Yesterday was my second day at Winter XGames 2017 in Aspen, Colorado and much like Day 1, it was filled with lots of energy and excitement, not just from the athletes, but from the spectators too. With great weather, relatively warm temperatures (25ºF/-3ºC), and lots of things to do in and around the XGames arena, the fans turned out in large numbers to cheer on their favorite actions sports athletes, who didn’t disappoint.
The first competition of the day got started early was some of the best skiers in the world hitting the slopes for the men’s slopstyle skiing final, which was won by Øystein Braaten of Norway. He started a bit slow on his first run, crashing out early on some rails. But but his second attempt was nearly flawless, giving him a solid win agains some great competition, which weren’t far off in terms of scoring.
Next up, was women’s snowboard slopestyle finals, which went Julie Marino of the U.S. This competition wasn’t quite so hotly contested as the men’s ski final, but the ladies did put on a good show, with a large crowd starting to gather in the XGames village. With music, food, contests, entertainment, and plenty of fun booths to visit, the fans had a lot to do between competitions.
The big draw for the daytime events was without a doubt the snowmobile freestyle final. This is the crazy event in which snowmobile riders attempt to push their powerful – but heavy and ponderous – machines through some amazing stunts in the air. Each year, this competition seems to get more intense, and 2017 was not different. This is one of those sports where I’m much happier watching than actually participating, as on more than one occasion I thought to myself “these guys are crazy.”
As the event rolled along, the riders continued to push the envelope, with Colten Moore setting the pace with some high-flying stunts that wowed the crowd. But at the end of the day, the gold medal went to Joe Parsons, who on his final run strung together an impressive set of tricks that impressed the judges enough to just edge out his rival.
Following the crazy antics on the snowmobiles, we had a bit of time to catch our breath before the start of the next competition. During that period, I had the chance to chat with a couple of different athletes, including skier Kevin Rolland and snowboarders Sebastian Toutant and Christy Prior, who wasn’t on hand to compete as she recovers from injury. The take away I got from chatting with each of them was that the XGames are as big for these athletes as the Olympics, and that they all look forward to competing with their friends in Aspen. This is a tightly knit group of friends who also happen to be rivals, and it was clear that they all knew each other well and enjoyed going head to head with one another.
In speaking to with Rolland in particular we chatted about the number of crashes that had been occurring on the superpipe over the course of the week. I mentioned this yesterday, and said that it marred the competition to a degree, as not everyone got the chance to truly shine. Kevin told met hat the edges of the pipe were not quite what the athletes were use to, and it was making it very difficult to stick the landings after coming off some of their high flying antics. He had crashed badly on one of his runs the night before, but fortunately was just a little bruised and shaken up the next day. After we chatted, he was getting on a plane to fly to Europe, where he would be skiing at the World Cup next week. Fortunately, he should be ready to go for that competition.
Early in the evening, the focus of the games shifted back to the slopes, where the ladies gathered once more for the ski Big Air finale. That competition was won by German Lisa Zimmerman, who is amongst the best big air competitors in the world. She edged out the competition with some serious height and tricks that had the crowd cheering, even as they regathered for the evening’s events.
After that, the snowboarders returned to the superpipe once again, with the ladies final in that event. American Elena Hight took her first ever gold in that event, fending off some stiff competition from a who’s who list of female snowboarders. Fortunately, there were fewer crashes in the pipe for this event, although the same problems that had caused the men issues the night before were still somewhat common for the ladies too.
The final event of the night was the men’s skiing Big Air final, which got off to an auspicious start when Swiss rider Luca Schuler crashed badly on his first run of the night. That accident brought a hush to the crowd, which looked on with obvious concern as medical staff slowly stabilized him, placed him on a stretcher, and rushed him off the snow. The prognosis later would be that Schuler suffered a concussion, and he spent some time in a local hospital where tests were negative and he was later released. It seems like he’ll be just fine, but it was a scary moment for the games for sure.
Once the competition resumed, the rest of the field put on quite an aerial show. The skiers flipped, tumbled, soared, and spun through the thin Aspen air, quickly reenergizing the crowd. In the end, it was Brit James Woods who took home the gold, the first person form his country to earn that honor at the XGames.
After the competitions wrapped up for the evening, the crowd moved over to one of the music stages to listen to some of the bands booked to entertain them at the XGames. For me, it was time to head home and get some rest. It had been another fun, but long day, during which I had yet another chance to see these athletes not only shine in their field, but interact with their fans too. The one thing I’ll definitely take away from my XGames experience is how down to Earth and grounded all of the athletes are, and how happy the are to be here. That includes meeting and greeting their fans, who find them accessible and accommodating at every turn. There are other pro athletes that could learn a thing or two from that.
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