While the course is similar to last year in that it contains four super kicker ramps and one BAR (Big-Ass Ramp), it is definitely an upgrade. The entire freestyle snowmobile area holds a lot more snow and the landings are quite big, allowing riders to focus more on their tricks rather than landing cleanly.
Levi LaVallee was the "test dummy" -- the first rider to hit the course. Predictably, he was able to hit all of the ramps cleanly after only a few attempts. Always one to start the excitement before anyone expects it, Heath Frisby flipped the BAR ramp at just over 100 feet after just a few jumps. Other riders to flip early were Daniel Bodin and Caleb Moore. The elder Moore brother stuck an impressive heelclicker flip off the BAR ramp and shed any doubts that he is not in medal contention.
LaVallee busted out a series of no less than four flips in a later practice run, and defending gold medalist Joe Parsons threw down a couple nac nac flips. Other riders who looked good with their upright tricks were Isaac Sherbine, Jeff Mullin, and alternate Cody Borchers whose lanky stature makes for some huge extension.
Freestyle practice round 2 is coming up in a couple hours, we'll keep you updated as to how the boys do under the lights and after some course adjustments.
Daniel Bodin, for one, arrived in Colorado over two weeks ago. He's been spending the bulk of his time hitting ramps at the Colorado Sledstyle training facility at Electric Mountain Lodge, located on the Grand Mesa about 2 hours from Aspen. With the goal of taking a medal back to Sweden this year, Bodin has been steadily working on adding more flip variations to his bag of tricks.
As if that weren't impressive enough, both brothers started throwing flip variations that many of the top freestyle sledders have yet to perfect. The ruler flip, heelclicker flip, double can flip, and seat grab flip are all tricks that would appear to be a typo on the resume of someone who has been riding for barely a month. Impressive Indeed!
LaVallee found his way to Electric Mountain Lodge in time for a Monday evening ramp session, and got about 20 minutes of practice in before dark. Tuesday morning Levi overshot the landing and hit hard, cracking a couple of his teeth! A winner never quits, and it was right back to riding for Levi, despite a tooth that he described as "feeling like a serrated knife."
The first practice session at Buttermilk for WX14 fires up early this afternoon, we'll be sure to let you know how all of the riders, rookies and veterans, look on the newly designed course.
Tucker Hibbert is on the verge of making snowmobile racing history yet again this year. Coming into WX14, Hibbert is the first athlete with a chance to four-peat in a snowmobile discipline ... and if he does, it will tie Blair Morgan's record of five golds total. Tucker is the odds-on favorite here. Of course, there's a pack of hungry rookies and seasoned veterans out there looking to break his win streak. Could this be the year that history becomes, well, history?
The Best Trick competition has created more buzz among sledheads in the weeks leading up to WX14 than any of the other snowmobile disciplines. Rumors abound of flip variations, underflips, decade airs, body varials, and even remote-control assisted backflips (seriously!). One thing we know for sure is that no one - not even Levi LeVallee himself - is claiming a double backflip this year.
Joe Parsons showed up very well prepared for X last year, and it paid off in the form of two gold medals. Parsons will return to WX14 ready to battle, but the question is: How prepared will the rest of the field be?
Add it all up and you'll soon realize that this will be the most stacked field ever for Snowmobile Freestyle ever.
Debuting at WX14, the Knock Out event promises to be unlike any previous snowmobile competition. Riders will line up in front of a steel ramp set for distance and in line with a huge step-up like landing. The idea is really quite simple: To see who can jump the furthest.
Paul Thacker set a record for jumping a sled and broke the 300-foot mark last spring, which has to make him a favorite for any event where flying a sled as far as possible is the goal. Hibbert and LaVallee may also have an advantage in Knock Out as well, since snocross often requires precise pre-loading of the suspension and higher speeds than freestylers typically ride at.
Make no mistake, these guys are here to race. Whatever disability a rider pulls up to the line with doesn't matter when the green flag drops, because from that point on it's all about winning. Guys like Mike Schultz and Doug Henry are fierce competitors. Mix in a handful of other racers with equally compelling stories and you've got an event full of heart and inspiration.
Sure, Levi LeVallee isn't an event at WX14, but he's a force of nature here for sure. While his plans for completing the double backflip are temporarily on hold, LaVallee will be doing the opposite of slacking. In fact, he'll be going for gold in four different snowmobile events -- again. Even if he just makes it to the start of each event, that will mean that LaVallee has competed in every single snowmobile discipline in X games history (aside from adaptive snocross). That's 7 events total.
It's on in Aspen. Winter X 14 is underway.
There are still a couple days until the judges start handing out scores, but the riders are already out on hill, warming it up. Last night was the first round of Superpipe practice and today the Slopestyle course was open and ready to rip.
A couple dozen shreds showed up for pipe practice under the lights and most kept it pretty safe. There was the occasional 720, the odd 900 and maybe even a 1080, but the double cork was nowhere to be seen. That's sure to change when everyone is watching. But will the looming Olympics keep riders from really putting it down? Will they sit on their hammers or can we expect to see everything they've got? Swiss pipe slayer Iouri Podladtchikok, aka I-Pod, is predicting "lots of double flips."
While he is one of the smallest competitors on the Skier X roster (5'7, 160 lbs), he is also one of the most intimidating -- hence his nickname, "The Dark Lord." Pushy and relentless, he maneuvers the course like a race car driver and always finds his way to the front no matter where he is when the gate drops.
Take 16-year-old Winter X '10 Slopestyle rookie Tyler Flanagan, the winner of the season-opening Winter Dew Tour Slopestyle event in December 2009. Flanagan persevered despite opposing guys he's always admiredmen's snowboarding heavy-hitters like Winter X '08 Big Air gold medalist Torstein Horgmo and Winter X '09 Slopestyle bronze medalist Mikkel Bang. After laying down the top score, Flanagan calmly waited in the corral while the rest of the field tried to top him. The laidback teen's heart-rate never appeared to rise a beat.
He says that it takes a combination of, "A good base, good skis and some luck," to get on the podium in Skier X. "You need to be fast, too, especially in the gliding sections," he adds.