When Shaun White landed in Silverton, Colo., in February of 2009, he was pocketing a list of double corks he planned to learn in the solitude of his own private halfpipe to take to the Olympics in Vancouver a year later. The double alley-oop backside rodeo was at the top of his list. It was the first double he attempted and, very quickly, it was the first double he set aside to learn later.
"I thought it would be easier than the others, but I kept slamming to the flat bottom and my fist was punching the snow every time I came down," says White, who had pins holding the ligaments in his thumb together at the time. "So I moved on to another trick. It was bugging me that I never landed it."
So three years later -- and a month after scoring the first perfect 100 in halfpipe at the Winter X Games -- White circled back to the trick. During a private training session set up by Oakley and filmed by Mack Dawg Productions at Northstar at Tahoe in California, White finally conquered the alley-oop double rodeo. Footage of his February 2012 sessions has just been released in a video as part of Oakley's Beyond Reason campaign.
We caught up with White to talk about perfection and progression.
ESPN: What brought you back to this trick?
Shaun White: I'd tried it and never landed it and I was really annoyed at that. I never thought of it as being the next premier move for my run. It was just unfinished business. It was personal.
But you also had a contest coming up in a couple weeks. How did the U.S. Open play into the timing of learning this trick?
Before X Games, I learned the front double 12 and wanted to go to the U.S. Open and try to win with the double backside rodeo instead of the same front double 12. I learned it before the Open and landed it there, but it was in practice. In finals, I put down a miracle run on my first run and got this nice score for it. I fell on my second run before I got to try [the alley-oop double] and on my third run, I dropped in last and had already won, so I just did a victory run.
So you haven't landed it in a contest yet?
In a contest? I ... no, I guess I haven't done it in a contest yet. I landed it in practice. Well, that's frustrating.
[Editor's note: Only two other riders have ever landed the alley-oop double, Elena Hight and Danny Davis, and neither has landed the trick in a contest. With this trick, which she landed in a training session in Mammoth in May, Hight became the first woman to land a double cork. Davis says he has landed a switch alley-oop double in practice only, and slid out attempting it in his finals run at the 2012 U.S. Open.
At the now-legendary January 2010 Grand Prix in Mammoth, Davis beat White with a run that included a similar trick on his final hit. But, says Davis, "that was more of a switch double backflip. I took off switch, but landed regular."
All three riders had surgery this offseason. White had knee surgery in August, Hight had a torn labrum in her left hip repaired in June and Davis had surgery to repair a broken femur in late August.]
What do you think of Elena Hight becoming the first woman to learn the trick?
I'd have to see it to verify it's the same trick. I'd be surprised if it's the same. I haven't seen any girl land a double yet. I saw Torah go for a double Crippler, but I hadn't heard about Elena. Is there a video online?
[White looks up the video and watches several times.]
Whoa. Actually, that's pretty spot on. That's awesome. I had no idea. I think hers is actually a little more flip than mine, which is cool. Congrats to her. Her having this trick is huge for women's snowboarding.
The first double is terrifying, so she has to be happy she cleared that hurdle. I wouldn't be surprised if she started learning frontside cab double 10s and stuff like that next. Now she knows she can do it. The fear is out of the way.
Why is the alley-oop double rodeo so difficult to learn?
The crazy part is you take off like a traditional backflip and end up doing an alley-oop McTwist. You're doing front flip while going backwards. Think about that. It's like doing a reverse Gainer. You're running forward and doing a backflip or going backwards and doing a front flip. It's a weird way to do things.
It also requires this bizarre finesse. I can go to the wall knowing that if I don't have that much speed, I can still make a double cork 12 if I wanted. You can't do that with this trick. It's feathery.
Now that you have the trick, and the front double 12, are you unbeatable in halfpipe?
No, I don't think so. Every season is its own game. Someone could come out of the woodwork we don't know about. At 15 I lost out on the Olympics, and the next year, I was so fired up, I sent it. Who knows? The kid who was 15 at the last Olympics who's an adult now and finally has muscle behind him and is determined to win could do the same. I'm just trying to distance myself from the competition as much as I can.
It's been two months since your knee surgery. How's it healing?
It's by far better than the last time I had the same injury. I'm reluctant to say it, but I'm older and know what I'm doing now. Before, I was a kid and hadn't been to the gym, ever. This time, I've already got the quad muscle back and the flexibility is coming back. I've been surfing a bunch and, in mid-December, I'll be back on snow.
When will we see you in a competition lineup?
I'm going to host my event in China, the Air + Style Beijing, and then right after that I'll cruise to Breckenridge, Colo., and send it at the Dew Tour [Dec. 13-16]. I like that event. It makes you contest ready. I got dead last there in slopestyle last year and then came back to win in France.