It’s showtime for skiing’s tricksters
Aspen Times Staff Writer
It’s not unlike a science fair, these X Games.
An annual gathering of the best and brightest, they come from around the globe with high-flying hypotheses. Each experiment could fall on its face, literally, or it could prove the next, new theorem, recast the paradigm of the slopes, and all with the world as a stage.
That’s why Tanner Hall is here, packing a top secret project in an already bursting bag of tricks.
Hall, 19, of Mammoth Mountain, Calif., will take up the defense of his 2002 Winter X Games slopestyle gold medal today at Buttermilk, day one of the 2003 Games. Slopestyle practice runs from 9-11 a.m., with the 10-man finals set for 12:30-1:30 p.m.
So you say you’ve got a new trick, Tanner?
“Oh, yeah,” he replies with a broad grin.
“Not a chance. But you’ll see.”
“It wasn’t showing up in practice today, but tomorrow, definitely. You come to a place like this to show what you’ve trained for all year. Then you hope it pays off for you.”
Hall and the 19 other skiing slopestyle competitors tested the course yesterday in the first practice day of the games. Hall made 10 runs down the course, a choose-your-own-adventure with equal parts big jumps and rails.
Today, he’ll match up against rival, friend and former roommate C.R. Johnson of Truckee, Calif., among other elite tricksters. Last year, Hall edged Johnson for the gold, but repeating isn’t going to be easy.
“My skiing’s on and I’m gonna be ready. People better be on their game because they’re gonna be having some time with me and C.R.,” Hall said.
“C.R.’s my best friend, but I never know what that kid does. He’s too unpredictable. But I kinda know, I know his bread and butter, which helps, but he knows mine too, so we both know what we gotta do to do well.”
Hall and Johnson are among a handful of skiers who will compete in both slopestyle and halfpipe. The others include X Games rookie Pep Fujas, Hall’s current roommate in Mammoth; Phil Belanger, also of Mammoth; Rory Bushfield of Balzac, Ariz.; Jon Olsson of Sweden; Boyd Easley of Truckee, Calif.; and Candide Thovex of France.
Add Evan Raps to the list (Johnson’s roommate from Truckee), along with Snowmass Village native Steele Spence, and you’ve got a who’s who list of the top freeskiers in the world.
“It was quite a feat for me to get here,” said Fujas, 20, who was a spectator at Buttermilk last year. “But I’m psyched to be here with all my buddies, all the guys that I ride with and now I’ll be competing against.”
Steele Spence, 19, will make his second X Games appearance today. Like last year, Spence squeaked into the field with a big showing at a last-chance qualifier. And that was just last Saturday in Breckenridge.
“For me, it’s gonna be three rails to start, then straight into three jumps. The first one’s a step down, second one’s a straight table and the third one’s the big gap jump; then a rail and a rail, and then the big kicker at the bottom,” he said of his planned line.
“The jumps were a little different from what I’m used to, so it took me a little while to start dialing in my tricks and everything, but I feel allright.”
Unlike his rivals, Spence will benefit from a night’s rest in his own bed in Snowmass Village.
“I do have that going for me,” he said. “And I know I’ll have the sickest cheering section too.”
Ella Johnson gave thought to the risk when she decided to close out her senior year at Glenwood Springs High School playing soccer and make a bid for another shot at the Class 4A state track meet podium finish.
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