X Games Aspen 2022 Preview
It is my favorite sporting weekend of the whole year, it is Winter X Games Aspen 2022 weekend. As it has for the last 20 years Aspen, Colorado will host the X Games starting on Friday, January 21 through Sunday, January 23. This year’s X Games will have 15 events across skiing and snowboarding. There are seven events within each discipline plus a Special Olympics Unified snowboarding event. Unfortunately like X Games Aspen 2021 there will be no competitions for snowmobiles or snow bike. However, unlike in 2021, X Games Aspen 2022 will bring with it the return of fans to the slopes of Buttermilk Mountain. With the 2022 Winter Olympics just around the corner this is the last major skiing and snowboarding competition before things get underway in Beijing, making this the last chance to see who could be medal contenders in Beijing.
Men’s and Women’s Big Air
Set to make its Olympic debut in Beijing, Ski Big Air at X Games Aspen 2022 will have some of the sport’s biggest names competing on both the men’s and women’s side. Swiss teammates look to defend their gold medals from 2021 with Mathilde Gremaud winning comfortably on the women’s side and Andri Ragettli edging out a victory in the men’s competition. One of the big stories in this event is surrounding Ragettli, who recently returned from a 10 month break due to injury and won first place in the FIS Slopestyle World Cup at Font Romeu in France last weekend. Ragettli returns to Big Air to face off against 17-year-old Austrian phenom Matej Svancer who is set to make his X Games debut. Svancer has yet to lose a Big Air event this season winning both World Cup events. The other names to keep an eye out for on the men’s side are American Alex Hall, who finished third last year, and Frenchman Antoine Adelisse, who finished second. In the women’s competition beside Gremaud only two of the six skiers last year will be competing in this year’s event. One skier that was not in Aspen in 2021 was French skier Tess Ledeux. Ledeux is the current leader in the Big Air World Cup with a win and a second place finish. She looks to be the one to beat especially with teenage superstar Eileen Gu (more on her later) not competing.
I am very excited to see the return of Ragettli to Big Air and think that if anyone is going to dethrone Svancer’s reign on the event it would be him despite a stacked field. However, I don’t think that is going to happen and have Svancer taking the gold, putting him in great form going into the Olympics. For the women, I think it’s a toss-up between Ledeux and Gremaud, but I am leaning slightly toward Gremaud.
Men’s and Women’s Superpipe
The biggest storyline for the superpipe competition is that the undoubtable “Queen of the Halfpipe” and clear Olympic favorite Eileen Gu will not be taking part. China’s Gu has not lost a halfpipe competition since 2019 when she came second in her first ever Halfpipe World Cup event. Since 2019 the now 18-year-old has won gold at the 2020 Youth Winter Olympics, gold in her X Games debut in 2021, gold in the 2021 World Championships, and swept all four World Cup events this season making her the current overall park and pipe leader. With Gu not taking part the door is wide open for the rest of the field led by Estonia’s Kelly Sildaru, a pair of Americans Brita Sigourney and Hanna Faulhaber, and Great Britain’s Zoe Atkin. Sildaru is especially interesting since she won the gold last time she competed at X Games in 2020 before taking a year off in 2021. Another interesting story is the sibling pair of Svea Irving and Birk Irving. Both Irvings are competing in the halfpipe competition and look to represent Winter Park, Colorado to the fullest. Birk Irving is one of three Colorado skiers taking part in the men’s halfpipe all looking to dethrone New Zealand’s Nico Porteous the reigning World Champion and X Games 2021 champion. Porteous comes in with some momentum winning the last World Cup event of the season. The skier that always performs well at X Games is Aspen local Alex Ferreria. Ferreria won back-to-back halfpipe golds at X Games in 2019 and 2020 and is more than capable of adding another gold to his tally. A final thing to take note of is that legendary skier Gus Kenworthy will be retiring after the X Games. Kenworthy has competed in every Winter X Games since 2011, yet still sits without a gold medal to his name.
With no Gu in the competition, the gold could be taken by anyone. I believe that Kelly Sildaru has what it takes to take advantage of Gu’s absence and will win her second X Games Superpipe gold medal. For the men, it should be a great battle between Porteous and Ferreria, but I see Aspen’s own edging out the Kiwi for gold.
Men’s and Women’s Slopestyle
Seven of the 10 competitors in the 2021 Men’s Slopestyle are back in 2022 including all three podium finishers: American Nick Goepper (1st), Norwegian Ferdinand Dahl (2nd), and Canadian Evan McEachran (3rd). Slopestyle brings all aspects of a park together with a rail and jump sections. On the World Cup stage, the Men’s Slopestyle has had nine different skiers on the podium in three events meaning this season not a single person has podiumed twice. What that means is buckle up, grab some popcorn and get ready to watch the show. On any given day all ten riders competing could go out and win. The skiers to keep a close eye on that missed the podium last year are Andri Ragettli, winner of the most recent World Cup event, Alex Hall, and Colby Stevenson. The Women’s Slopestyle field is the complete opposite. Of the eight skiers competing this year only three participated in 2021. Neither the gold or silver medalists from last year are competing at X Games Aspen 2022 with China’s Eileen Gu opting to sit out and prepare for the Olympics and Great Britain’s Isabel Atkin missing out due to injury. Even without those two skiers the talent pool is deep for women’s slopestyle with back-to-back gold medalist and current World Cup leader Kelly Sildaru returning after a year off from X Games. The Estonian has won two of the three Slopestyle World Cup events this year with Tess Ledeux winning the other. Sildaru set an X Games record with her gold in 2016 for being the youngest athlete to win gold when she won at only 13 years old. After Sildaru and Ledeux it is worth watching out for Norway’s Johanne Killi and Switzerland’s Sarah Hoefflin, both of which are more than capable of finishing on the podium.
Up there with the Men’s Snowboard Halfpipe event the Men’s Slopestyle is probably the hardest event to predict since virtually the whole field has the potential to win. I am going to go with Alex Hall though to win it. Hall is extremely strong on the rails and has the tricks on the jumps to match. For the Women’s Slopestyle event I believe it will come down to Sildaru and Ledeux, but I have Sildaru taking the gold once again.
Ski Knuckle Huck
One of only two events (Snowboard Knuckle Huck) that only gives out a medal for first place, the Knuckle Huck allows for a lot more creativity than you would see in the other events. Knuckle Huck is also known for bringing new skiers that would not typically be competing in Big Air, Halfpipe, or Slopestyle to the spotlight. This year two names that you do not see very often are Keegan Killbride and Konnor Ralph. The two Americans show the growth this event has and are definitely possible contenders. This event has only been part of X Games the last two years and 2021 winner Henrik Harlaut is not competing this year, but Colby Stevenson, the inaugural winner of this event from 2020 will be.
This is tough to pick only because X Games is the only time this event is competed in each year. I could very easily pick Alex Hall or Stevenson to win, but I’m going to make a dark horse pick and go with Killbride to win. The clips I have seen of Killbride show that he has the skill and tricks to take the gold.
Men’s and Women’s Big Air
There have been three different winners in the last three X Games Men’s Snowboard Big Air competitions and two of those, Marcus Kleveland from Norway (2021) and Max Parrot from Canada (2020), are looking to add another X Games gold to the collection. Standing in their way is one of the snowboarding greats, Canadian Mark McMorris. McMorris is one of the most accomplished X Games Big Air riders with 4 golds, 4 silvers, and 1 bronze medal on his resume. The two Canadians and Kleveland lead the way for a very foreign field that includes only one American, Chris Corning. On the women’s side the last three winners are all competing for a chance to win again. X Games legend Jamie Anderson will be taking part in her 22nd X Games across 18 years. She has missed only one X Games season, 2009, since debuting in 2004. Anderson won the Women’s Big Air competition last year in a very close event that saw places one through five separated by only five points. The other names to watch out for are Japan’s Miyabi Onitsuka, X Games gold medalist in 2020 and second twice, Austria’s Anna Gasser, three time X Games Big Air gold medalist, and New Zealand’s Zoi Sadowski-Synnott, third in 2021 and second in 2019.
In the Women’s Big Air competition I think it is finally Sadowski-Synnott’s time to take gold in big air, adding to her two other X Games gold medals in slopestyle. As far as the men’s competition goes I want to pick Kleveland, but my gut tells me to go with McMorris. McMorris will come out ahead and be back atop the podium for the first time since X Games Europe in 2020.
Men’s and Women’s Superpipe
Japanese dominance has been the story of halfpipe the last year with four of the six FIS Snowboard Halfpipe World Cup events being won by a rider from Japan. And the two events that weren’t won by a Japanese rider had one finish in second in both. In the men’s X Games competition there is however only one Japanese rider taking place. That is Ayumu Hirano, the current halfpipe and overall freestyle World Cup leader. Among the big name Japanese riders missing out are defending X Games champ Yuto Totsuka and Ruka Hirano (no relation to Ayumu). Along with them skipping the X Games in preparation for the Winter Olympics is iconic rider, Shaun White. The absence of these riders gives great hope to Australia’s Scotty James. James is arguably the best snowboard halfpipe rider around, but had not been competing in the World Cup this season until the final event. Instead, the Aussie has been secretly training at his own halfpipe in preparation to make a loud return to the sport he has dominated for so long. The three time X Games gold medalist will be one of the favorites to win in Aspen this year. The Japanese take over is just as true on the women’s side and even more so in this year’s X Games with half of the field being from Japan. The Tomita sisters lead the way with Ruki, 20, having won one World Cup event this year and Sena, 22, finishing second and third place in World Cup events this season. Along with the sisters, Spanish rider Queralt Castellet looks at anything but a podium finish to be a disappointment. Castellet won the X Games Women’s Snowboard Halfpipe in 2020 and finished in second in 2019. There are two notable riders missing from the competition. Defending X Games gold medalist, World Championship gold medalist, and Olympic gold medalist Chloe Kim is not going to be defending her X Games title as she opted out to prepare for the Olympics. Kim has been dominant since she won her first X Games gold in 2015 as a 14-year-old going on to win gold in six of eight X Games since then (third in 2017 and did not compete in 2020. The other big name missing is current World Cup leader China’s Cai Xuetong.
Scotty James will show his newly tuned tricks and return to the top of the halfpipe world at X Games Aspen 2022 just in time to make a run at Olympic gold after only managing a bronze in Pyeongchang in 2018. The Women’s side has good cases for a few riders, but Ruki Tomita will finish atop ahead of her sister and the rest of the field.
Men’s and Women’s Slopestyle
Americans Red Gerard and Dusty Hendricksen along with Finland’s Rene Rinnekangas and Canada’s Darcy Sharpe lead a stacked field. With current World Cup leader Sébastien Toutant not partaking any of those four plus back-to-back runner-up Norway’s Mons Røisland and two time champion Marcus Kleveland could find themselves atop the podium. Gerard comes in as the only competitor to have won a slopestyle event this season with one World Cup win and a win at Dew Tour. As in the halfpipe Japan has had some solid female riders competing in slopestyle. Kokomo Murase comes in leading the FIS Snowboard World Cup in slopestyle and overall freestyle. A few other riders that look to finish on the podium are Jamie Anderson, Zoi Sadowski-Synnott, and Laurie Blouin, all three finished on the podium at X Games 2021.
After finishing second twice and third twice in the X Games Men’s Snowboard Slopestyle Røisland will get it done and become the latest Norwegian to stand on top of the X Games podium. In the Women’s Slopestyle event Murase has been good all season and will continue that success with gold in Aspen
Snowboard Knuckle Huck
As mentioned in the Ski Knuckle Huck preview this event will be full of creativity. All three former champions will be partaking and should be putting on a show. Fridtjof Sæther Tischendorf (2019), Zeb Powell (2020), and Dusty Hendricksen (2021) all displayed unique tricks that showed off their style when winning the gold and that is exactly what should be seen this year.
The first two time Snowboard Knuckle Huck gold medalist will be Powell.
X Games Aspen 2022 takes place Friday January 21 from 12:30 PM ET until 12:35 AM ET, Saturday January 22 from 12:30 PM ET to 12:00 AM ET, and Sunday January 23 from 1:00 PM ET to 9:00 PM ET. All the events will be shown live across ESPN, ABC, X Games YouTube channel, and X Games social media accounts.
My must watch events are Men’s Snowboard Superpipe, Ski and Snowboard Knuckle Huck, and Men’s and Women’s Ski Slopestyle.
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