Predicting the ski and snowboard winners for X Games Aspen 2020
And so it begins. Arguably the greatest spectacle in winter sports makes its return to Aspen and Buttermilk this week, where some dreams will be made and others destroyed all in the span of four days. X Games has long been seen as the pinnacle of the sport — to some, even more so than the Olympics — and Aspen has been its home since 2002.
The 2020 event, which is the first year of a new five-year contract between ESPN and Aspen Skiing Co. to keep it around a bit longer, will again have plenty of star power, even with names like Shaun White and Chloe Kim not competing. Trying to predict who will win all 12 of the major skiing and snowboarding competitions is simply impossible, but let’s give it a go anyway.
With apologies to my friend Alex Ferreira, who I don’t think will repeat as the men’s ski pipe champion, here’s my attempt at playing Nostradamus for X Games Aspen 2020.
Men’s snowboard superpipe, Thursday 8 p.m.
Projected winner: Scotty James
One of the most popular contests will also be among the first. Australian Scotty James is currently the best halfpipe snowboarder in the world not named Shaun White or Ayumu Hirano. The last time those three competed in the same event was the 2018 Winter Olympics, won by White. The other two ran off to skateboard, leaving James relatively unchallenged last winter. Who can take down the reigning X Games Aspen gold medalist in 2020? Maybe last year’s silver medalist Yuto Totsuka of Japan or White’s young protégé, Toby Miller. Maybe. White and Hirano are again MIA, so James likely rolls to his third gold medal at Buttermilk.
Women’s snowboard big air, Thursday 9 p.m.
Projected winner: Zoi Sadowski-Synnott
The New Zealand teenager is a rising star, having won slopestyle gold last winter to go with silver in big air. Defending champion Laurie Blouin is back, as is superstar Jamie Anderson. Believe it or not, of Anderson’s 16 career X Games medals (which is only two behind Shaun White’s all-time record), only five are gold and all five were in slopestyle. As good as Anderson is, she’s never even won big air silver. Not that I’m trying to discredit her skills — she’ll probably win that elusive big air gold this year. Although, I’ll stick with the Kiwi teenager on Thursday night.
Women’s ski big air, Friday 6:30 p.m.
Projected winner: Kelly Sildaru
Hopefully you know who Kelly Sildaru is by now, because she’s probably the best X Games skier on the planet these days. Only 17, the star from Estonia already has seven X Games medals, including three gold (all in slopestyle). Not many athletes are a true force in all three of the main events, but Sildaru is one. Last winter, she won bronze in big air to go with halfpipe silver and slopestyle gold. Mathilde Gremaud won big air gold in 2019, with Johanne Killi winning silver. So Sildaru has challengers, but I expect big things from her this week and her first big air gold will be the start.
Men’s ski big air, Friday 8:35 p.m.
Projected winner: Henrik Harlaut
Hard to bet against the Swedish legend, who has won six X Games gold medals, including five in big air. He won big air gold in Aspen in 2013, 2014 and 2018. He also won slopestyle gold in 2018. Last year’s trip to Aspen wasn’t his best, taking fourth in slopestyle and sixth in big air, but I say he bounces back in 2020. Norway’s Birk Ruud, last year’s Aspen big air gold medalist, is back, as is Alex Hall, who won slopestyle gold in 2019. My dark horse is Canada’s Evan McEachran, who was fourth in big air last year.
Women’s snowboard slopestyle, Saturday 11 a.m.
Projected winner: Anna Gasser
A small field, but one that should be super competitive. Austria’s Gasser, the reigning Olympic big air champion, has never won slopestyle gold in Aspen, although she did win in Norway in 2017. Her only Aspen gold came in big air in 2018. Reigning X Games Aspen champion Zoi Sadowski-Synnott is back, as is 2019 silver medalist Hailey Langland and bronze medalist Enni Rukajarvi. Oh, and Jamie Anderson will compete. It’s really a coin flip, but Gasser finally gets her slopestyle gold in Aspen, holding off Anderson and Langland.
Men’s ski slopestyle, Saturday 12:30 p.m.
Projected winner: Alex Beaulieu-Marchand
The French-Canadian, otherwise known as ABM, is due for gold in Aspen. He won silver here for the first time in 2019 (he also took silver in big air last winter) and has won a combined five Winter X Games medals. Reigning X Games Aspen champ Alex Hall is back, as is crowd favorite Henrik Harlaut, who won slopestyle gold in 2018. This should be another tightly contested competition, but it’ll be ABM taking the crown in 2020.
Men’s snowboard slopestyle, Saturday 1:45 p.m.
Projected winner: Mark McMorris
Not the most original pick, but it’s Mark McMorris. The Canadian has won slopestyle gold in Aspen five times, including in 2019. His 17 total Winter X Games medals are tied for second most all time and he is one win away from matching Shaun White’s all-time record of 18 medals. I say he gets it, although McMorris has an insane amount of competition, including reigning Olympic gold medalist Red Gerard, who shockingly doesn’t have an X Games medal to his name yet. I say Gerard gets on the podium, but McMorris won’t let him have gold. Not this year.
Women’s ski superpipe, Saturday 6:30 p.m.
Projected winner: Kelly Sildaru
Sildaru won silver in the halfpipe in 2019, barely falling short of Canada’s Cassie Sharpe. I say they finish 1-2 again in 2020, but this time it’s Sildaru who wins. Keep in mind, Sildaru is still relatively new to the halfpipe. Her background is in slopestyle and big air; she only really started competing in the pipe last season, and she nearly took down Sharpe, who is the 2018 Olympic gold medalist. The American to cheer for is Brita Sigourney, who has twice won silver, including in 2018. Her other came way back in 2011, making her one of the savvy veterans. But seriously, Sildaru’s destiny is golden. The Estonian gets her second win of the week on Saturday.
Men’s snowboard big air, Saturday 8 p.m.
Projected winner: Chris Corning
The former Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club athlete has become a bona fide superstar in big air with his quad-cork 1800 as his staple trick. There simply isn’t much the Silverthorne-based rider hasn’t won in his young career outside of the Olympics and X Games. Health issues got in his way the past two years here in Aspen, but he’s due and unstoppable when he can land his runs. Of course, Mark McMorris and Max Parrot, maybe the two best big air athletes ever, are breathing down his neck. Absent is last year’s gold medalist, Takeru Otsuka of Japan, but that hardly makes it easy for Corning. Still, I think it finally comes together for him on Saturday night. Although, I wouldn’t be mad if Parrot won. The guy defeated cancer last year, so it would make for a great story.
Women’s snowboard superpipe, Saturday 8:45 p.m.
Projected winner: Maddie Mastro
A small field with no Chloe Kim, who is sitting out the season to focus on her academic studies at Princeton, California’s Maddie Mastro might roll to an easy gold. She’s the only one who has pushed Kim in recent years and should be on her way to that first X Games gold medal. Mastro has one previous medal at X Games, a bronze in 2018, and was a disappointing sixth in 2019. Cai Xuetong, Queralt Castellet and Arielle Gold will challenge for the top spot, but they won’t catch Mastro if she’s on point. And with Kim out, Mastro needs to
be on point this week as winning gold will become nearly impossible again when Kim returns.
Women’s ski slopestyle, Sunday 12 p.m.
Projected winner: Kelly Sildaru
OK, reality is the chances of Sildaru sweeping all three events is pretty slim. If she does, it would unquestionably go down as one of the greatest X Games feats ever. Maybe you don’t remember last year’s contest, but Sildaru’s three slopestyle runs during finals scored 94.33, 96.66 and 99. The only way Sildaru avoids winning her fourth X Games Aspen gold medal in the discipline — and third gold in three days — is if she lets someone else win. Sarah Hoefflin was second and Maggie Voisin third in 2019, and both are back, but Sildaru is simply on another level. She’s going to dominate the sport for a long, long time.
Men’s ski superpipe, Sunday 7 p.m.
Projected winner: Aaron Blunck
I’d really like to say Aspen’s Alex Ferreira repeats after winning his first X Games gold medal a year ago, but I’m not sure it’ll happen. Blunck, of Crested Butte, won Aspen gold in 2017 and is the two-time reigning world champion. My dark horse pick is Winter Park’s Birk Irving, who is on a tear this season. Of course, two-time Olympic gold medalist David Wise can never be counted out, nor can rising New Zealand teenager Nico Porteous. But my pick is Blu … you know what, I can’t pick against Alex. I changed my mind. The Aspen “Ferrari” goes back-to-back.