Aussie Scotty James goes for 10 straight wins as new format hits pipe at X Games

Scotty James already is in uncharted territory, and he’s got a chance to take it another step further. The Australian snowboarder is one win away from making it 10 consecutive victories in halfpipe competitions, a feat he could accomplish Thursday night at X Games Aspen.

“The pressure definitely still gets the better of me,” James said Wednesday during an introductory news conference at Buttermilk. “It would be amazing to get 10, but that’s not really why I started snowboarding. Winning and all those things and the accolades are amazing, but the biggest thing for me is to stick to my fundamentals.”

Since finishing third at the 2018 Winter Olympics, James has been nearly untouchable. He won every contest he entered during the 2018-19 season, including at X Games Aspen. The 25-year-old has four career X Games Aspen medals, including gold in 2017 and 2019. He won silver in 2018 in what was arguably the greatest X Games halfpipe competition in history, losing with a 98 to Japan’s Ayumu Hirano, who scored 99. James also won bronze in 2016.

“To be that consistent in a sport like snowboarding is just unheard of,” former pro snowboarder and current X Games host Jack Mitrani said of James. “Not even Shaun (White) won 10 straight in a row, I don’t think. Especially with where the level is at, it’s remarkable. I think he’s just really dialed in. The fundamentals of superpipe riding and just mentally, he’s far beyond.”

What could make things interesting during Thursday’s 8 p.m. men’s snowboard superpipe final at X Games Aspen is the new format. Instead of the traditional untimed runs, ESPN has opted for a jam session. The finals will include a 30-minute running clock where athletes take as many laps as they can in that time.

They are judged on overall impression instead of individual runs.

“For the halfpipe, I think it’s actually going to be really good,” James said. “You can kind of start to lose the element of what I feel snowboarding is to a lot of us, which is the opportunity to express our creativity and show people what we think is cool.”

The new format had its trial run Wednesday night during the event’s qualifier. James, as well as last year’s other podium finishers in Japan’s Yuto Totsuka (silver) and Truckee’s Danny Davis (bronze), didn’t compete as they automatically qualified to finals. This left 12 others to vie for the final five spots in Thursday’s eight-rider final.

Under the lights with snow falling in the Buttermilk superpipe, Switzerland’s Jan Scherrer finished first, holding off Steamboat’s Taylor Gold, who took second. Scherrer, a relatively veteran rider and two-time Olympian, never has won an X Games medal.

“I still don’t know yet,” Scherrer said after the qualifier about whether he likes the new format. “It’s kind of weird how we don’t see the scores, but it worked out really good for me, so I’m happy.”

The 12-man qualifier was a 45-minute jam session with each rider getting four runs. Standings were periodically updated during the contest but scores weren’t awarded.

Joining Scherrer and Gold in advancing out of the qualifier are Idaho’s Chase Josey (third), California’s Toby Miller (fourth) and Longmont’s Chase Blackwell (fifth), who was one of five X Games rookies competing Wednesday.

Riders not making finals include Ryan Wachendorfer, David Habluetzel, Andre Hoflich, Derek Livingston, Jake Pates, Joshua Bowman and Lucas Foster, listed in order of finish.