The year of Sammy and the rookie

After six years of trying, Sammy Carlson finally secured Winter X gold. Mark Kohlman/ESPN Action Sports

There was a 15-year-old hometown boy who beat his childhood idol. There was the return to No. 1 by a pioneer of women's freeskiing. There was the golden boy who rode through an injured hip. Winter X 15 was full of spotlit moments, as always.

But one skier stood out among the rest this week in Aspen, Colo. He's a skier who's been around for a long time, even though he's just 22. Going into this week, he'd competed in five Winter X Games and earned three medals, two silvers and a bronze. He's widely considered as one of the best skiers on the planet -- he has award-winning film segments, groundbreaking new tricks, and countless contest podiums. But there was one thing Sammy Carlson didn't have: a Winter X Games gold medal.

So when he dropped into the Slopestyle course for his first run during Saturday's finals, even though he said earlier, "I don't think specifically about a gold," we all knew that's exactly what Carlson wanted. It wouldn't be easy -- any of the eight guys in the finals had the skills to win. But Carlson skied the rails at the top of the course with a sense of style and ease that made everyone else look almost clumsy. After he won, Carlson received 92 text messages (and counting) congratulating him.

The story of Carlson -- the guy who flirted with victory for five years before achieving it -- is countered by the success of the rookie at this year's Winter X. The upstarts were a dominating force this year, a reminder that the next generation is hungry and they're learning faster than ever before. In the women's field, 17-year-old Devin Logan won the Superpipe qualifiers and was the only female skier to compete in both Slope and Pipe, and newbie Brita Sigourney, 21, threw down to earn a silver in Pipe finals. In the men's field, 15-year-old Torin Yater-Wallace boosted higher out of the pipe than long-time vets, earning a surprise silver medal, and first-timer Alex Schlopy, 18, shocked even himself by winning Big Air against a deeply talented field.

The future looks bright for our sport. Even though no headline-worthy new tricks were unveiled in skiing at this year's Winter X, there were hints of what's to come. Russ Henshaw attempted a switch triple rodeo 12 in Big Air training, knocking himself out of the contest in the process. Jen Hudak nearly landed the first 1080 in women's Superpipe, but a snow snake took her off her feet. There will be more failures along the way, more disappointments, more broken bones. But you can't deny that the sport of freeskiing is moving forward at a frenzied and rapid pace. Tricks that were revolutionary last year, like TJ Schiller's 1620 in Big Air, are now almost standard practice just 12 months later. Imagine, if you can, what next year will bring.