- Devon O'Neil, Writer, Action Sports
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ASPEN, Colo. -- In one of the most exciting finals in recent Winter X Games memory, Tom Wallisch held off 17-year-old rookie Nick Goepper to win the Men's Ski Slopestyle gold medal Thursday night with the highest score in the event's history.
Wallisch, 24, earned a 96.00 on his third and final run, breaking Candide Thovex's record of 95.00 set in 2007. As usual for the Pittsburgh native, he blended creativity on the upper rails with flawless versatility on the four jumps. When he landed his final trick, a switch leftside double cork 1080 Japan, Wallisch delivered the final blow in a shootout that saw the lead change hands three times between him and Goepper.
"This is amazing," said Wallisch, the eighth man to win Slopestyle gold in eight years. "Under the lights, primetime, this crowd, it's amazing. Everybody did pretty much perfect runs, right, left, doubles, 10s, 12s, it's just a matter of trying to stand out, somehow."
Wallisch remains undefeated this season, a far cry from last winter, when he missed most of the season because of a broken scapula. Thursday's gold medal was the first of his career in Aspen. "This is just the best season ever," he said. "It's just been going way too good."
Wallisch took the early lead with a 93.66 on his first run thanks largely to his ollie up onto the top of the Wall Ride feature, which no one else matched. Goepper, the surprise No. 1 qualifier from tiny Lawrenceburg, Ind., snatched the lead on his second run with a 94.66 that was marked by a double-grab maneuver on his rightside dub 12, switching from mute to Japan. He failed to top Wallisch's score on his third and final run, but he was far from disappointed with silver.
"It feels awesome, you know?" Goepper said. "It's just on to the next contest from here. I'm real psyched for the rest of the season."
On a different night, Andreas Håtveit's squeaky-clean, 92-point third run might have been enough for his second career Winter X gold, but not tonight. Wallisch, one of four U.S. Slopestyle Team members in the eight-man final, upped the ante on the Wall Ride on his third run, exiting the feature with a backside 450 while dropping 15 feet to the snow. His four jumps went as follows: switch right 900 mute, dub cork 12 mute, switch right dub 10 Japan to the final switch left dub 10 Japan.
Goepper's jump sequence went switch left dub 9 japan, left dub cork 12 mute, switch right dub 12 mute, right dub 12 mute to Japan.
Gus Kenworthy (89.33) finished fourth after falling on all three runs in last year's finals, and Australia's Russ Henshaw was fifth (89.00).
Check out full results from the Men's Ski Slopestyle finals.
Tom Wallisch notched the highest score Winter X Games Ski Slopestyle history to strike gold in the finals Thursday night.