Local Spence watches as Hall sticks monster jump for win
Tanner Hall expected to hear a snap, crackle or pop when he landed. Instead, it was all roar.After launching into the loftiest orbit of the day, some 70 feet off the “Millionaire” jump at the bottom of the X Games slopestyle course, the 19-year-old skier from Mammoth Mountain, Calif., somehow untwisted himself from a switch corkscrew 900 and planted both feet on the snow.When he realized he was all there, in one piece and still moving downhill rapidly, he cast up his arms like the heavyweight champion of the world and started hollering wildly.Hall’s roommate and rival, Pep Fujas, 20, promptly tackled him as he skidded to a stop amid cheers of an estimated 7,500 people Thursday, opening day of the 2003 ESPN Winter X Games at Buttermilk.Fujas, an X Games rookie, was standing in first place prior to Hall’s run, the last of the day. But he knew right then, like everyone else, what he’d just seen was gold.”That was the run, for sure. Everything he stuck superclean and after he wings the ‘gigantor’ at the bottom, fucking that was it,” Fujas said.Off to the side of the finish area wholly abuzz with the spectacle – the last four skiers had each laid down masterful runs, only to be at last topped by Hall – was Snowmass Village’s Steele Spence. He’d just witnessed his first-place score whittled down to fourth.”Even though it was only there for a second, I never thought I’d see my name in first place on the X Games screen,” said Spence, 19, a 2001 Aspen High graduate.”I missed it – so close.”Hall’s humongous air punctuated a final round of high-flying poker. After Spence’s creative run – a free-flowing dandy in which he finally conquered the “Titanic” rail, an obstacle untried by the other finalists – the stakes, and the skiers, just kept getting higher.”It starts making you think you’ve got to step it up,” said Hall, originally of Kalispell, Mont.With all the other competitors waiting at the bottom, Hall did just that, carrying frightening speed – backward, no less – into the final jump.”I knew when I went off the jump I was going too fast,” Hall said. “And I freaked out in the air – I thought my legs and everything, my back, was just gonna break.””Then I see the landing and I STOMP IT! and I feel my whole body crunch. But for some reason, everything stayed where it was. I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I didn’t get hurt!'”Fans at the base unanimously agreed on one thing – Hall flew farther than anyone else, by at least 10 or 15 feet. And that came after two competitors, Evan Raps of Truckee, Calif., and Chris Booth of Sydney, Australia, crashed in succession trying to land off the “Millionaire” in the finals. Both suffered ACL knee injuries, according to an X Games spokesperson.Hall’s score of 93.67, out of a possible 100, knocked Fujas into second (91) and Jon Olsson of Are, Sweden, into third (90). Spence finished narrowly off the podium in fourth (89.67).On Wednesday, the eve of the skiing slopestyle contest, Chris Davenport of Old Snowmass, an X Games competitor turned announcer, had predicted the “Millionaire” jump would separate the field.”Whoever wins this contest is gonna do something huge off this and stomp the shit out of it,” Davenport said.For Spence, who earned a spot in the X Games at a last-chance qualifier for the second year in a row (Saturday in Breckenridge, most recently), the top-five result means he’s got an automatic invitation back. Last year, he was seventh.”I was so stoked I stomped that [Titanic] rail,” Spence said. “I wanted to stick all my tricks, really, but I wanted that big trapezoid rail.”Spence tried to slide the imposing rail in both qualifying runs and again in the first run of the best-of-two finals. Each time, it appeared he lacked the sufficient momentum to propel him up its sloped side to the flat peak about 12 feet off the snow. And the third time, he bailed off it early to save the trick, and ended up touching down his right hip and scoring poorly.But on the last run, Spence’s skateboarderlike perseverance paid off. He submitted and slid the iron beast in a nonchalant glide, then hopped off the end, casual-style.Watching on a giant screen TV at the base, the hometown crowd erupted as Spence, energized by the accomplishment, then proceeded to throw a corkscrew 540 off the next-to-last jump, a huge misty 900 off the Millionaire. When he landed it switch, or backward, the place exploded all over again.”When I greased [Titanic], I knew right away I had a superdope run. I couldn’t be happier with it, to tell you the truth,” he said.At the top, the three remaining skiers – Fujas, Olsson and Hall – were listening.”Everybody up there was like, ‘Oh, boy, that’s gotta be first, everybody down there’s ecstatic, getting hysterical,'” said Fujas. “Steele definitely escalated things.”Hall remains the only X Games skiing slopestyle champion in history – since the event was just introduced at Buttermilk last year.The champ and Fujas drove to Aspen from Mammoth together, stopping over at an industry trade show in Las Vegas before making an overnight push to get here at 5 a.m. Wednesday, a few hours before the slopestyle practice session.So now Hall finds the skier closest on his tail is also one of the people closest to him, period. Fujas is not only Hall’s roommate, but the skier he used to bring along to contests, using his own influence to get him on the start list.”Now he’s better than I am,” Hall said of Fujas, who is originally from Ashland, Ore. “It’s funny, but that’s the way it works.”I’m just psyched that I found someone that I can feed my energy off, because Pep never gives me any shit, never gives nobody shit. He’s so easygoing and he’s good at skiing. He’s just the perfect guy to be around.”Good thing, because before the duo piles back into a car headed for California, they’ll be competing against each other again Saturday in the skiing superpipe contest, Day Three of the X Games.”One, two. That’s how we like it,” said Hall. “People are in trouble.”
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