Insider, Outside: Mutually Assured Destruction

Insider, Outside: Mutually Assured Destruction

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

I want to hate big air contests and I want to hate big air at X Games. It seems so silly to distill all the creativity of freeskiing down to one trick (or even two). However, the reality is that ESPN and the skiers put on a damn fine show.

Most importantly, from the production side I would commend ESPN for taking out most of the junk production tricks—flames and gaps and shark tanks and the such. It’s a table top jump with a long landing and a bunch of cameras around it. All you need, because the skiers are doing things that don’t need embellishment.

On to the skiing, things kicked off last night with two preliminary heats where Vinnie Cash (Vincent Gagnier) took the highest score, get this, without doing a triple. Instead, his tricks were based, all night, on the oddities of his body positioning. The whole round felt exciting, simmering like it was going to explode into a cacophony of never before seen tricks. Bobby Brown still grabbed the highest single trick score with a triple 1440, yet the door was open for a different tenor to the final round.

Gagnier led throughout the final, and things got pretty crash-y, leaving his one trick with variations on the grabs to gold. The athletes tried, but never reached the one-upmanship of X Games 14 in 2010, which I would call the best big air contest skiing has had (seriously, go watch it again). While watching, it seemed like physical limits of spinning and flipping had been reached.


Alex Schlopy over-cooked an 1800 degree spin all the way to 1980 and was out after one jump. Ambühl was battling horrific shin bang (as Bobby Brown has in past events) and Bobby smashed his helmet during one nasty slam, before grabbing a new one and heading up to nail down his silver medal position.

I could use any of the athletes, they all have their unique projects and ways they make skiing their own sport. Gagnier showed his in taking gold, but I am going to single out Jesper Tjäder for what he showed at Nine Knights this year. Watch his double backflip over the halfpipe or anything on his YouTube channel and you will see how these big air tricks lead into a different world of possibilities the other 364 days of the year.

And that’s why I love X Games big air; the basic idea of “do a better trick than the other guy” is an immediate entry into the sport with a low barrier to entry. Burton has a program called Learn-To-Ride, which has focused on providing a stream of new snowboarders by improving the first-day experience. Skiing in general has a well-developed ski school program (although freeskiing has, as yet, not been specifically addressed in that way). What X Games big air is to me is a “Learn-To-Be-A-Fan” program. Without knowing much about the sport, someone watching Saturday night TV can get excited about our sport. The sponsors and advertisers love that, but also, in the long term this offers one big piece of easy to digest exposure for our sport.

I hope the athletes who make it into future big air finals realize that as a showcase event, the best show may be made by a kind of détente—a realization that spinning to win is skiing’s mutually assured destruction and although we love snow, we don’t need nuclear winter. It will be a fine line to balance, one that Vinnie Cash, well, cashed in on last night. Keeping the big air discipline safe and exciting will benefit us all.


If the ski heroes of the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that you don’t need to be from Ski Town USA to become a freeskier, even at the highest level. The next Tom Wallisch or Nick Goepper may have been watching last night. They may rent a ski movie on iTunes and eventually beg their parents to take them to the tiny ski hill. Once they’re there, the mountain will show them that skiing is much bigger than one trick, freeskiing is the whole mountain.

Related: Watch Vincent Gagnier’s winning run from 2015 X Games big air

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