For years, the Winter X Games SuperPipe has hosted skiing's premier rivalry: The Tanner Hall and Simon Dumont Show. It's been six years since anyone else won SuperPipe Gold, with Tanner sweeping the last three. Meanwhile, each Winter X Ski Slopestyle since 2004 has crowned a new champion, and the rapidly growing list of serious contenders in the discipline makes the chances of a repeat seem slimmer each year. With his maturity, experience, and a trick list widely believed to be the longest in his sport, 2008 champ Andreas Hatveit looks toward Winter X 13 fully equipped to break that spell. But with whispers of Tanner Hall's return, the Norwegian may have to defeat the only skier to ever successfully defend an X Games slopestyle title to defend his own.
Ask Andreas about his 2008 victory, and the 22-year-old from the tiny Norwegian town of Sundalen responds with characteristic humility: "I didn't really think about whether I'd win or not. So many people were throwing down; I knew all I could do was try to get my own tricks dialed." Andreas's "own tricks" included switch 1080s in both directions and a switch 1260, which still weren't enough to convince him that he had the win. "I was a little surprised," says Andreas of the moment his winning score came down from the judges, "I knew I did the best I could, but it was still amazing to find out that I won."
Switch, forward, left, right—Andreas has every spin.
Andreas may have been the only one who was amazed. To Jossi Wells, silver medalist in last year's contest, his victory appeared was decisive. "I kind of knew all along that Andreas was going to win," remembers Wells. "Having trained with him earlier in the season, I knew what he was capable of. So it never really entered my head that I was going to win."
What was surprising to many was that the Slopestyle Gold may have been his second-most impressive performance of the week. After dedicating his early winter training exclusively to slopestyle, the Norwegian surprised and vexed his contemporaries by finishing fourth in a field of SuperPipe specialists. "Those were the only days I skied halfpipe all last winter," explains Andreas, "The two training days and the contest day." Each SuperPipe training session lasted about three hours. With six hours to prepare, this supposed slopestyle specialist barely missed the podium of the biggest SuperPipe contest in skiing.
The pipe guys are lucky that Andreas sticks to slopestyle. "He has all the tricks," says Peter Olenick of Andreas's pipe skills, "the only thing he can't do is go big." With the pipe guys happy to be spared from Andreas's focus, imagine how his slopestyle foes must feel.
"Everything," says Jossi Wells with a half smile, when asked what tricks Andreas has locked down. "Switch, forward, left, right—Andreas has every spin up to 1440." He has doubles, too. Kangaroo flip? That great new double cork that won all the early season big airs? Yep. In both directions.
X Games head judge Josh Loubek says, "As judges, we watch very closely for the ability to perform the same trick in both directions. It helps us to separate and rank runs that might seem very similar in all other respects." Andreas's ambidexterity no doubt helped him to last year's win, and will provide him with a significant competitive advantage in this year's contest. "Andreas really stands out for his ability to spin both ways," says Loubek, "He is one of the best, if not the best, in the field for that."
If Andreas can defend his slopestyle title this January, he'll be the first to do so since 2004, and only the second in Winter X Games history. The only other skier to perform that feat was Tanner Hall, who completed a three-peat of the event in the years 2002 to 2004. It seems fitting then that Andreas may have to beat Hall to fulfill his own repeat bid.
After a catastrophic ankle injury in 2005, Hall could no longer endure the heavy impact of dedicated slopestyle training and left the event to focus on SuperPipe. Hall's dominance in the event since then has shown that his exit from slopestyle had nothing to do with a lost ability to perform. And as his ankle injury drifts further into the past, the once three-peater sounds interested in his old stomping grounds again. "My body feels better than it has in years, and I'm stoked on the new tricks and styles out there," says Hall. "I've wanted to get back into slopestyle almost since the day I stopped competing in it, and I'm going to do it this year at Winter X."
At first glance, it's tempting to write Tanner Hall off as a minor threat to Andreas's repeat chances. Skiing evolves at such a fast rate that a single year out of slopestyle competition can leave many skiers in the dust. If he competes in slopestyle at Winter X 13, it will have been four years since Hall last jumped and jibbed with the best. When he competed in his last Winter X slopestyle in 2005, unnatural spins, technical rail tricks, and double flips were all cutting edge. Now they are the basic elements of a podium run—and of Andreas's trick vocabulary.
To give long odds on Hall because of another skier's trick list would be to overlook his most valuable asset -- his mind. "In Tanner's mind, there is a win, and only a win," says coach and longtime friend Eric Iberg of Hall's contest mindset, "And that gives him an advantage, especially at X Games because it's a huge mental game." Hall knows how to win the mental game. Since winning Big Air in 2001, Hall has won a Winter X gold medal in every year except for 2005, when he took silver in both slope and pipe. His seven gold medals put him in a tie with Shaun White for most all-time.
Hall's competitive mindset might be just the edge he needs to reclaim the terrain park. But Andreas's four years of Winter X experience has given him maturity to offset some of Hall's mental advantage. While Hall's rumored slope reprise sends waves through the ski world, it's hardly registered on the Norwegian's radar. "I'm going to ski as hard as I can no matter who I'm competing against," he says of Hall's possible return. "If I go into X and land the run I want, it won't matter if I'm first or tenth. I'll still be stoked." First or tenth? If Andreas Hatveit lands the run he wants, the only thing that won't matter are doubts about a repeat for the reigning Winter X Games Slopestyle Champion.