Porteous again overcomes Blunck to win second straight X Games ski pipe crown
Aspen’s Alex Ferreira was a late scratch from the contest as he wanted to stay healthy ahead of the Olympics
Last year, Nico Porteous won X Games Aspen gold with his back-to-back 1620s in the halfpipe, something no one had ever done before.
But on Sunday night in his title defense in the Buttermilk Ski Area superpipe, simply putting down back-to-back 16s wasn’t enough to impress the judges, and Porteous found himself sitting in third as he dropped into his final run in the men’s halfpipe skiing final.
“I just wanted to leave everything out there, you know?” Porteous said. “It was just sort of a weird night. I’ve never really had to battle with myself that much. I really wanted to do that switch 14, and it didn’t quite go the way I wanted it to first run. So I switched up the plan and messed it up again on the third run, but to come back and do it all for the first time on the fourth, that’s what dreams are made of.”
Porteous, the 20-year-old halfpipe sensation from New Zealand, again brought out the 16s for his fourth and final run on Sunday — the final run of X Games weekend, in fact — and it all come together in dream-like fashion for the Kiwi.
His dazzling run vaulted him over bronze medalist David Wise and silver medalist Aaron Blunck to secure back-to-back X Games Aspen gold medals. The 2021 contest also came down to Porteous and Blunck, with similar results.
“The level of skiing right now is so high. And I say this every time, but it truly is just going up and up and up and up,” Porteous said. “You can’t control it. Really, really shoutout to those boys, because they are really pushing the sport.”
Like many other contests of X Games weekend, Sunday’s halfpipe skiing final was missing a few key names who opted out because of COVID-19 concerns ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics, which start Feb. 4 in China. This included Aspen’s Alex Ferreira, the reigning Olympic silver medalist and two-time X Games Aspen champion (2019, 2020), who pulled his name out of the mix on Sunday. ESPN PR said Ferreira wanted to rest and stay healthy ahead of his second Olympic appearance.
Still, the level of skiing that remained Sunday was at an all-time high.
“Honestly, in this day and age in the halfpipe, it’s not just me, Nico and Alex, it’s everyone in the field,” Blunck said. “Everybody out there could win at any given point. So it’s not just the three of us. Yeah, we’ve had good seasons in the last couple of years, but it’s everybody out there right now. Everybody is killing it, and it’s just so sick to be a part of such a rad sport and such a rad group of guys. It’s a family.”
Behind Blunck and Wise — the two-time reigning Olympic gold medalist and former X Games champion — Canada’s Noah Bowman finished fourth and Winter Park’s Birk Irving was fifth. In sixth was Oregon’s Hunter Hess, followed by New Zealand’s Miguel Porteous, Nico’s brother, in seventh. New Zealand’s Ben Harrington was eighth and Great Britain’s Gus Kenworthy was ninth in the nine-skier field.
While Kenworthy struggled with his final hit and could never really put together a clean run, he did get plenty of recognition from the announcers and fans alike after his final run. It wasn’t just the final run of his competition, but of his X Games halfpipe career, as the Telluride-raised freeskier plans to retire after next month’s Olympics, meaning that was likely his final X Games contest.
Kenworthy, one of the first openly gay athletes in extreme sports history, was a five-time X Games medalist and 2014 Olympic silver medalist in slopestyle.
With everyone expected to be ready to compete in February’s Olympic Games, the next competition should be as loaded as it’s ever been.
Photos: Men’s halfpipe skiing final
“What brought me here was the fact that it was X Games. It’s the prestige of this event. The crowd being back this year and the halfpipe being perfect, it’s really hard to not come to X Games,” Porteous said of not skipping X Games ahead of the Olympics. “Don’t really have much left, to be honest. That’s the best I’ve skied in my life.”
Halfpipe skiing only made its Olympic debut in 2014, with Nevada’s Wise winning the contest in Sochi, sharing the podium with Canada’s Mike Riddle (silver) and France’s Kevin Rolland (bronze). In 2018, Wise again won gold, holding off Ferreira (silver) and Nico Porteous (bronze). Blunck competed in both Olympics as well, finishing exactly seventh each time.
Blunck, the 25-year-old from Crested Butte, has a different mindset than his past two trips to the Games. He nearly died in October 2020 after hitting the lip of a Swiss halfpipe during a training session that left him with a lacerated kidney and broken pelvis. His remarkably quick return to competition brought with it a new joy for life and for skiing.
“At this point, it’s not about the contests and the results. It’s about having fun to me. I feel like I’ve done all that I’ve ever set out to do in my life, so going into the Olympics I just want to keep enjoying skiing,” said Blunck, who is also newly married. “Just being able to all of a sudden in these contests wake up and channel this relaxing energy, it’s weird. I’m really thankful for it, and I think it’s just part of realizing how thankful I am to ski every single day.”
The 2022 U.S. men’s Olympic halfpipe ski team will consist of Blunck, Wise, Ferreira and Irving. Basalt’s Hanna Faulhaber, who won bronze on Friday in her X Games debut, is on the U.S. women’s Olympic halfpipe ski team alongside Brita Sigourney, Devin Logan and Carly Margulies.
A local kid got on the X Games Aspen podium on Sunday night, but it wasn’t the one most people expected. Even Jon Sallinen didn’t think he’d be taking home a medal.