You can feel it in the air in Aspen right now. The Colorado town is gearing up for the 15th edition of the biggest event on snow. Normally, I'd use this space to try to prepare you for the spectacle, the competition, the progression that will take place during the last week of January when snowsports athletes advance the apogee of action sports on a venue at Buttermilk. But anybody with half a brain already knows what to expect. Even a couple of dumb deer know that Winter X 15 is going to be awesome. Duh. I'm not going to beat a dead deer here telling you about all the awesome things you already know you're going to see. Instead, let's get into what's not going to go down at this Winter X.
Tanner Hall. It didn't feel quite like Winter X last year when, for the first time in a decade, Tanner Hall did not drop in. Still on crutches from two tibial plateau fractures, the most winning skier in Winter X history watched the whole show from the bottom in 2010. The knee injuries still fresh in his mind, Hall left little hope for a comeback in 2009 when he concluded that he was, "over and done with the contest scene." But now that the allure of the Olympics has entered the equation, Hall is softening his retirement rhetoric. But for this year, he's still rebuilding. "I'm feeling really good right now," Hall said last week. "But I still think if I want to come back to contests, I'm going to work back into it slowly ... and really just enjoy this winter." Hall will be spectating from the sidelines again this year and he'll be doing a live online chat during the men's ski pipe finals on Friday night.
Triples. The good news is, skiing recently underwent a major paradigm shift. At a park shoot in Alyeska, Alaska, in May, Bobby Brown expanded his impressive list of achievements by adding another flip to a double and stomping the first triple rodeo 12. Or was it nine? Who can add it all up anymore? A couple short months later, Sammy Carlson got the first switch triple rodeo 12 in Mount Hood. The bad news is, both of these revolutionary tricks went down on jumps well more than 100 feet in length. You won't find a jump that size in any Slopestyle course the whole contest season, and that includes Winter X. Even the jump for the historic skiing Big Air that took place last year was only about 85 feet.
More than ever before, the ability level of the world's top ski competitors has outgrown the limitations of the competition venue. At least, that's what Bobby Brown thinks. "I do not think triples are going to come into play," Brown said, "I don't think the jumps will be big enough." But don't abandon all hope. Unexpected things often happen when the will to win pervades. "I guess we'll see when it gets heated during the finals," said Brown, acknowledging the unpredictability of competition. "There might be a few people crazy enough to try."
Jon Olsson. Lots of skiers quit racing to try for a career in freeskiing. Exactly one skier in history has quit a freeskiing career to redirect his focus to racing. He's on the World Cup now. Three years ago, Olsson stepped into race skis for the first time since '99. In December, he got his first shot at the big time with a World Cup giant slalom start in Val d'Isere. "To get where I want to be in racing I will have to cut down on the jumping," Olsson said in a recent interview with ESPN. Where that is, more specifically, is skiing GS in the 2014 Winter Olympics. And cutting down on the jumping means cutting out Winter X appearances.
The Swede holds the record for the most bronze medals won throughout a career of Winter X competition, so with no Olsson in contention at WX15, the battle for third place could go to anybody. Coincidentally, Tanner Hall, the other guy you won't see competing at this Winter X, is the skier with the most gold medals. And who has the most silver medals? Well, as they say, nobody remembers.
X. Generation X, to be exact. The successor of the baby boom, this generation is said to have ended no later than 1982, Jon Olsson's birth year. Now that he's gone, so is the last remaining Gen-Xer to compete in freestyle skiing events at Winter X. This year the oldest skier at X will be High Air champ Peter Olenick, born in 1984. A Generation Y guy.
Suddenly, X doesn't connote the youth and nonconformity that it once did. Gen X used to have dyed hair; now X has a mortgage. X used to sag its jeans; now X shops at Banana Republic. X used to have a tongue ring some things have gotten cooler about X. Nevertheless, it might be time to start calling them the Y Games.