With this weekend's six Winter Dew Tour finals taking place just days before the Winter X show commences in Aspen this week, it's natural to use the results as a preview of what we might see in Colorado. Most of the winners represent the favorites at Winter X: Kelly Clark, Jamie Anderson, Bobby Brown, Kevin Rolland.
But it's rarely that simple, and no event seems more intriguing than men's ski slopestyle, which features the deepest talent pool of any Winter X discipline. (We also see the best skiers compete against each other all season, unlike slopestyle snowboarding, for instance, which is more globally fragmented during the winter). Much like the ski and snowboard cross fields, every skier good enough to make the slopestyle final is good enough to win. You can't say that about pipe skiing or snowboarding.
Consider: At the first Winter Dew Tour slopestyle in Breckenridge, Alexis Godbout came out of nowhere to win his first major contest. On Sunday at Killington, despite the absence of Godbout (who tweaked his knee during practice and pulled out just before the final, but later said he'll be ready for WX15), Tom Wallisch (broken shoulder) and TJ Schiller (torn ACL), any of the 11 finalists had a legitimate shot if he landed his run. The technicality across the board is that consistent -- "everybody is so close," fourth-place finisher Alex Schlopy said.
Of course, when Brown landed his second run, it rendered everyone else's runs irrelevant. That's what happens when you spin doubles both ways with ease, a luxury shared by only a handful of others, including Elias Ambuhl and Russ Henshaw. But should Brown, the defending Winter X Games champion, slip up, it won't take much to open the door for someone else. As Brown said after the final, "Every single person could've won that contest right there. If anyone lands a run, it totally changes the [standings]. It's pretty cool right now to be a part of this."
In other news, yes, it's been nearly a year since we saw Shaun White enter a halfpipe contest. And yup, I realize this drum has been beaten. But it amazes me how much his presence lords over the rest of the field, even in absentia.
When I asked runner-up JJ Thomas how many riders he believes can beat White in the Aspen pipe, Thomas said, "I haven't seen [Shaun] ride this year, but ... if he lands, I don't think he's beatable. Because he does the doubles, but he does them huge. The other guys with doubles don't do them as big as him. He just does them huge. They're amazing. Props to him, really. You can't knock it."
Every year, athletes save their best for the X Games. Kelly Clark said she has two more tricks she plans to add to her winning run from Killington, which she used as "practice" for Aspen. Same with Gretchen Bleiler, whose runner-up finish was her first competition this year.
They're not the only ones. Brown said he's got a new trick up his sleeve, and Louie Vito hinted he, too, has a surprise in store. "You'll just have to wait and see," he said.
People make a big deal about the X Games because it's so visible and ferociously marketed, but I think it's just as significant that it represents the stage for freestyle innovation. People watch because they really don't know what they'll see. You can't say that about every contest.
The quote of the week comes from Horgmo, who was asked how he'll get his broken rib ready to compete a few days after his win in Vermont. "Maybe drink some red wine by the fire in Aspen," he said. "How else do you prepare for the X Games?"