The ghost of the triple flip

"If [the Big Air jump] is like last year, it is big enough [for triples]," says Torstein Horgmo. Matt Morning/Shazamm/Espn Images

The triple flip, the rarest maneuver in freeskiing or snowboarding, haunts its aspirants like a ghost.

Norwegian snowboarder Torstein Horgmo first experienced that after a photo shoot last April. He'd landed a number of frontside double corks, which begin the same way a triple cork would. Realizing he had airtime to spare, Horgmo began to wonder: Can I fit another flip in my rotation?

He knew some filmers who were planning a shoot on a glacier in June. The jump would be giant, they told him, big enough to try something historic.

No freeskier or snowboarder had ever landed a triple flip, at least not that the public knew of. Was it possible? Maybe. Dangerous? Like Russian roulette -- if he came up short, the consequences could be heavy.

The triple became a secret obsession for Horgmo, one he couldn't get out of his head. "I lost sleep over it," he said. "I didn't tell anybody about it or that I wanted to try it, except for the filmer planning the shoot."

When June rolled around, Horgmo lied to his roommate in Oslo and told him he was going home to visit his mother. He snuck out and hopped in a car to the shoot. "I wanted to get it out of my head and get back to sleeping again," he said.

On the glacier, Horgmo fought through piercing ankle pain to land the historic triple cork on his seventh try. News of his feat, which Horgmo first posted on his personal website, spread like a prairie brush fire. Little did the gawking public know that while Horgmo was losing sleep over his triple, freeskiing sensation Bobby Brown had landed two in Alaska -- first a triple rodeo 1080 and then a triple rodeo 1260 -- during a Matchstick Productions shoot at Alyeska Resort. The tricks, performed the second week in May, were kept quiet so as to preserve them for MSP's fall release. Australian Russ Henshaw also nearly landed a triple at the same shoot.

The madness didn't end there. In July, on a jump he helped build in Oregon, freeskier Sammy Carlson landed the first and only triple flip he's tried, a mind-warping switch triple rodeo 12, in front of the Poor Boyz cameras. Carlson, like Horgmo, lost sleep visualizing his trick. He said later: "I did it for myself."

Which brings us to Winter X 15. The triple flip remains a maneuver for special occasions and perfect conditions -- a personal, gripping goal unto itself. No one would dare throw one in competition, at least not yet. Or would they?

Although Brown, Horgmo and Carlson all said it's highly unlikely anyone will try a triple in Aspen this week, they also would not rule it out. "We'll see," said Carlson. "It's got to be a really good jump. There's a lot of risk involved. We'll see what the jump's like when we get there."

If a triple is to be thrown, it would happen in Big Air, which includes all three athletes who have landed one before. "If [the Big Air jump] is like last year, it is big enough," said Horgmo, who won gold in that event in 2008. "I am just worried about the impact for the landing. You come down with a lot of rotation and if you come down hard, you will flip out.

"A step-over jump with a fairly high knuckle is ideal," he added. "The bigger the jump, the better."

Specifically, Brown said he'd need a gap of at least 110 feet and a takeoff "with a lot of kick" to try a triple. Last year's Winter X Big Air step-up gap was about 85 feet.

A rider's chances would depend on a variety of factors, none more important than the speed and snap off the lip of the jump. "Send it like no other," Carlson advised. "Just send the trick as hard as you can. You have to have so much confidence and be super clean on the takeoff."

"It depends on the weather, too," Horgmo said. "You want the sky to have a different color than the snow, so you can tell where you are in the air and what is going on."

The technical key according to Brown is "spotting your third rotation after the second flip. It's all about the pop right off the takeoff."

It's hard to say where a successfully executed triple flip would rank, since no one has landed one in competition. But according to Sebastien Toutant, one of the world's most innovative snowboarders and a Big Air competitor this week, a triple would beat a flat-spin 1440 as well as a double cork 1260.

So, then, maybe that's what it'll take: someone landing a trick so radical only a triple can beat it. Whether they've been practicing or not, the trio who've landed triples still feel confident in their ability to whip them out in the right conditions. "If you commit hard the first time and land it," Horgmo said, "you have that trick forever, you know."