What to watch for at X Games Tignes 2013
The global X Games adventure continues this week with a return to Val Claret in Tignes, France, in the Haute-Tarentaise region of the French Alps, where a perfect pipe and slopestyle course are about to see some serious action. This year, X Games Tignes 2013 doubles as a platinum event on the Association of Freeskiing Professionals' World Tour and a 6Star event on the World Snowboard Tour, and will serve as a de facto preview of the state of freeskiing and snowboarding circa 2013, hurtling towards the Olympic debut of X Games staples Ski Halfpipe and Ski and Snowboard Slopestyle at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
WOMEN'S SKI SLOPESTYLE FINAL
Wednesday 8-9:30 a.m. EST on ESPN3 (live); 1-5 p.m. EST on ESPN.
Seventeen year-old Norwegian skier Tiril Sjåstad Christiansen's upset win over Canadian Kaya Turski and Canadian Dara Howell at X Games Aspen 2013 served as a reminder that slopestyle competition is getting heavier, more unpredictable and increasingly international in the lead-up to the 2014 Olympic debut of freeskiing in Sochi, Russia.
"I'm looking forward to Tignes to get back to some really big jumps," says Christiansen, who says she's been hampered by smaller jumps at other events this season since X Games Aspen. "The bigger the better."
Christiansen is the current overall leader on the Association of Freeskiing Professionals' World Tour (and is just behind Howell in the slopestyle world rankings) and will be the woman to beat as X Games Tignes kicks off on Wednesday, but watch for Turski -- the most dominant athlete in women's slopestyle and fresh off a win at the FIS Freestyle World Championships earlier this month -- to give her a proper run for it.
WOMEN'S SNOWBOARD SUPERPIPE FINAL
Wednesday 1-5 p.m. on ESPN
No doubt about it: Kelly Clark is killing it this season and comes to Tignes fresh off the momentum of winning gold in Aspen and claiming a record-shattering 61st career halfpipe win earlier this month at the Burton U.S. Open, where she was working on a new Cab 1080 that could be another game-changer. But she's no longer unbeatable, either. Just ask Arielle Gold, Torah Bright and Kaitlyn Farrington, who've all climbed on top of podiums this season, or Spanish rider Queralt Castellet, who launched a frontside 1080 to win the Burton European Open in 2012 and put an end to Clark's 13-win streak.
Nobody's more stoked than Clark about the raised level of women's competition. "I love seeing everybody else riding well because it pushes me and it makes for great contests," she says. "But ultimately I'm just focused on riding my best and progressing my own runs."
Speaking of progressive runs, X Games Tignes could shape up to be a rematch of the showdown between Clark and Elena Hight in Aspen, where Hight brought the alley-oop double rodeo, the first double cork ever landed in women's pipe competition, but still had to settle for silver. Redemption time?
MEN'S SKI SLOPESTYLE FINAL
Thursday 8-9:30 a.m. EST (live) on ESPN3; 1-4 p.m. EST on ESPN
Nick Goepper's from Lawrenceburg, Ind., not exactly a freeskiing hotbed, but he has been on fire this season. He won gold in Aspen, won the Austrian Freeski Open last month, finished third at the FIS World Championships, and is currently ranked second on the AFP World Tour, behind Great Britain's James "Woodsy" Woods, the X Games Aspen bronze medalist.
"I've been dreaming of this moment since I was 10 years old and I'm ecstatic to be here," Goepper said, after his Aspen win. To double up on his Aspen gold, Goepper will have to defend against a stacked field including Swedish sensation Henrik Harlaut, who took Slopestyle silver in Aspen and shocked the world with a nose butter triple cork 1620 in his gold medal Big Air run.
Woods will also be a podium threat in Tignes, as will just about every other skier in the field; this one might be the most unpredictable event this week.
MEN'S SNOWBOARD SUPERPIPE FINAL
Thursday, 1-4 p.m. EST on ESPN
"I really want to put this new trick in competition, and we only have one contest left: X Games Tignes is where we're headed next," says Swiss rider Iouri "I-Pod" Podladtchikov, whose new YOLO Flip (rumored to be a frontside double cork 1440 variation) could put him on top of the podium this week. I-Pod won The Arctic Challenge in Oslo, Norway, earlier this month, closing out the 2012-13 World Snowboard Tour season halfpipe rankings in second place, and aims to carry that momentum to a win in Tignes, the first 6Star event on the 2013-14 WST calendar.
The field will be wide open, with X Games Aspen gold medalist Shaun White sitting this one out to focus on training for next year's Winter Olympic qualifiers, and silver medalist Ayumu Hirano -- the 2013 WST halfpipe champion -- stuck at home in Japan with the flu. French rider Aluan Ricciardi, sure to be a locals' favorite in Tignes, is in as Hirano's alternate.
Finnish rider Markus Malin won bronze in Aspen and will be a podium threat in Tignes, as will any number of other riders, including Americans Scott Lago, Louie Vito, Luke Mitrani and Benji Farrow; Swiss rider Christian Haller; and Japanese rider Taku Hiraoka, all of whom finished in the top 10 in this year's WST rankings.
MEN'S SNOWBOARD SLOPESTYLE FINAL
Friday 5:30-7 a.m. EST (live) on ESPN3, 1-4 p.m. EST on ESPN
2013 World Snowboard Tour champion Mark McMorris comes to Tignes as the reigning king of slopestyle and fresh off a nearly perfect score of 98.00 in Aspen, the highest-scoring slopestyle run in X Games history.
"It was so nice to just shut my brain off and snowboard, because that's what I really love to do," he says of his gold medal run in Aspen. "You don't need to focus on anything besides your riding. A 98 is something I never really think about as a score it's just trying to push myself to do the best run I can, and that was by far the best run I've ever done in my life."
Challengers will include X Games Aspen silver medalist Maxence Parrot and bronze medalist Seppe Smits, U.S. Grand Prix winner Chas Guldemond and Peetu Piiroinen, the 2013 TTR World Snowboard Tour overall champion.
WOMEN'S SNOWBOARD SLOPESTYLE FINAL
Friday 8-9:30 a.m. EST on ESPN3
"The style, the level of riding, the solid tricks that everyone is linking together is just so inspiring," says Jamie Anderson, long a dominant force in women's slopestyle competition, as the rest of the field catches up. "It's such a blessing. This sport is just it's beautiful."
Anderson beat out Czech rider Sarka Pancochova -- the 2013 TTR World Snowboard Tour slopestyle champion -- and Canadian rider Spencer O'Brien for the win in Aspen, and will be the only American competing in the event in Tignes, where she'll also be up against Pancachova, O'Brien, British rider Aimee Fuller, Czech rider Sina Candrian, Finnish rider Enni Rukajärvi and Norwegian riders Silje Norendal and Kjersti Oestgaard Buaas.
Will French fans see the first double corks in women's competition? Every competitor we talked to says they've been working on them in preparation for next year's Winter Olympics.
MEN'S SKI SUPERPIPE FINAL
Friday 1-4 p.m. EST on ESPN
French skiers Kevin Rolland, Thomas Krief, and Joffrey Pollet-Villard will have home-field advantage in the pipe in Tignes, where they'll aim to topple the podium over on the Americans -- David Wise, Torin Yater-Wallace and Simon Dumont -- who swept X Games Aspen in January.
"A few years ago French people were thinking about only racing skiing," says Rolland. "Because of the X Games, everything changed." They'll need all the advantage they can get to top Wise, who won the U.S. Grand Prix in Park City, Utah, in January -- a FIS World Cup event and Olympic qualifier -- then grabbed gold at X Games Aspen and won the FIS World Championships earlier this month in Oslo, Norway, for good measure.
Wise is the current leader in the AFP Men's Halfpipe World Ranking by a long shot, but French fans will have plenty to cheer for, especially when Rolland drops in. He missed X Games Tignes in 2012 with a torn ACL after winning in each of the three previous years. He just missed the podium in Aspen, one point behind Dumont, and will be the locals' favorite. Krief, who won bronze at the FIS Worlds, will be a podium threat, as will Pollet-Villard; he failed to put a full run together at Worlds but did manage to set a record for the highest-scoring single hit air.
WOMEN'S SKI SUPERPIPE FINAL
Friday 3:30-5 p.m. EST on ESPN3
Watch for a rematch between Aspen gold medalist Maddie Bowman and silver medalist Roz Groenewoud to close out X Games Tignes; they're also ranked one and two, respectively, on the AFP World Tour, and have been battling it out all season.
"X Games is such a big stage it's nerve-wracking," says Bowman, looking forward to this week's competition. "What's not great about X Games?"
Bowman's the favorite in a season that has also included wins at both U.S. Grand Prix events. The locals will be rooting for French skier Anais Caradeux, currently ranked third on the AFP World Tour.