Words & Photos by Ed
So the X-Games bandwagon has finally rolled into Europe. Whether it’s to spread the freestyle message to a whole new audience or simply to generate a whole load more cash, you can’t argue with the quality of the park the peeps at ESPN construct – or the caliber of the rider names on the startlist.
The high French resort of Tignes was the lucky resort chosen to host this inaugural event, and I doubt the locals have seen anything like it. Pulling into Val Claret (the top end of town) you couldn’t help but be open mouthed at the whoppercock halfpipe – illuminated beneath an Olympic-esque set of arc lights - which dominates the main slope. Now, I’ve got a soft spot for Tignes having spent several seasons here back in the day, and let me tell you that this thing bears about as much resemblance to the old Palafour pipe as modern skunk does to the soap bar the seasonaires were smoking in 1997.
Meanwhile, at the base of the Lanches slope juste à côté, the lowly Tignes park has also been getting a dose of the old X-Games steroids in readiness for the slopestyle contest. Controversially, the set-up consists of seven – yes, seven – hits, with only one compulsory rail and an optional shark fin towards the bottom. Most X-Games courses (in fact most slopestyle courses full stop) include about three kickers, so seven hits presents a challenge to even the fullest of trick bags. More worryingly, at close of practice yesterday UK competitors Jenny Jones and Tyler Chorlton were amongst a host of riders who reported problems with speed and trajectory. High winds and bullet proof landings didn’t help matters either…
With today (Wednesday) dawning misty and cold, things were not looking too promising for Slopestyle qualification. Nevertheless, with a resort jammed with media and spectators - and about a gazillion people were ready to tune in across the globe – there was to be no turning back now. This being a slick, rider-orientated event, the shapers had listened to the feedback from practice and improved the kickers as best they could. While not quite up to the giant and uber smooth standards of the US X-Games over in Colorado, they were at least jump-able.
First up were the women, and cutting straight to the chase: Jenny Jones qualified in first place! Let’s not bore you with the details of her non-UK competitors – suffice to say while many of the girls were struggling with the challenging course and resorting to straight airs, Jenny threw down a solid run which included a backside and frontside 360 to book her place in the final. If she can keep up this form (and bearing in mind she’s not even delved into the 5’s or 7’s yet) she’s in with a good chance of winning her third X-Games gold medal and her second this year.
Conditions were way brighter by the time the men’s qualification got underway, but again, the punishing line of booters saw many big names fall by the wayside. Halldor Helgasson (who got a perfect score in the US X-Games Big Air with this unreal jump) clearly wasn’t feeling it and wound up taking the mick with a few scarecrow airs like this one:
Tyler Chorlton, who’s been riding soooo well the past year, smacked his wrist early on and never quite recovered his mojo, finishing the day in 20th. Still, we were treated to a few typically steezy Tyler airs such as these…
Other stars who failed to make the cut included Eero Ettala, Hampus Mosseson, Arthur Longo and local hero Mathieu Crepel.
So... who did conquer the seven hit beast? Predictably in hindsight, it was the American contest jock Chas Guldemond who stepped up to the plate with a series of tech rotations and flips (sorry, I was behind the lens for most of the day so don’t know his exact run!). His score of 98.330 was streets ahead of the next best rider (Marko Grilc) but with a certain Travis Rice also in the mix for tomorrow’s final there could yet be a sting in the tail.
1. Chas Guldemond (USA) 98.33
2. Marko Grilc (Slo) 89.33
3. Eric Willet (USA) 89.00
4. Christian Haller (Sui) 87.33
5. Sage Kotsenburg (USA) 87.00
6. Iouri Podlatchikov (Sui) 85.00
7. Travis Rice (USA) 82.66
8. Stephan Maurer (Sui) 81.33
1. Jenny Jones (UK) 96.33
2. Sina Candrian (Sui) 94.33
3. Specer O’Brien (Can) 91.33
4. Silje Norendal (Nor) 72.00
5. Sarka Pancochova (Cze) 68.66
6. Kjersti Oestgaard Buaas (Nor) 65.00
I’ll leave you with a few more shots from day one: