Is it just me or does Mike Douglas seem like the de facto mentor for the entire ski industry? Not only did the one-time Canadian Freestyle Team member coach and guide protégés such as Vinnie Dorion and J.F. Cusson in the bumps and snowboard parks, Douglas' prudent observations continue to assist skiers, especially Salomon team members, and anyone, really, that seeks advice today. And although fatherly might be a conservative connotation for Douglas, the man with a scholar-like acumen for the history of freestyle skiing still skis better than you.
Since he can, undoubtedly, walk the walk with his skiing prowess, we thought we'd elicit the insight of the consummate pro for his Winter X 15 predictions for men's and women's ski SuperPipe and Slopestyle and men's Big Air. A member of ESPN's Winter X telecast since 2001, here is Douglas, in his own words, with a preview of next week's throw-down at Aspen's Buttermilk Mountain.
Buzz: There's as much buzz with slopestyle being part of the 2014 Olympics as there is pipe. According to my sources, that's the thing that's holding up the final decision, as [the International Olympic Committee] wanted to wait a bit longer to see if they should put ski slopestyle in as well. By all indications, it seems like it's going to happen. So there's a big Olympic buzz brewing all over the place now. Last year was the best slopestyle comp I've seen, not only with what got done but the competitive aspect. The field is so strong now when 10 years ago, there were like three or four guys that were contenders. And now, you look at the whole field and there are 10 guys that could do it. The difference between first and tenth has definitely shrunk the last 10 years.
Man to beat: Bobby Brown is so dialed from his competition head to having a bunch of the best tricks in the book. As people catch up to him, he's always pushing it even further.
Podium contenders: The next two guys that are poised and could spoil Bobby's repeat is Sammy Carlson and Tom Wallisch. I'm a little bit concerned with Wallisch because he's got a little bit of a shoulder injury right now, but he's been skiing a lot lately and this weekend's Dew Tour is really going to give us an idea of how his shoulder is doing. Given everyone being healthy and in perfect condition, those are the guys to watch.
Dark horse: I'm going with [J.F.] Houle, man. He was skiing well this summer down in New Zealand. He doesn't seem to be ultra consistent, but every now and then Houle has a day where it's just like he's got it, it's happening for him. Also, Russ Henshaw is a dark horse, because he and Bobby are the only two that I know of that are throwing doubles both left and right side.
Buzz: Although it may have taken [Simon] Dumont longer to get going on the bigger tricks compared to the other guys, he's been training hard and stepped it up this fall and early season. His right wall is very, very strong. And you can never count out Dumont at a big contest like Winter X Games because there is nobody more competitive. Jossi's [Wells] latest issue is his ankle. He had surgery in September and basically missed six months of skiing. He came back a few weeks ago and seems to be looking pretty good, but will a six-month layoff be too much for a gold medal?
Man to beat: Kevin Rolland is the guy to beat.
Podium contenders: [Simon] Dumont and [Justin] Dorey are my other podium picks.
Dark horse: I think if [Mike] Riddle could get it together for Winter X Games, he could be it or potentially [Xavier] Bertoni.
Buzz: I've been doing a lot of big-air contests in my life and last year's, at Winter X 14, was the best one I've ever seen. To see that many tricks get done for the first time and at that level, it was electric and like nothing else. The question of whether or not a triple will be thrown depends on the size of the jump. I really don't think we'll know until the comp is happening. I don't think the athletes will know until the comp is happening. If someone feels like they're getting the hang time and feels super on their game, we could see it go down.
Man to beat: Bobby Brown
Podium contenders: Sammy Carlson and Tom Wallisch
Dark horse: Russ Henshaw
Buzz: Kaya [Turski] is coming back from a knee injury. She had surgery last spring, and she's just started really skiing again the last month or so. But to me, she's still the one, she's still ahead.
Buzz: Women's pipe is a little more open than slopestyle. Sarah Burke's coming back from shoulder surgery and I'm not sure she's going to be in gold-medal form in time. I think [Jen] Hudak seems to be holding her momentum from last year, skiing well. Then you got Roz Groenewoud and Dania Assaly. Megan Gunning blew her knee out, which is a shame because she was definitely one to watch.