The highs and lows of the Aspen X Games 2021

By Daphne Seberich

If you enjoy watching Snowboarding and Freestyle Skiing then you are no stranger to the X Games. Each year the best athletes in those disciplines are invited to compete at Buttermilk Mountain in Aspen, Colorado. This year was no different. The difficult worldwide situation didn’t stop the organizers from holding this special event that many professionals regard as the “Olympics of Freestyle Ski/Snowboarding”. But as a spectator, watching the competition go down without fans was heartbreaking and just not the same. 

Photo credits: ESPN Press Room

The passion, excitement and breathtaking tricks the athletes portrayed just felt different to watch and, I dare to say, almost emotionless to me. It is obvious that the riders would give their best to earn a gold medal, no matter what, but to me the crowd’s response to the athletes’ effort is priceless. Even though the commentators Craig McMorris and Brandon Graham have done an outstanding job entertaining the at-home viewers, something was clearly missing for me. Some competitions did not only lack an audience. The athlete’s runs were not as imposing as twelve months ago too.

My favorite events held at the X Games are hands down the Wendy’s Knuckle Huck and the Monster Energy Men’s SuperPipe snowboarding disciplines. In my humble opinion, they are the most exciting and creative competitions to watch, especially Wendy’s Knuckle Huck. The creativity the athletes put into how to descend a slope’s knuckle just amazes me. It’s about style and boldness, not just technique. 

Photo credits: YouTube & X Games – ESPN

Last year’s Knuckle Huck event was the most entertaining competition to watch at X Games. Zeb Powell, Markus Kleveland and Fridtjof “Fridge” Sæther Tischendorf’s showdown blew everyone’s mind run after run. That is what I envisioned and imagined to see at the 2021 event as well. Needless to say, I was immensely disappointed. 

The audience, unfortunately, had to see many falls, uncompleted runs and mediocre tricks. We were just waiting for something exceptional to happen. No one really blew it out of the park. Markus Kleveland was probably who came closest to it with his Cab 7 double Cab 7. And he didn’t even win. 

As a surprise for everyone, Dusty Hendricksen, an X Games rookie, managed to earn gold at the competition. Did he deserve it though? I’m not so sure about that. His most impressive trick was his Cab 1 tail press-frontflip, which, in his defense, was massive. Jake Canter and Markus Kleveland, although, were just, in my opinion, on another level. The technical difficulty of the tricks Hendricksen executed didn’t even come close to Canter’s and Kleveland’s. And for creativity? As they would say in the U.S., they were “miles” apart. 

Video rights: ESPN

Even though I was delighted to see a woman compete in the Knuckle Huck event for the first time, Jamie Anderson, the Slopestyle queen, just couldn’t keep up with what the men were presenting to the judges. There was too big of a difference between her tricks and the ones performed by her competition.

On a higher note, the 2021 Monster Energy Men’s SuperPipe event was mind-blowing, full of adrenaline and suspense. The three giants of the discipline Ruka Hirano, Scotty James and Yuto Totsuka were ready to battle each other for the highest step of the podium. Hirano was set to stun everyone with his talent proving himself worthy of the convocation, as this is his first appearance at the X Games. Aussie James was aiming at a three-peat, having won the last two SuperPipe editions. Japanese rider Totsuka had back-to-back wins in sight after triumphing over James at the Laax Open. 

Photo credits: OA Sport, Forbes & Aspen Times

The competitiveness was super high. Most of the riders amazed us viewers with the difficulty of their tricks, the amplitude of their jumps and the “stomping” of their landings. The tight battle between the three favorites for the win was incredible. Until Scotty James ended his last attempt, no one could’ve predicted the outcome of the event. The bar was raised run after run. The impossible was made possible. That’s what I, as a viewer, was expecting from the athletes and they did not disappoint. 

As the X Games SuperPipe events are now ranked based on overall impression, we as viewers had no clear idea of how close the Australian snowboard superstar and the Japanese 18-and-19-year-old prodigies really were throughout the competition. But Yuto Totsuka sealed the deal on his last run, right before Scotty James dropped into the snow-pipe, putting him under immense pressure to perform. The Japanese stunned the jury with his incredibly difficult and highly technical tricks. James undoubtedly put down his best run at his last attempt, closing off the competition. But it wasn’t enough. No three-peat for the Aussie, whereas Totsuka’s back-to-back wins became reality. 

Video rights: ESPN

One thing is clear: These were not the usual X Games that we look forward to and adore. Nevertheless, some competitions amazed me. Some let me down. I’m hoping for some audience-packed Aspen 2022 X Games with neck-to-neck competition and fair scoring. In addition to that, we want all the incredible athletes who were unable to compete because of health reasons (Shaun White, Birk Ruud and Zeb Powell to name a few) back at Buttermilk Mountain. Let the countdown to Aspen 2022 begin.  

Photo credits: Aspen Snowmass