half of the competitors in last night's X Games Halfpipe finals were former gold medalists: Alex Ferreira in 2019 and 2020, Simon D'Artois in 2015, Aaron Blunck in 2017, and David Wise with a whopping four gold medals from 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2018.
However, on the last night of X Games, chasing medals seemed insignificant as news broke of the passing of former halfpipe competitor and 2015 World Champion Kyle Smaine, who reportedly died in an avalanche in Japan earlier that day. 31-year-old Kyle was not just a competitor, but a friend to many of the riders, and he will be sorely missed by everyone in the ski community.
All in all, it was a rocky night in the Aspen halfpipe, with more crashes than makes and plenty of controversial calls by the judges. But hey, it wouldn't be the X Games if it didn't give us something to argue about afterwards!
BEST OF | 2023 X Games Men´s Ski Superpipe Finals (YouTube)
Run 1 got off to a slow start, with only one rider putting down a complete run. Simon D'Artois dropped first in good conditions only to fall on his last hit, an alley-oop double 10. The only X Games rookie in the field, Finnish up-and-comer Jon Sallinen, couldn't land his left 1620 clean. Birk Irving was the first to put a clean run, and that was the only clean one from the first pass-through. And the Aspen crowd held its breath as local boy Alex Ferreira took a brutal slam on the coping on his left double cork 1620, diving into the bottom of the pipe afterward. But somehow, he was quickly back on his feet and good to go.
David Wise on the way to his fifth Superpipe gold, eleven years after he won his first one. Photo: Jamie Schwaberow/X Games
On the second run D'Artois was looking better, linking his beautiful air to fakie to switch 1260 tail, only to crash again, this time on the last hit. Jon Sallinen took the lead when he dialed back his run with low amplitude, but a clean run was enough to put the Finn in the lead.
He didn't stay top for long though, as Birk Irving reclaimed the top spot with a run that featured a beautiful an alley-oop double flat 720 and a left dub 1440, but no rightside doubles. The judges said it was still enough to move him into first. That was until, veteran, Wise showed he'd done this before with a standard, but most importantly clean, run: switch right 900 tail, switch left double cork 1080 japan, an absolutely massive right 900 tail, and finishing with mirror back-to-back dub 12 mute. That was enough to move the two-time Olympic champ into first.
It wasn't Alex Ferreira's night as he took another brutal crash, this time on a right double cork 16. Unfortunately, Alex was tonight's punching bag in the pipe—but incredibly, he walked away from two massive crashes that would have laid a lesser competitor flat.
Birk Irving´s clean switch 12 was one of the evening´s highlights. Photo: Joshua Duplechian/X Games
Run three was when we might have gently began asking questions of the judges. D'Artois stomped a huge run: air to fakie, switch left 12, switch right 7, left dub 12 to an alley oop left dub 10. That was only good enough to put him into fourth. Maybe no grabs or big rightside tricks hurt him there?
It was a similar story with Simon's fellow Canadian Noah Bowman, who replaced him in fourth with a right dub 14, sw 900 shifty, a bone flip, switch left dub 10 to a right 10 tail. The judges seemed obsessed with putting good runs into fourth place, as Brendan Mackay followed down a big run consisting of a switch left alley-oop double 900 into a switch left dub 10, followed by a massive alley-oop flat 5 japan a left dub 12 tail and a right dub 12 safety, which again inexplicably was scored one place off the podium.
Meanwhile, Ferreira called it a night after his second big crash, and David Wise underrotated going for a 16—a nice try and a welcome case of an old dog learning a new trick. After a third run with three big runs stomped from the Canadian contingent, viewers were left asking if the judges were allergic to maple syrup as the podium remained locked on Wise, Birk Iriving and Jon Sallinen.
Before the fourth and final run, a photo tribute of Kyle Smaine was shown onscreen, and from the commentator's booth, Tom Wallisch assured us that every athlete would be throwing down in his honor.
Simon D'Artois came out firing with the same run, going even bigger but unfortunately missing some grabs. Noah Bowman looked like a man on a mission and on his way to the podium with an all-or-nothing switch left double 1260 safety when his binding inexplicably released upon landing. The undisputed king of switch pipe skiing went down hard, clutching his knee, and had to be helped from the area—but not without a fist pump to fire up the crown.
It all came down to Aaron Blunck, a fierce competitor if ever there was one, who managed to link a podium-worthy run on his fourth try: right 1080 tail, switch left double cork 900, switch right dub 10, left double flat 900 and a closing right double 12 tail. And yet again, the judges kept the podium locked to any new comers.
All in all, it was a weird night for halfpipe skiing. It was one that saw more crashes than makes, and unless yours truly missed something important, a night that saw the judges snub at least three competitors with clear shots at the podium.
In a certain sense, it seems like the clock was running backwards last night. David Wise's winning run was clean, no doubt about it. It was also a run that, in large part, wasn't all that different from the run that he won with back in 2014 (just for reference, when bronze medal winner Jon Sallinen was 14 years old).
Birk Irving's silver-medal run was also impressive in amplitude, but lacked heavy-hitting rightside tricks. And Jon Sallinen showed off impressive, technical skiing that demonstrated why he was brought into this otherwise veterans-only final. But his amplitude was seriously lacking, and his highlight left dub 16 was barely brought around—easily on the edge of making it a throwaway run. Instead, it was given a bronze medal. Whether that run was better than what Noah Bowman, or Brendan Mackay, or Simon D'Artois, or Aaron Blunck showed us? Well, the judges have their opinion, and we have ours.
X Games Aspen 2023 Men´s Ski Superpipe Final: Full Replay (YouTube)
1. David Wise
2. Birk Irving
3. Jon Sallinen
4. Aaron Blunck
5. Brendan Mackay
6. Simon D'Artois
7. Noah Bowman
8. Alex Ferreira