Skiers raise halfpipe bar – way up
Aspen Times Staff Writer
Snowboarders stole the halfpipe from skateboarders, then rode it all the way to the Olympics.
But on Saturday in the X Games halfpipe at Buttermilk, skiers were the ones doing the thieving. The day after the marquee snowboarding halfpipe events, the skiers moved in and staged a pioneering pipe session that flew, literally, in the face of snowboarders and, for that matter, skateboarders.
In just the second skiing halfpipe contest in Winter X Games history, skiers were head and shoulders above their snowboarding counterparts, sometimes topping out at 20 feet above the deck (and 35 feet off the bottom of the pipe).
Tanner Hall of Mammoth Mountain, Calif., the silver medalist, put it this way:
“Oh my God, dude, it was the sickest day of halfpipe skiing there has ever been.”
Candide Thovex of La Clusaz, France, captured the gold medal with a run that reached a splendid crescendo each and every hit – a flair, tailgrab, corked 9, tailgrab ally-oop and an inverted 720.
At his loftiest apex, Thovex, 20, was getting at least five more feet of air, or amplitude, than the top snowboarders the day before.
And that wasn’t even the highest scoring run of the day. That honor belonged to C.R. Johnson of Truckee, Calif.
Johnson’s second qualifying run was only four hits – compared to six or eight for the snowboarders, five or six for the other skiers – but each hit was gigantic, about 20 feet off the deck and about 30 feet down the 400-foot superpipe.
He started with two straight, grab-style airs, then finished with back-to-back inverted spins, the last of which he landed backward, or switch.
Johnson qualified for the eight-man finals in first place with a score of 96.33, out of a possible 100, ahead of Thovex with a 93. Unfortunately for Johnson, the qualifying scores didn’t transfer to the best-of-two finals.
In the finals, Johnson couldn’t piece the run together. But it wasn’t for lack of trying.
On his first attempt in the finals, Johnson came crashing down on top of the deck while trying to pull a 720 – OUCH! – a testament to the precipitous nature of this endeavor. On his second and final run, Johnson failed to land one trick cleanly, which cut into the flow of his insanely fast run and cost him in the judges’ eyes.
Thovex’s second score of 96 carried the day, while Hall finished second (90.33) two days after winning gold in skiing slopestyle (also in its second year at the Winter X Games). Jon Olsson of Are, Sweden, was third (89.67).
Johnson finished fourth (86.67), off the podium, but not without earning the esteem of his rivals, many of whom are close friends.
“I called it before it went down, that the pipe level for skiing was going to go way up. And it definitely did,” Johnson said.
Johnson said he was disappointed not to medal, in halfpipe or the slopestyle event earlier, but proud, nevertheless, simply to have taken part in the bar-raising session.
“I think the biggest hits today were probably in the high teens,” he continued with a conservative estimate. “I think the pipe conditions might have been different [for the snowboarding events]. I don’t know what was happening, but I did notice that. Skiing’s never really been there before, so it’s good to see it go there today.
“It is disappointing because I came here with expectations of doing really well. But I almost think that’s why I might not have done well. I was like, ‘OK, I wanna do well at the X Games; I don’t care how I ski as long as I do well.’ But it really should have been, ‘I don’t care how I do as long as I ski well.’
“But more than anything, I like to see it progress just so we can say that we represented in pipe well, that skiing can hold it down now. And I’m happy to be part of that progression – that’s why I push hard for the sport, why I try to keep getting better.”
Meanwhile, Thovex, the superpipe champion who finished fifth on Thursday in skiing slopestyle, was delighted with the result.
When asked how high he was soaring out of the pipe, the Frenchman replied:
“I don’t know. I didn’t see it. I want to see it, though. You don’t really know when you’re up there. But I didn’t really feel higher than the other guys because I couldn’t see me.
“I just hope we’re gonna have some good pipes like this in France soon because now we have to come to the U.S. to ride,” Thovex added.
[Tim Mutrie’s e-mail address is email@example.com]
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