finished a disappointing ninth in the lone World Cup event this season, a contest won by Ragettli, but that was way back in November. Last year’s champion Colby Stevenson is back and can’t be ignored. As an X Games rookie in 2020, the American won both slopestyle and ski knuckle huck. Was that beginner’s luck? Probably not, but a repeat seems unlikely.
MEN’S SNOWBOARD SUPERPIPE
Sunday, 6:30 p.m.
Projected winner: Scotty James
Let’s be frank: the entire talk of X Games Aspen 2021 will be about the return of Shaun White. Yes, it’s expected he’s going to compete at X Games for the first time since 2017, and for the first time in any halfpipe since winning his third Olympic gold medal in 2018. Do you really need his resume? An absurd 23 X Games medals when including skateboarding, 15 of those being golden in nature. He’s the greatest halfpipe snowboarder ever and there is nothing to debate. But he’s also 34 and hasn’t made an X Games podium since winning in 2013. What should we expect when (and if) he drops in this weekend? I’ve no idea, but I’d guess he’s not here going for second place. In his way will be Australian Scotty James, who has reigned terror over the sport since the last Olympics and has won the past two contests in Aspen. I’m calling the three-peat. His main competition, however, isn’t White, but Japan’s Yuto Totsuka, who just edged James in the Laax World Cup last weekend (White did not compete). Of note, two-time reigning Olympic silver medalist Ayumu Hirano of Japan again is absent (he won X Games gold in 2018) despite having originally been on the list of invited athletes.
MEN’S SNOWBOARD BIG AIR
Sunday, 7:45 p.m.
Projected winner: Chris Corning
I might be diving off the deep end on this one. But, my original choice to win (Mark McMorris) is now out of the competition after testing positive for COVID-19. His replacement? Yes, former Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club athlete Chris Corning. Originally just an alternate this year, Corning has been thrust into the starting lineup and has a lot to prove. He’s an absolute superstar in big air competition, but just hasn’t found any sort of luck here in Aspen since his 2018 X Games debut. He does have one X Games medal, a big air bronze in Norway 2018, but only finished ninth in Aspen 2020 (and 18th in slopestyle). His American counterpart, Dusty Henricksen, is an X Games rookie this year and might be trying to steal his thunder. So, with a chip on his shoulder, Corning breaks through. Or, more probably, Max Parrot wins a ninth X Games gold medal (or 10th if you count his predicted win in slopestyle). But I’m rolling with Corning.
SKI KNUCKLE HUCK
Sunday, 8:30 p.m.
Projected winner: Quinn Wolferman
This will be ski knuckle huck’s second year at X Games. As previously mentioned, Colby Stevenson won the inaugural event in 2020. Local skiing icon Torin Yater-Wallace literally hopped of a plane from Japan and into the comp to finish sixth, although he’s not part of the planned X Games festivities this year. This is an absurdly impossible event to predict, so I’ll go with Quinn Wolferman to give the U.S. back-to-back ski knuckle huck crowns. The Montanan is hardly a household name, which makes him perfect for winning knuckle huck. He finished third in the event last year (Henrik Harlaut was second) but doesn’t have any other truly notable career results. He is plenty familiar with Aspen, however, having competed in the Aspen Freeskiing Open at Buttermilk a handful of times.
TACAW celebrates its nascent success via its very first anniversary this weekend. This means hosting an all-day Saturday bash made up of live performances, cocktails and locally sourced fare.
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