James looking to keep up with Hirano’s triple cork in X Games Aspen superpipe
Men’s halfpipe snowboarding contest is Friday night at Buttermilk
Rumors were circulating that Scotty James had been off training in his own private halfpipe the past few months, skipping the early-season competitions to get ready for his latest X Games and Olympics runs. Reports say this is true, yes, even if the Australian snowboarding great isn’t always willing to admit it out loud.
“The halfpipe is a myth. I basically set up an airbag setup, the same as anyone else has done,” James said with a laugh on Tuesday during a pre-X Games Aspen interview with reporters via Zoom. “Nothing super crazy. So, we set one up and it was really cool. I actually spent some time on it in December. I spent a lot of time working on some new tricks and some things I really wanted to achieve.”
Where James stands in relation to his competition is anyone’s guess at this point. His only event this season has been the World Cup in Laax, Switzerland, earlier this month. James had the highest qualifying score, just edging Japan’s Ayumu Hirano, but couldn’t put down a clean run in finals and finished 11th. Hirano won the contest, sharing a podium with runner-up Jan Scherrer of Switzerland and American legend Shaun White, who essentially locked up his Olympic team spot that day.
Still, despite the Laax shortcomings, James will be among the podium favorites at both X Games Aspen on Friday — the men’s halfpipe snowboard contest is scheduled for 8:35 p.m. — and next month’s Olympics. James is a three-time X Games Aspen champion, having won in 2017, 2019 and 2020. The 27-year-old also is a three-time Olympian — Beijing will be his fourth — and is the reigning Olympic bronze medalist behind Hirano (silver) and White (gold).
“Laax was definitely a bit disappointing, so a good start to this week or a good progression from there would be to land on my feet, so that’s the plan,” James said. “X Games is always a really good benchmark for us competitively, one, because not many people really leave any stone unturned when they come to X Games. You usually get to see a lot of tricks, a lot of people’s plans, in this case before Beijing. You get to see some cards revealed, which is always nice from a competitive standpoint.”
The big question surrounding men’s halfpipe snowboarding entering both X Games and the Olympics is what it will take to win. Four years ago, at the Pyeongchang Games, both White and Hirano landed back-to-back 1440s in finals, a combo still rarely seen attempted.
This Olympic cycle all the attention has turned toward the triple cork — requiring riders to invert three times on a hit — first landed in competition by Hirano in December at Dew Tour. Hirano was also the first to land back-to-back 1440s, doing so at X Games Aspen when he won in 2018, just before the Olympics.
Hirano’s triple cork on his first hit at Dew Tour was historic and eye-opening, but he also failed to land his second hit of that run and ultimately finished fifth in a contest won by Japan’s Yuto Totsuka, the reigning X Games Aspen champion.
Next up will be to see who can land the triple cork in a scoring run and who, if anyone, can match it. The number of athletes even willing to attempt the trick over the next month will certainly remain in the low single digits.
“It was a matter of time before the triple corks would happen. Those that do ride the pipe can probably appreciate and understand that it’s definitely a beast. It’s a pretty scary trick,” James said. “Just the amplitude you have to basically get to get it around is pretty significant. As well as most of the Japanese guys that are doing them that I’m competing against are pretty short. I’m about 6-foot-2, so I’m having to lug my big, lanky body around three times, which you can imagine is also another task that I’m managing.”
The men’s halfpipe snowboarding contest at X Games on Friday night at Buttermilk will be without a handful of big stars who decided to sit out for health and safety reasons, mostly surrounding COVID-19, ahead of the Olympics. White, Totsuka and Steamboat Springs native Taylor Gold — who was the top American qualifier for the Olympic team — won’t compete, nor will the talented Swiss contingent, led by Scherrer.
Ultimately, it looks like it will be a two-man show between James and Hirano, who both plan to compete. They haven’t dueled it out at X Games since 2018 — the last time Hirano competed in ESPN’s event — with Hirano’s 99 edging James’ 98 and Oregon’s Ben Ferguson’s 95 in one of the best X Games halfpipe contests in history. What happens Friday will likely just be a warm up for the show in Beijing next month — qualifying is scheduled for Feb. 9 and finals are Feb. 11 — when the full contingent of athletes strap in.
“There is a lot of hype, there is a lot of media, there is a lot of people around and that’s also an element of the Olympic Games, which is always different from other events,” James said, comparing X Games to the Olympics. “I love this week. Like I said before, it’s got as much clout and amazing vibe and energy and atmosphere as you get at the Olympic Games, if not better.”
Hirano has shown the world he can land a triple cork in competition. So, the big question Friday will be if James can do the same. When asked on Tuesday if he has the triple cork in his quiver, he remained coy, but did make it seem he had something up his sleeve planned for the Buttermilk superpipe.
“It’s definitely a technical trick, and once you figure that out and how it works in your run, the next step is obviously implementing that to combo it into other things. I wouldn’t be surprised if this week we see some more and potentially probably landed, and then obviously into Beijing,” James said of the triple cork. “We got some triple corks done. Have I done any to snow yet? That’s the pleasure of X Games. You just got to wait and tune in.”
A look at the events at the three-day run of X Games Aspen
*times listed are MST for in-person viewing
10:30 a.m.: Women’s snowboard slopestyle
12:30 p.m.: Women’s ski big air
2:30 p.m.: Special Olympics Unified race
6 p.m.: Snowboard knuckle huck
7 p.m.: Women’s ski superpipe
8:35 p.m.: Men’s snowboard superpipe
10:30 a.m.: Women’s ski slopestyle
Noon: Men’s snowboard slopestyle
1:45 p.m.: Women’s snowboard big air
5 p.m.: Women’s snowboard superpipe
6:45 p.m.: Men’s ski big air
8 p.m.: Men’s snowboard big air
11 a.m.: Men’s ski slopestyle
5 p.m.: Ski knuckle huck
6:30 p.m.: Men’s ski superpipe