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Friday, September 18, 2009
Updated: September 22, 8:47 PM ET
Uncorked!

By Alyssa Roenigk

Shaun White debuted his double cork 1080 in New Zealand last month. White won pipe at both the NZ Open and the NZ Winter Games.

Sometimes, just believing something is possible makes it so. (Isn't that what they fed us in "The Secret"?) The double cork is a perfect example. Six months ago, no one was sure the trick was even possible in the halfpipe. The learning process seemed downright dangerous, not to mention scary as hell, and no one seemed willing to step up and take the risk of attempting the trick to snow.

Then, in March, Red Bull built Shaun White a private, perfectly manicured, 22-foot superpipe, complete with the sport's first foam pit, in Silverton, Colo. Dubbed Project X, the company flew White and a few friends to Silverton, where it took the 2006 Olympic gold medalist -- who had surgery on his right hand just four days prior -- all of three days to figure out the trick. The frontside double cork 1080 came first. "On my first try to snow, I hit my butt. The second, I dragged my hand and the third it was, 'Stomp!'" White told me in Silverton, two weeks into the experiment. "I had imagined it taking longer, and I was really nervous. It worked differently than I imagined, but it worked. I used to learn a trick a day. But now, to learn a new trick in a couple days, a trick that's never been done, is unheard of for me. This is exciting."

Luke Mitrani dropped the double cork at the NZ Open. It landed him second place next to White.

Once word leaked that White had landed a double cork -- one of several tricks he conquered in Colorado -- his competition went to work. "It was like the four-minute mile," says U.S. snowboard coach Ricky Bower. "Once one person landed it, the flood gates opened. Now guys on the Chinese team are trying them."

Still, it wasn't until the New Zealand Open in mid-August when the international snowboard community picked up on the storyline that will follow these athletes straight to Vancouver. (In Torino, the story was back-to-back 1080s. In Vancouver, and in the Grand Prix season leading up to the Olympics, the double cork will dominate.) White planned to keep a lid on his new tricks until later in the season, but his hand was forced on the double cork when other riders began throwing the trick publicly Down Under. Although the cork is out of the bag, there is a benefit to its early reveal: Come winter, fans will be educated about what they're watching and judges will be better equipped to score the trick.

Louie Vito, who learned double corks at the U.S. team camp in Mt. Hood this summer after working double backflips on a trampoline in Park City, was the first rider to land the trick in competition. He threw a frontside double cork 1080 in the semifinals of the NZ Open on Aug. 15, followed by White, who landed the same trick. In the finals, Vito, White and Luke Mitrani -- who landed a double cork 900 melon -- all landed double corks in their finals runs. Mitrani took second place and White, who landed the first back-to-back double corks, won the event with a cab double cork 1080 stalefish and a frontside double cork 900. (Vito finished ninth.) White is still the only rider with back-to-back double corks, as well as the only rider who can land the trick both frontside and switch (cab). (He also owns the only double cork backside 1080, but has yet to land it in competition.)

Once one person landed it, the flood gates opened. Now guys on the Chinese team are trying them.

-- U.S. Snowboard coach Ricky Bower


The week after the Open, White also won the World Cup halfpipe opener in Wanaka, New Zealand, which sets up one exciting winter contest season. Only four riders will make the U.S. Olympic team for the men. Already, seven U.S. riders claim ownership of a variation on the Trick of the Year. But Danny Davis, who owns two variations of the trick, says the double cork isn't the end-all, be-all of halfpipe tricks. He predicts switch riding will become the second storyline in Vancouver. "Switch riding has been overlooked," he says. "It's actually harder to do a switch backside straight air than a double cork, but everyone went straight to double flipping because that's what gets the points." But, Davis admits: "I am one of those people."

Kevin Pearce had a broken foot last month. While other riders were dropping their double cork debuts, he couldn't. Rest assured, he has one.

So what, exactly, is a double cork, and why all the fuss?

A corked spin is simply an off-axis spin. So a double cork is two off-axis rotations. In order to accomplish this in the halfpipe, the rider must get inverted (think: sideways backflip), and most riders are throwing variations of double cork 1080s. So the trick looks like a triple-spinning, off-axis double backflip.

Most riders are finding that although the trick requires a great deal of commitment and is scary to attempt the first few times, it is not the most technically difficult trick to master. However, it is spectacular to watch -- all that flipping and spinning requires a lot of amplitude and airtime -- and a total crowd-pleaser. Which, in Olympic language, is a synonym for "judge-pleaser."

"The sport has been stagnant for the past few years," Bower says. "Riders were cruising along, going through the motions. People were tired of seeing back-to-back 10s. What these guys are doing now is spectacular."

Who has the trick? (As of today.)

Before we look at who's doing what, a quick history lesson: As Bower recalls, "The first person I saw double flip anything was Jeff Davis, who invented the Crippler -- a straight-over backflip 180. He did a double Crippler at Mount Hood in 1992. Then [Mike] Michalchuk started doing straight-over double flips to fakie leading up to the 2002 Olympics. But those tricks never caught on. They were too much like acrobatics and gymnastics for the snowboard crowd."

Jump to 2009, and most will credit White as the first to land a true double cork in the pipe; others will argue that Vito was the first, though some will say his is more a flip style than an actual corked spin -- but this is another debate entirely. Regardless of who was first, there are seven U.S. riders currently laying claim to a double cork variation. Here's a breakdown:

Danny Davis, seen here at the Dew Tour in Mt. Snow, Vt., is at work on two different variations of a double cork, but he isn't banking everything on the trick.

1. Shaun White. Check out White's winning run here, featuring back-to-back double corks at the NZ Open.

2. Luke Mitrani was next to land the trick, at the U.S. team camp in Aspen, without the aide of trampolines or air bags. "It was amazing how easily he landed it," Bower says. "Luke, Shaun and Louie throw the trick similarly, in a straight-over, side-flipping way." Check out Luke's second-place run at the NZ Open here.

3. Louie Vito, who is trading on-snow training for a couple of months of in-studio training on "Dancing With the Stars" (which debuted Monday), was stomping double corks regularly at the team camp in Mt. Hood. "He's very consistent," Bower says. "He lands it about 80 percent of the time."

4. Also in Mt. Hood, youngster Matt Ladley stomped a few double corks before breaking his wrist on a double cork attempt. Check out his learning process here.

5, 6, 7. Frends crew members Danny Davis, Kevin Pearce and Scotty Lago learned double corks during their own private halfpipe training sessions in Mammoth -- which Davis calls the Kevin Pearce Frends Tour '09 -- although none have landed it in competition. Yet. "Danny does more of an inverted 720 to front flip out," Bower says. "Ladley's double corks look a lot like Danny's version. And Scotty does a true double off-axis spin, which is different from the straight-over flip Louie, Luke and Shaun throw. It's amazing to see the progression and how each rider is making the trick his own."