There are contests that are forgettable, where not much of note happens. And then there are contests that take things to a whole new level. The Visa Big Air in Steamboat, Colorado on December 4, 2021 was the second kind of contest.
On the women’s side, 18-year-old rising star Eileen Gu won her first, but probably not her last, World Cup Big Air. With forward double corks in both directions, including a right dub 14 that’s a world’s first in women’s competition—Gu showed that she’ll be a top contender in Big Air not just during this Olympic season, but for the foreseeable future.
Gu kicked things off with a leftside double cork 10, grabbing safety, then japan. On her second jump, she unveiled her new double cork 12 safety to the right, stomping it clean. She’d already claimed the win with those two tricks when she dropped in for her third jump, landing a right double cork 14 and becoming the first woman to land an unnatural dub 14 in freeski competition.
“I made that decision [to do the right 14] probably after I landed my second run,” said an elated Gu after the contest. “I felt like I had done to the best of my ability for the left 10 and the right 12 and I really wanted to push it.”
“It’s done a lot for my confidence,” she said of her first major Big Air win. “I’ve always thought of myself as a slopestyle skier and as a halfpipe skier, and after this, I guess I’m a big air skier too.”
She was trailed by French Big Air veteran Tess Ledeux, who landed her signature rightside double cork 12 mute clean and backed it up with a switch right bio 1080 tail. On her third hit, Ledeux also went for a world’s first, attempting a rightside double cork 1620 that would have won the competition, had she been able to land it clean.
Norway’s Johanne Killi rounded out the women’s podium. Killi stomped a perfect switch right double cork 1080 japan, and added a switch left 1080 tail for her second trick. Canada’s Elena Gaskell and Olivia Asselin claimed fourth and fifth place respectively, with Gaskell showing off a switch bio 10 mute and Asselin landing a double cork 12.
On the men’s side, Czech-Austrian breakout talent Matej Svancer continued his meteoric rise, landing not one, but two never-before-seen tricks to claim his second straight Big Air win. Svancer got started with a switch left triple cork 1440 safety, slowing his rotation for a “tokyo drift” landing. It was a new innovation in Big Air competition that had spectators scratching their heads and judges scrambling to evaluate this new approach to landing, and we’ll certainly be seeing more of it in the days to come.
Not content to upset the apple cart just once, Svancer went back up and tossed a nose-butter triple cork 1980 safety—another never-been-done that netted him the outrageous score of 98 and a clear victory.
“I’m kinda having fun out there,” Svancer said. “It was kind of sketchy to try it [the nose butter triple] today because I didn’t know if I was going to stick it or not, so I was nervous, but I had fun. I don’t really think about winning too much. I’m mostly just thinking about the trick I want to stomp.”
Tired of A-Hall’s Buick grab yet? Not when he’s spinning 1800 and 1980 degrees.
In third place, France’s Antoine Adelisse was able to rely on two tricks from his impressive quiver: a switch right triple cork 1440 with a pre-nose grab held throughout the whole rotation, and a forward right triple cork 16 safety.
Reigning Big Air world champ Oliwer Magnusson claimed fourth place with the help of massive forward and switch double 1800 tails, while Norwegian Tormod Frostad impressed in his first Big Air finals with a fresh switch double bio 16 and 18 japan for fifth place.
Henrik Harlaut had qualified first with his nose-butter triple cork 1620, a trick he hasn’t unpacked in at least a few years. However, he broke his boot during practice for finals and seemed to take a more laid-back approach to the contest, trying his own tokyo-drift landing on a nosebutter cork 12 as well as a switch tail butter double attempt that came up short.
Besides the X Games in Aspen on January 21-23, the next major Big Air contest will take place at the Beijing Olympics on February 7-9, 2022.