- Micah Abrams, Writer, Action Sports
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T-minus two days until Winter X Games Europe sparks off, but Tignes already feels like Aspen with a French accent. The base area of La Claret is dominated by the SuperPipe and Slopestyle venues, blue X-adorned banners are flying everywhere. Even if you can't speak French, you can hear names like "Simon Dumont" and "Torah Bright" on the lips of locals and visitors alike.
This is far from a typical week in Tignes, and not simply because of the X invasion. It's early March -- traditionally near the beginning of spring in this region, but you wouldn't know it on the mountain. Temperatures up top are hovering close to zero Fahrenheit, and it's well below freezing five thousand vertical feet down in the valleys as well. Winds were clocking in near 40 miles per hour, and those same locals expressing excitement about the star studded cast en route to their resort are also cursing under their breath as they get off the lifts. We know this, because the only French we know are curse words.
The weather has already delayed the first practice by creating trickier-than-expected pipe building conditions, which were enhanced by a Zaugg that decided to take an unscheduled wine-and-cheese break. That's been fixed, Sunday night's practice has been moved to Monday morning, and one of Europe's only 22-foot SuperPipes should be rippable by sunrise.
The Slopestyle course is also nearly complete and boasts eight features: three rails and five kickers. That's one feature more than Aspen's Winter X slopestyle, but perhaps the coolest feature isn't on the course - it is the course. In a relative rarity for ski and snowboard slope competition, the entire course is viewable from the La Claret base area - no Jumbovision viewing necessary. Maybe that's why rumor has it that the entire Tignes resort is sold out for the first time in recent memory this week.
Of course, a sizable chunk of those rooms have been taken up by the crème de la crème athletes who are already posting up in the athlete lounge at Hotel Diva. The much-ballyhooed 30 Olympians is actually down to 29, due to the unfortunate last-minute pull out by Gretchen Bleiler, who cited a minor injury as the reason. But that still leaves Bright, Louie Vito, Greg Bretz, Antti Autti, and Iouri Podladtchikov, and Peetu Piiroinen, who arrives fresh off Sunday's victory at the Arctic Challenge.
And it's not just Vancouver veterans. In addition to Dumont, Peter Olenick, Sarah Burke, and Jen Hudak have also been spotted, as have JJ Thomas and Travis Rice. The final tally stands at 140 riders from 20 countries, plus three slednecks -- Alexander Norgaard, Daniel Bodin, and Heath Frisby -- who are making their way over to do something that's actually illegal in much of France: ride snowmobiles. Of course, they're not planning on "riding" them so much as "flipping" them, which will likely leave a crowd of French people who've never seen such a thing in person (it being illegal and all) flipping out themselves.
So there's your Le Buzz for Sunday. Keep it tuned to ESPN.com/action all week to hear/see/taste/smell all the important cheese from Tignes.
Additional reporting by Dave Finger.
16hPat McManamon and Jeremy Fowler