No slowing rapid progression of Winter X tricks
Gretchen Bleiler remembers a time, not that long ago, when her discipline was a giant laughingstock, a painful undercard to snowboarding’s marquee event.
“Watching the women’s halfpipe,” Bleiler said, “was like watching paint dry.”
Now, there’s nothing boring about the latest wave of high-flying maneuvers at the Winter X Games, which began Thursday on Buttermilk Mountain with no evidence that the rapid rate of progression for tricks is slowing down in the fallout from an eye-opening injury.
More than a year after Olympic hopeful Kevin Pearce nearly killed himself attempting to mimic a stunt mastered by 15-time Winter X medalist Shaun White, the envelope is again being pushed, the bar is again being raised, the line between something revolutionary and something dangerous is again being tight-roped with little regard for personal safety.
Everybody wants to go bigger. Everybody hopes for more style. Everybody aspires to be like White, the two-time defending Olympic halfpipe champion with a stable of sponsors, a never-ending line of fans and a bank account boasting a balance that’s in seven figures.
The consequences sometimes are ignored. Nobody contemplates the reality that one small mistake, one seemingly minor slipup, and the quest to become the next White results in a competitor becoming the next Pearce, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in December 2009 as he tried to smash the double McTwist 1,260, a dizzying jump with 3 ½ rotations. Pearce hasn’t competed since the crash, making him a Winter X commentator for ESPN.
Still, as White does the McTwist for another $30,000 first-place prize, Bleiler, of Aspen, will perform back-to-back 900s, Olympian Louie Vito will hit back-to-back double cork 1,080s, Torstein Horgmo of Norway will roll out a triple cork 1,260 and Simon Dumont will do a switch double cork 1,080. All the most advanced moves, on the brightest stage.
Bleiler said she’s “paying attention to what’s going on out there with the new tricks, but I’m also keeping in mind my strengths and going down my own path. That’s what keeps it interesting. That’s when you see different runs, kind of dancing to my own drummer.”
White landed a double cork 1,080 for the first time Wednesday in slopestyle practice on Buttermilk. Even after a summer mainly on his skateboard, he remains capable of testing the limits, of determining how far he can extend himself, of “seeing what was out there and having to rise to that occasion,” he said. “I learned a new trick. I can’t say that often.”
The progression is “getting pretty ridiculous right now,” said Breckenridge skier Bobby Brown, a Winter X champion last year in slopestyle and big air. “We’re going to work on more style stuff instead of going with bigger tricks. … It makes it way more enjoyable to watch when someone does a trick with fluidity and when they’re smooth.”