With Winter X Games 2012 Big Air two weeks away, it's time to revisit the burning question: Will this year be the year of the triple?
Triples were a topic of suspense going into Winter X Big Air last year. A select few from snowboard and ski had triples on video, but concerns about the size of the jump kept competitors and spectators doubtful that the new tricks would come out during Winter X 2011. But then Norwegian Torstein Horgmo, who had been credited with landing the first triple cork on a snowboard months earlier, surprised everybody when he just made it around on the first triple in snowboard competition at 2011 Winter X Snowboard Big Air.
That won Horgmo the Big Air gold and it lit a fire under skiers to try to even the score at their Big Air event the following evening. Australian Russ Henshaw, who at the time had gotten triple rotations around to his feet but hadn't landed one cleanly, was forced to withdraw from the contest early when he fell hard attempting a switch triple rodeo 1260. Sammy Carlson spent the better half of the final jam session repeatedly doing switch double rodeo 9s, trying to feel the set for the triple. He ultimately held off, deeming that the jump wasn't right for the trick.
Carlson landed the switch triple rodeo for the first time the previous summer, but "[It was] on a much bigger jump," he said after the Big Air final. "I was warming up for it but I kept slipping on the takeoff." With triple flips out of play, Alex Schlopy took the 2011 Skiing Big Air gold with a double cork 1620, the same trick that had landed TJ Schiller the silver in 2010.
This year, much like last year, the speculation on triples comes down to the jump. According to reigning Snowboard Slopestyle champ Seb Toutant, "If they build the Big Air jump better than last year, and bigger, we'll definitely see some triples in both snowboard and ski."
Toutant relied on a frontside double cork 10 to take silver in 2011 Big Air. A few months later in April, Toutant added a backside triple cork 1440 to his arsenal during a spring kicker session at Squaw Valley, Calif. In doing so, Toutant added his name to a short but growing list of snowboard competitors with triples. Also on that list is Mark McMorris, who landed the first backside triple cork 14 in Aspen, Colo., in March 2011.
A number of ski competitors also added new triples to their repertoires last spring. Brown landed skiing's first triple cork 14 on the same Squaw Valley jump where Toutant got his triple cork. "It's pretty much the same exact rotation as a double 10," Brown said. "There's a pretty natural progression to go over a third time. It's all natural feeling, the body position's the exact same on the whole entire trick. When you get to the third flip, you just grab your ski, ball up tighter and come around."
Less than a day after Brown, Russ Henshaw landed his own triple cork 14 during a training session at the Jon Olsson Invitational in Åre, Sweden. Swiss skier Elias Ambühl learned the trick a day later and used it to win the premier Scandinavian big air contest.
Given Brown's nonchalance about his first triple cork and how quickly other elite skiers learned it, it seems reasonable that the floodgates could open any minute -- especially when the double cork 10, the first two-thirds of the triple cork 14, has long been a stock trick for slope and big air contenders.
"Skiers are going to be throwing triples in contests this year for sure," Brown said. "In Big Air, someone's definitely going do it. And even in Slopestyle, I would not doubt it." Brown called out Ambühl as most likely to attempt a triple on the Slopestyle course, citing Ambühl's ability to spin faster than any skier in the field.
With a growing number of competitors mastering them and big air jumps constantly growing in size and quality, triples will eventually become commonplace in competition. But at this moment in time, pulling out a triple is like pulling out a Joker, even for the best competitors.
"It's worth the risk to try a triple for X Games," Toutant said. "But you have to be smart with it and only try it if you need it."
"If you land it, the triple is worth the risk," 2010 Snowboard Slopestyle silver medalist Eric Willett said. "But it's definitely a gnarly trick and could be a season ender if it goes wrong. I don't think it's worth the risk, because you can still win with other tricks."