X Games ski big air: Henrik Harlaut wins 12th X Games ski medal; rising French star Tess Ledeux gets first gold

Antonio Olivero
Summit Daily News
X Games skier Henrik Harlaut competes in the men’s ski big air event on Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. Harlaut took home the gold.
Dale Pistole/Special to the The Aspen Times

At the end of the men’s ski big air final Friday night, the fans at Buttermilk Ski Area waited eagerly to see if defending champion Birk Ruud had done enough on the final jump of the night to beat Henrik Harlaut. After Ruud landed a forward triple-cork 1800, the X Games announcers said: “Look at this?” The crowd, on the tips of their ski boots, responded, in unison: “look at what?”

Moments later, it flashed on the big screen that Harlaut was the champion, followed by the Norwegian Ruud with the silver medal and Swiss skier Andri Ragettli with bronze. At the sight of the win, which gave the popular Swedish superstar Harlaut a record 12th X Games ski medal, the 28-year-old veteran threw his skis, poles and gear to the snow in celebration. Once he was corralled by X Games reporter Jon “DC” Oetken of Breckenridge, Harlaut summed up another magical night in his transcendent career.

“For sure the best jumping I’ve ever done in my whole life,” Harlaut said, “and I did two or three jumps that I’ve never done before.”

A few minutes later, Harlaut elaborated on what made his night so special. In typical Harlaut fashion, the Swede said the “phattest” trick of the night was his switch dub bio 1620. The trick required him to execute two bio flips, a difficult forward-leaning cork that looks super stylish, landing backward.

“I thought about it for a while,” Harlaut said of the trick, “and I did the first two switch 16(20)s eleven years ago. And I haven’t done one since or tried one since. Just pulled it out when it counted. Tweaked it a little bit, added a little bit of sausage flavor to it.”

During his moment in the spotlight, Harlaut deferred credit to the ski legend who inspired him, Tanner Hall, when asked about surpassing the legend Hall’s record. But, make no mistake, Harlaut added the latest chapter to his own legendary story Friday night.

“Tanner is the greatest of all time,” Harlaut said. “He’s for sure the best. I don’t know if it really counts, because we have more chances to get medals. Tanner would dominate back to back to back. Shout out to ski boss. Thank you for the inspiration.”

In the women’s ski big air final, hosted two hours earlier, Tess Ledeux rode a pair of 1260-degree rotations to her first X Games gold medal. A year after the 18-year-old rising French star won bronze on the X Games big air jump, Ledeux had a repeat championship performance from her gold-medal performance at last winter’s big air competition at the FIS World Championships in Park City, Utah.

About 3 minutes into the Friday night’s 25-minute jam format, Ledeux put the competition on notice early with a double-cork 1260 with a mute grab, landing the trick switch, or backward, to impress the judges. Then at 16:50 left in the jam, Ledeux, in third place, dropped in switch and very cleanly landed backward a switch 1080, which helped push her to the top spot.

At about the halfway point of the competition, with 11:50 remaining, Ledeux continued to show off her switch skills, landing another 1080 backward, this time rotating over her right shoulder. Five minutes later, Ledeux sewed up the competition by landing a switch leftside 1260, swiftly getting around the final 180 degrees on a trick she’d never landed before.

In the end, Ledeux held on as Estonian teen star Kelly Sildaru dropped in and landed a switch 1260 with 12 seconds left in the competition. Then, with time expired, last year’s big air winner Mathilde Gremaud of Switzerland landed a rightside 1080 but it was not enough to bump her from second to above Ledeux. Her attempt prior, Gremaud landed a double-cork 1260 with two grabs — a safety grab and a tail grab — to get in that silver medal position. The 2018 big air gold medalist, Sarah Hoefflin of Switzerland, took the bronze medal while Sildaru finished fourth and American Maggie Voisin finished fifth.

“I think it’s my dub 12 and my switch 12, for sure,” Ledeux said of what she thought led her to victory. “It’s my first time to land my switch 12, just amazing.”