2023 X Games Aspen Preview
It is that time of the year when skiing and snowboarding take center stage. That’s right, it’s time for the 2023 X Games. This year’s X Games will once again be held at Aspen’s Buttermilk Mountain in the heart of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. The number of events is the same as last year with 16 total events taking place. Both skiing and snowboarding have seven events each across the two disciplines. Along with those there will also be a Special Olympics Unified event for both skiing and snowboarding. The 2023 X Games will be the first time that freestyle skiing and snowboarding are shown on national tv in the U.S. since the 2022 Winter Olympics took place last February. Many of those competitors will be in Aspen including 24 medalists from the last Winter Olympics.
Men’s and Women’s Big Air
The simplest event to explain is that of big air. At the X Games and in the FIS World Cup circuit, big air is made up of athletes taking three runs at the 70-foot jump with the best two runs being scored. Last year history was made in this event at the X Games as American Alex Hall became the first person to land a 2160 (six full rotations) in a men’s big air event. He won gold for his new trick while Mac Forehand and Teal Harle won silver and bronze respectively. All three podium finishers from 2022 will be back for the 2023 X Games. This is the last big air competition until the FIS Freestyle Ski World Championships get underway in March. So expect all eight athletes to go big and try to fine-tune their biggest tricks. The big air circuit has been dominated by Norway’s Birk Ruud. Ruud won both World Cup events this season securing himself first place for this year.
On the women’s side of things, the big story is that this will be Eileen Gu’s first big air competition of the season. The gold medalist from the 2022 Winter Olympics returned to competitive skiing for the halfpipe world cup in Calgary last weekend. In her absence, it has been a pair of 21-year-olds that have taken the wins in the two big air events so far. France’s Tess Ledeux won at the Chur World Cup event in the Swiss city before Canadian Megan Oldham won at Copper Mountain in Colorado. Those two finished atop the podium of last year’s X Games with Ledeux taking home the gold. The other skier to watch out for is Mathilde Gremaud. The Swiss skier is only 22, but she seems to have been at the top of the skiing world for a few years now. She finished the FIS big air season tied first with Ledeux as the only skier to make the podium in both events this winter. She is in a great position to sneak onto the podium at X Games Aspen.
Alex Hall changed skiing last year and it would not surprise me if he repeated his feat at the 2023 X Games. However, he finished ninth in his lone big air event this season. I am going to lean toward Birk Ruud to keep up his hot streak and take home gold for Norway. On the women’s side, Eileen Gu is the best thing in freestyle skiing, and I believe she will take home her first career X Games big air gold medal.
Men’s and Women’s Halfpipe
On the men’s side of X Games halfpipe, one huge name is going to be missing from the competition. That is Nico Porteous. The defending X Games and Olympic halfpipe champion suffered a torn ACL last winter. With the 21-year-old’s absence, the fight for X Games gold is wide open. David Wise is the old man in the competition at 32 years old. He turned back the clock last season finishing second at the Olympics and third at X Games. Wise is a four-time X Games halfpipe gold medalist. Alongside him is the hometown hero Alex Ferreira who finished seventh a year ago after winning back-to-back X Games golds in 2019 and 2020. The Aspen local will have the whole crowd behind him as he looks to get back to the top of the sport. The only skier ahead of Ferreira in the FIS halfpipe standings is another Colorado native, Birk Irving. Irving has a first and second-place finish this season and has more than what it takes to take home his first-ever X Games gold.
Eileen Gu has dominated the women’s halfpipe competition since 2020. She has won virtually every halfpipe event she has been in, which includes the 2021 X Games, the 2021 World Championships, and the 2022 Winter Olympics. She is as dominant in this event as Shawn White once was in the snowboard equivalent. The two World Cup events held in Calgary last weekend were both won by Gu in a pretty convincing fashion. However, the Chinese-American skier is second in the standings behind Canada’s Rachael Karker. Karker won the lone event when Gu did not compete and finished second in the last two. You can also never count out 20-year-old Kelly Sildaru. One of the few star athletes from Estonia has won gold in the last two X Games halfpipe events she has competed in. She won in 2020 and 2022 while missing out on 2021 due to an injury.
If he was competing, give me Hotdog Hans in a no-contest, but I have a feeling the iconic character will not be. In that case, I feel the local kid, Alex Ferreira, will return to the top of the X Games halfpipe and take the gold. On the other side, give me the “Queen of the Halfpipe” Eileen Gu to continue her dominance of this event.
Men’s and Women’s Slopestyle
Slopestyle brings every aspect of park skiing together with both a rail and jump section. The men’s slopestyle events for skiing and snowboarding are the only two that have 10 athletes instead of eight. The most recent slopestyle World Cup event was this past weekend at Laax in Switzerland, and that was won by Swiss skier and defending X Games champion Andri Ragettli. Just behind Ragettli is Birk Ruud. What separates these two and Alex Hall from the rest of the competition is their skill on the rails and jumps. Some skiers like Jesper Tjäder are insane on the rail portion (ex: Unrailistic) but lack a little bit on the jump portion compared to others. Over the last seven X Games Aspen competitions there have been seven different men’s slopestyle winners. This just shows that on any given day any of the 10 skiers could win.
Another Norwegian that has dominated their event this season is Johanne Killi. Killi has yet to lose a slopestyle event yet this season and is running away with the FIS Crystal Globe awarded to the most successful skier in each event. It will by no means be straightforward for Killi though, especially with Eileen Gu being back in slopestyle and Tess Ledeux looking to defend her 2022 X Games gold medal. Gu along with Mathilde Gremaud and Kelly Sildaru all appeared on the slopestyle podium at the 2022 Winter Olympics.
This is one of the hardest events to predict because there are so many different aspects that are a part of slopestyle. Messing up even one rail or jump could be the difference maker. With that being said I think that Alex Hall will put everything together and take gold for the men while Eileen Gu will bring home for the women.
Ski Knuckle Huck
This is the most creative event at X Games as there are no scores but skiers are judged on overall impression. Last year was the first time that there was a full podium, not just a gold medal awarded. Quinn Wolferman took home the gold with Jake Mageau getting the silver and Alex Hall with the bronze. The best thing about X Games knuckle huck is that the viewers get to see people that don’t typically compete in big events like Mageau. This year has two skiers that do not typically compete in the likes of big air, halfpipe, or slopestyle and those are the defending champ Wolferman and Alex Hackel. Hackel is a two-time X Games medalist for his Real Ski pieces. This is also the only event that the legend Henrik Harlaut is competing in. He alone will bring style, flair, and energy.
I want to pick Harlaut to win and I think he could. However, I am going to lean toward a surprise pick Colby Stevenson. He won the inaugural X Games ski knuckle huck in 2020.
Men’s and Women’s Big Air
Between the 2022 X Games and Winter Olympics, five different snowboarders finished on the podium. Only Canadian Max Parrot was on the podium in both events. That trend of anyone winning has continued this season with four different men finding themselves atop the World Cup events. However, it was 17-year-old Valentino Guseli that finished first place in the season. Along with him, Japan’s Takeru Otsuka and Taiga Hasegawa have won a big air event as has Norway’s Marcus Kleveland. The rider to watch out for is another teenager Su Yiming. The 18-year-old from China won the gold medal in big air’s Olympic debut last year. He has yet to compete in an event this season but still enters the 2023 X Games as a threat to be reckoned with. Another rider that can always throw down is Mark McMorris. With half of the competitors in this being born in the 2000s, McMorris is the elder of the group at a whopping 29 years of age. He has won 10 X Games gold medals since debuting in 2011.
On the women’s side, all three medalists from the 2022 Winter Olympics will be competing. Among those is defending X Games big air champion Zoi Sadowski-Synnott. The 21-year-old Kiwi established herself as the best female snowboarder in the world last year with four medals, including three gold medals, between the X Games and Winter Olympics. She finished second in big air at the Olympics behind Anna Gasser. Gasser is a legend in her own way and won the final event of the FIS season in her home country of Austria. One of if not the youngest athletes at the 2023 X Games is 16-year-old Mari Fukada, who will be making her X Games debut in the big air competition.
This could very well be the event that Guseli begins his takeover of the sport. The young Aussie is incredible and could win both big air and halfpipe at the 2023 X Games. I do think he will get the gold in this just ahead of the rest of the field. For the women, it is Sadowski-Synnott’s time and she will take gold and complete the Oceanic sweep of snowboard big air.
Men’s and Women’s Halfpipe
This is the main event of the weekend. The men’s snowboard superpipe always goes the biggest and is must watch tv. This year even more than usual with a regional battle lining up between Australia and Japan. Six of the eight riders competing in the X Games halfpipe are from one of those two countries with two from Australia and four from Japan. From Australia, it is Valentino Guseli and Scotty James. It is a changing of the guard down under with James being on the way out while Guseli is just getting underway. James has won three of the last four X Games halfpipe gold medals, finishing second in 2021. While James is always impressive, Guseli set the world record for halfpipe air at 24 feet. That means that at the peak his body is 46 FEET above the ground! Unfortunately for the Aussies, they have to go against Japan’s best. This includes Ayumu Hirano, who won the 2022 Winter Olympics gold medal over James. Then there is his brother Kaishu Hirano who went massive at the Olympics and took home X Games bronze last year. To add to the confusion there is a third Hirano, Ruka Hirano, who is unrelated to either Ayumu or Kaishu. Ruka Hirano won the bronze medal in this event at the 2021 X Games. The only halfpipe rider to stop James at the X Games was Yuto Totsuka who won gold at the 2021 X Games.
While the men’s event is absolutely stacked, the women’s event is missing its star. American Chloe Kim is sitting out this season following her second straight Winter Olympic gold in the halfpipe. Kim is not the only one missing out as 2022 X Games gold medalist Sena Tomita is also not competing. Without them, this event could be won by anybody. There has only been one World Cup halfpipe event this season so far and Spain’s Queralt Castellet won that ahead of Elizabeth Hosking and Mitsuki Ono. Any of those three could realistically win it as could China’s Xuetong Cai. There should also be a shout for the lone American Maddie Mastro to get her third-ever X Games medal.
I am going to put a bunch of names in a hat to pick the men’s superpipe winner… And the winner is going to be Scotty James for the second straight year. On the women’s side, I am pulling for Queralt Castellet. The 33-year-old finished second at both the 2022 X Games and 2022 Winter Olympics, but the people that beat her in each are not competing.
Men’s and Women’s Slopestyle
Last year Mark McMorris made history when he won X Games gold in slopestyle. With that win, he collected his sixth X Games slopestyle gold medal which surpassed Shaun White for the most. That was also his 21st total medal which ties him with Jamie Anderson for the most by a Winter X Games athlete. He almost got the double by winning Olympic gold in slopestyle but finished third behind fellow Canadian Max Parrot and Chinese prodigy Su Yiming. Fortunately for McMorris and the field, Parrot will not be competing due to personal reasons. This makes for an exciting event especially since there has only been one snowboard slopestyle event this season. Last weekend, Marcus Kleveland took home first place at Laax in Switzerland. Kleveland finished second at the 2021 X Games which prevented him from becoming the first athlete to win three gold medals in a single Winter X Games. He is however a two-time X Games snowboard slopestyle winner.
Last year was the Zoi Sadowski-Synnott show at X Games and this was her best event. She won snowboard slopestyle gold at both the X Games and Winter Olympics in 2022. This season has gone the same way so far with the Kiwi winning the lone FIS slopestyle World Cup event. The surprise story of the snowboard season has been 16-year-old Mia Brookes. Brookes broke onto the main stage by landing a 1260 last April. The young Brit then finished second behind Sadowski-Synnott at Laax last weekend after being the top overall qualifier. Anna Gasser can also never be counted out and is looking for her first X Games slopestyle medal since winning gold at X Games Norway in 2017.
The season is young and any of the men competing could win this. I am going to go with Mark McMorris though. After the 2023 X Games, he will stand alone atop the Winter X Games medal table. As far as the women’s slopestyle event goes I would love to see the new British star Brookes get the gold, but I just think Sadowski-Synnott is too good not to win.
Snowboard Knuckle Huck
Just like the ski equivalent, this event is all about style. This started out as the Marcus Kleveland event since he was known for doing crazy tricks of the knuckle of the big air jump. The Norwegian won the gold medal in 2022. This will be the fifth edition of snowboard knuckle huck at the X Games and so far there have been four different winners and all four will be competing at the 2023 X Games. Fridtjof Sæther Tischendorf or “Fridge” (2019), Zeb Powell (2020), and Dusty Henricksen (2021) join Kleveland in the search for a second knuckle huck gold. Meanwhile, Halldor Helgason is looking to win his second X Games medal and first since 2010.
There will be a second-time winner this year, and of the candidates, I am going with Zeb Powell. He missed the podium last year but will bounce back in a big way at the 2023 X Games.
When and How to Watch
X Games Aspen 2023 begins on Friday, Jan. 27, at 1:30 PM ET and will go on until Sunday, Jan. 29. All the events will be shown live across ESPN, ABC, X Games YouTube channel, and X Games social media accounts.
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