Insider, Outside: Flat light rules the men’s X Games slopestyle final

Insider, Outside: Flat light rules the men’s X Games slopestyle final

FREESKIER’s Senior Contributor, Nate Abbott, comments on 2015 X Games, from bed, on drugs, following ACL surgery.

On the 6th day, God created skiing. At 11 a.m., Adam did a daffy. At 11:15 a.m. Eve did the first 360. And by noon that day people were complaining about judging. The great thing about slopestyle is the infinite variety of tricks. This X Games course has somewhere beyond 20 features, depending on the combos of rails and jibs. And with switch, forward, left, right, flips, grinds, etc., the minutiae that determine the “best” run are tough to parse.

Jacob Wester did a wonderful breakdown of how he would have scored the prelims, available here, after he took the time to re-watch all the runs. There’s a problem with that though. I specifically asked someone privy to the judging process about Øystein Bråten’s run, as on my first watch I thought he got screwed. The response was this: “Øystein had a really bad hand drag on the first jump. They [showed a] GoPro follow cam for his TV coverage, so no one saw it [except the judges]. We’ve got replays with like 8 different camera angles.”

That there is why a) GoPro edits are so popular (snow flying, spinning, skiing away… it looked kind of bouncy, but rad) and b) a POV-cam-skier will never be a star, in my eyes, until they have a real film edit or contest result. ESPN frequently goes to different angles like this, that may be more exciting for the average viewer while detracting from the discerning viewers’ ability to see the details of the skiing. The most obvious of these are the halfpipe follow-cams, shot from the bottom of the pipe, that show a skier in the sky without any context or way to determine how high the skier is above the lip. I particularly enjoyed when the in-air follow cam guy smashed his GoPro after landing behind Gus Kenworthy on the final jump today.

As the broadcast starts, I am watching on ESPN3’s Spanish language stream because the TV broadcast is on ABC. I don’t have TV (thanks for the login, mom and dad!) so no listening to Luke Van Valin for me. The big shock, is that ABM is out after injuring his knee, replaced by Nick Goepper. This is a bummer because ABM is a skier who provides diversity with his style, while also having the banger tricks to compete for a podium spot. Goepper drops first, grabs mute, grabs japan, and gets a 93.66. First run, and spoiler alert, the winning run. It is well deserved, if not as “cool” as ABM.

At this point I start researching the rules on alternates, with one example stuck in my mind of an athlete, one spot out of the selection, being denied a spot in finals after another athlete declined to start finals due to injury. Trennon Paynter, Canadian halfpipe coach, eventually clears things up for me.

After the event, Gus Kenworthy expressed his frustration that Goepper didn’t acknowledge that ABM’s injury was the only thing that allowed him to compete and three-peat.

Which totally made me lulz. More hate and more battles and more nasty looks. But sometimes you need to just shake it off.


[Editor’s note: Goepper did indeed acknowledge the situation with ABM in a post-event press conference, prior to Gus’ tweet. Goepper wished ABM all the best with his injury, as well.]

Back to the skiing, Henrik Harlaut goes down super hard, catching an edge as he under-rotates on a nose butter triple flip. Haunting scenes as he rolls down the landing unconscious. The stream cuts to commercial after a long, scary pause, and still there is no ski patrol near the unconscious skier. Lost in the banks of video games, crates of snack food, massages, sponsorships and prize money that await competitors at X Games is sometimes the fact that this shit is really dangerous. Although the rate of injury and severity differs based on event, conditions, preparation and sometimes even just luck, a covenant should be made between the organizers and the athletes: “we’re here for you.” That was not the case here.

Thankfully, Henny was sitting up after an extended break and quickly I caught sight of the trademark smile, even as he was loaded onto a sled and headed to the hospital. Let’s hope that Henrik heals up fast and that health professionals are positioned better going forward.

Twitter soon was in an uproar. The quick-to-proclaim saw Joss Christensen, golden boy, stomp his switch triple on the final jump. But the judges took into account that on the rail garden—the third feature—he was a bit squirrely, and gave him a 90.66 for second place.

Over the balance of the contest, there were two runs over 90 points, just four in the 80s and three in the 70s. Gus Kenworthy nearly got involved in the higher tier of scores, going down on his final trick twice. Bobby Brown also was knocking on the door, just missing the landing on a triple fourteen closer on his second run before pulling back to stick a clean run capped off by a final-jump dub to lock in fourth.

Gus’ second run is a clear example of why today’s flat light is so difficult to ski in. On the final jump he comes out of his trick a little too high. With no depth perception he’s left reaching for the ground by feel, not a high-percentage way to stick landings.

Alex Bellemare, does the opposite of Gus on his final jump of round two, barely getting his left dub 12 around. Although the amplitude and landing probably hurt his score, it is easier to see the knuckle in flat light than it is to get your bearings 15 feet up and halfway down the landing. Not a perfect run, but enough for third and to impress Matt Walker with his rail skiing.

That’s another side of contest skiing. Nailing tricks that make the other skiers stoked, even if you get fifth or sixth, is a damn fine reminder that this is an elite field.

In the end, unfortunately, the story of the day was flat light, which made the lines between victory and pain more clear than the line between snow and sky.

Related: See the 2015 Winter X Games event & television schedule

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