Heavy medal in concert
Group of seasoned competitors set for Winter X Games 15
A mix of multi-gold medalists are trying to make their marks again in skiing, snowboarding, and snowmobiling at Winter X Games 15 today through Sunday at Buttermilk Mountain in Aspen, Colo.
Seven winter action sport competitors — including two New Englanders — will attempt to defend their titles and then some.
Brit Jenny Jones is gunning for a Snowboard Slopestyle Women’s three-peat while Lindsey Jacobellis goes for a four-peat in Snowboarder X Women’s (the Stratton-groomed Olympian also had a three-peat from 2003-05).
Snowboarding’s king, Shaun White, vies for the first four-peat in the 567-foot-long Snowboard Superpipe, while Nate Holland has a chance at the first six-peat in Snowboard X Men’s.
In skiing, France’s Ophelie David competes for her fifth consecutive Skier X Women’s gold. Tyler Walker, the Franconia, N.H., skier who has won gold three out of four years at the Winter X Games, fights for a Mono Skier X three-peat.
Tucker Hibbert is seeking the first five-peat in Snowmobile SnoCross.
“Once I started to win, I felt the pressure to do it again,’’ said Holland. “I use that energy in a positive manner and let it affect me in a good way, not negatively.’’
Holland’s domination dates to 2006. He competes in the Olympics and World Cup, including winning a recent World Championship boardercross bronze, but favors the longer 3,500-foot feature-laden X Games course. The extended length lets him develop a “better strategy’’ and make a move later vs. being the leader out of the gate for the hole shot.
“The length, size, and amount of features are better and lets the rider really showcase their skill,’’ he said. “I think that is a big part of why I’ve been able to win. The Olympic course and FIS courses are sometimes half or two-thirds the length.’’
Ironically, as Holland jockeys for a seventh X Games gold medal (he also has a 2004 ultracross victory), friend and two-time Olympic gold medalist Seth Wescott looks for his first.
“We’re playful until we get in the start gate and then it’s all business from there,’’ said the Idaho native.
Walker, 24, a University of New Hampshire graduate, has been on every Mono Skier X podium since the sport was added in 2007. The two-time Paralympic skier also competes on the international stage in other disciplines such as downhill and giant slalom, but when it comes to training for the frenzy of ’cross events, he shuns the gates.
“For the X Games, I go out on my powder ski and try to find crazy terrain to ski down,’’ said Walker, who trains with the new Paralympic Development Program in Aspen, and grew up near Cannon. “I like to go freeskiing and find great terrain, whether it be a cliff or cornice or just blasting down good powder. Every little bit helps.’’
He says the X Games are unlike other races.
“We hardly ever have a crowd watching us ski race except at the Paralympics,’’ he said. “There is a huge crowd at the bottom and when you cross the finish line the crowd explodes. The atmosphere is completely different.’’
Aside from the repeat quests and perhaps some new tricks in the superpipe, there are also some fresh approaches to the always-evolving games, now in their 10th consecutive year at Aspen.
The introduction of Snowboard Best Method and return of Snowmobile Speed and Style are among the highlights.
The Method contest, a basic snowboard maneuver in which a rider grabs the heel-side edge of the board while in flight, features both sport and mobile technology as text messaging fans judge the finals — a 10-minute jam with six invited athletes of varied experience and style: Ross Powers, Chas Guldemond, Scotty Lago (returning from a broken jaw), Mikkel Bang, Mason Aguirre, and Greg Bretz.
“Method is such a signature trick in snowboarding that has been around forever,’’ said Tim Reed, ESPN X Games senior director of sports and competition. “Everyone does it but with their own flair.’’
The Snowmobile Speed and Style returns after a short hiatus with a look similar to summer’s popular motocross. Eight snowmobilers battle in single elimination with two riders going head-to-head. Snowmobilers receive style and speed bonus points during their three-lap races that include ramps.
Snowboarder X Adaptive makes its demonstration sport debut. Athletes fly down a course loaded with jumps, banked turns, and gaps.
Snowboard Real Snow is perhaps the most unique new entry: An online competition where eight street-style riders submitted one-minute videos voted on by fans and a panel of judges.
“We want to remain relevant and stay progressive with what kids are into,’’ Reed said.