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Thursday, January 25, 2007
Updated: January 8, 5:42 PM ET
Riot Girls Get Their Grins

By Jon Coen
EXPN.com

Seven is an odd number, which means that 2007 isn't an Olympic year. For the princesses of pipe, it means more suntans, nail polish, waves and rounds of golf. In other words, it means that snowboarding is fun again.

There's no denying 2006 was an amazing year. The sport reached millions of new fans. New heroes emerged. History was made. But last season, riders were preoccupied with structuring their runs to conform to strict FIS standards.

But with Torino behind them, and Vancouver three years off, snow shredders are putting the fun back in their run. And where better to do it than Winter X, the original yardstick of progression?

" You can really push your spins and grabs here. I've added a cab 360 with a truck driver to my run. Plus, I cork my spins a lot, and I don't know if traditional judges appreciate that," said Molly Aguirre, who slid into the finals when Lindsey Jacobellis took a helmet-splitting noggin knock in warm-ups. Aguirre kept up the entertainment-vibe with a surprise handplant on her last hit. "The X Games are about taking it bigger and cleaner. The FIS is more concerned with technicalities."

"Last year, riders were pre-occupied with developing an FIS run, where judging is super strict. There's a spin judge, a difficulty judge, a straight air judge, an amplitude judge." Now they're free to drop in and paint their own personal picture because they know the Winter X judges are all ex-pipe pros and it's straight up overall impression," said on-air commentator Kris Jamieson.
Torah Bright is an adorable little lass, but her first place pipe run was nothing short of savage. This reminds us to point out that koalas can be vicious at times.

And it's not just pipe antics. Anticipating crowns of olive branches, riders were busy with training and mental preparation. This year, it's back to a rigorous schedule of fun.

"I got to surf more than ever this fall," said incumbent superpipe champ Kelly Clark.

"We got pedicures and went shopping—we got to be normal kids again," added Aguirre.

When the girls are enjoying themselves and pushing each other, the crowd knows it. The party for one of the most intense showdowns in women's Winter X superpipe history kicked into gear with Kelly Clark's gargantuan straight airs and Kjersti Oestgaard Buaas's healthy air to fakies.

When'06 Aussie Olympian and Winter X silver medalist Torah Bright came out spinning like a 45 EP on her first run, it became clear that a few Aussies were in the house. Every move was out of the lip, but a minor sit down left her with a score of 85 for run one.

In the name of getting the jollies while still pushing the sport, several girls threw a 9. Elena Hight landed it backside, while a few ladies made attempts, but washed out in a cloud of crystal.

Not hometown girl, Gretchen Bleiler, though. Last year Bleiler skipped WX in her own backyard, and while the Aspen town folk may have enjoyed watching Bleiler in Torino, they seemed giddy to have her back at Buttermilk. "Last year was incomparably strenuous. Now I can mix it up and have a little fun," said Bleiler.

For the first time, all four of Blieler's brothers watched Winter X in person. The trick vixen recognized and busted out a frontside 900 on her first hit, added a stylish grab to her crippler, threw in a 540 and a smoking method. While her cheering section (from Snowmass to Aspen Village) went into a frenzy, the judges awarded her a 91.

The stage was set. The local celeb had set the bar, and Lake Tahoe's Elena Hight seemed the obvious candidate for the coup. From run one of elimination, Hight boosted effortlessly and landed with authority, traveling further across the Rocky Mountain sky than any other competitor. But even her back 9 and front 7 were just enough for a bronze accessory.

While Australia Day was being celebrated on the south side of the world, Torah Bright stepped up in her final run to do her country proud. Tail grab air to fakie. Cab 720. Proud they were. Frontside McTwist. Backside 3. Truckdriver grab. Backside 540. Another shrimp on the Barbie, put to rest with a switch backside 540. Good on ya, mate. Before she could lay in to a celebratory carve, an inflatable kangaroo draped with an Australian flag materialized in the crowd. Gold for the saucy Aussie. Oi, oi, oi for Tina Dixon's mic on TV.

"I'm pretty ecstatic right now. It's good to have so many Aussies out here with me. I came here to put on a show," said Bright. But was the weight lifted from the five rings? "Ahhh, I have fun every year."