X Games slopestyle course, conditions challenging in men’s snowboard qualifier | AspenTimes.com

X Games slopestyle course, conditions challenging in men’s snowboard qualifier

Californian Judd Henkes didn’t mince words when describing the daunting challenge he and the 15 other slopestyle snowboarders faced Thursday at X Games Aspen. Henkes, Red Gerard and most other riders felt the long slopestyle course at Buttermilk Ski Area was the most challenging they’d ever ridden. On top of that, warmth and fresh snow made the course slow, driving up the difficulty.

“So take that challenging course and double that,” Henkes said, “cause of these conditions.”

Moments earlier, the 18-year-old rising American star Henkes hugged his close friend, Red Gerard of Summit County. Gerard had also just tamed the bear of a course, finishing in third behind Henkes and their close friend and top qualifier Brock Crouch.

“That’s how the USA does! Top three!” an excited Henkes said to a smiling Gerard, who replied by putting up three fingers to signify the young trio’s success on the day.

For Crouch, a 20-year-old from Mammoth Mountain, snowboarding Thursday’s difficult conditions turned into a dream. Just two years ago, Crouch nearly died when he was heli-boarding backcountry in Whistler, Canada. After surviving, Crouch spent last winter, with Gerard by his side, improving his backcountry snow and avalanche safety and skills. Snowboarding and freeski legends like Michelle Parker and Danny Davis took the young duo under their wings, nursing Crouch’s confidence before he returned to the competition circuit this year.

“It’s been a crazy road in my career,” Crouch said. “I’ve gotten in an avalanche and pretty much was dead and now it’s pretty cool to be back on top of qualifying in X Games.”

On Thursday, Crouch was the star of the show as a loaded slopestyle field meant many stars failing to qualify through. That included names like Stale Sandbech, Max Parrot and Chris Corning.

Crouch laced lines that featured several approaches through the rail sections and a soaring triple cork (three inversions).

Despite the controlled chaos of the new slopestyle jam format — which didn’t award scores, rather, ranking and re-ordering snowboarders after each run — Crouch didn’t pay the swirling storm around him much attention.

“Every time I drop into a course,” Crouch said, “I try to ask myself, ‘Dude, you know how many times you’ve ridden a rail, done a jump?’ I was just trying to focus on myself.”

Crouch, Henkes and Gerard will be joined in the final by Canadian Darcy Sharpe and Swede Sven Thorgren. That fivesome will join automatic qualifiers, last year’s podium placers Mark McMorris, Mons Roisland and Rene Rinnekangas. The men’s snowboard slopestyle final is scheduled for Saturday at 1:45 p.m.

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