The waiting game is about over. Back for the 19th consecutive year at Aspen’s Buttermilk Ski Area, ESPN’s annual Winter X Games will get underway next week with the best skiers and snowboarders set to strut their stuff.
Even without legend Shaun White and rising Japanese sensation Ayumu Hirano, the contests should be a smorgasbord of raw talent. Here’s what to look for in the men’s snowboarding competitions at X Games Aspen 2020:
Finals: Thursday, 8 p.m.
2019 podium: Scotty James (gold), Yuto Totsuka (silver), Danny Davis (bronze)
The 15-man field will be about one guy, who is the unquestioned favorite coming in: Scotty James. The likeable Australian is dominating the sport like few have. The last time he lost a meaningful competition? Go back to the 2018 Winter Olympics, won by White with Hirano finishing second and James third. James has won everything under the sun since then, from the U.S. Open to the world championship to, yes, X Games.
He’s the reigning champ here in Aspen, that gold going with the one he won here in 2017. Hirano won X Games Aspen gold in 2018, when James finished second. White, as expected, is not here in 2020, nor is Hirano, who hasn’t competed in Aspen since winning gold two years ago. Quite frankly, James might not have much competition to keep him from a third Aspen gold medal on Thursday night.
His closest challenger is likely to be Japan’s Yuto Totsuka, the rising 18-year-old star who won silver last year behind James. With wins last spring at the Mammoth Grand Prix and a World Cup in Calgary — James didn’t compete in either — Totsuka has firmly established himself as the second-best halfpipe snowboarder over the past two years. Certainly if and when Hirano, who at 21 already has a pair of Olympic silver medals, and White decide to show up again, the hierarchy will be reset.
Steamboat’s Taylor Gold, who won X Games bronze in 2017, and two-time gold medalist Danny Davis are back, as is White’s protégé, the 19-year-old Toby Miller out of California. But in reality, it’ll be a showdown between James and Totsuka this week in Aspen for that gold medal. Everyone else is competing for bronze.
Finals: Saturday, Jan. 25, 1:45 p.m.
2019 podium: Mark McMorris (gold), Rene Rinnekangas (silver), Mons Roisland (bronze)
Unlike the superpipe, this is a competition that has a handful of potential winners. At the top of the list has to be Canadian superstar Mark McMorris, whose 17 combined Winter X Games medals are tied for second behind only White’s 18. McMorris has won X gold eight times, including slopestyle gold in 2019.
His toughest competition might be fellow Canadian Max Parrot, a 10-time X Games medalist (six gold) who overcame a bout with cancer last year to return to Aspen. Also competing is reigning Olympic gold medalist Red Gerard. The Summit County teen seems to be the future of the sport, although he’s yet to snag an X Games medal in three tries. His best finish in Aspen was fourth in 2018.
Norway’s Marcus Kleveland is a contender as well. He’s twice won X Games Aspen gold in slopestyle (2017, 2018) before sitting out last year after shattering his kneecap. He’s back, healthy and obviously knows how to win here.
There are plenty of other household names competing, like Rene Rinnekangas (silver in 2019), Mons Roisland, Stale Sandbech and Sebastien Toutant. And don’t forget about Silverthorne’s Chris Corning, a former Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club athlete. More of a big air specialist, this will be Corning’s third trip to X Games Aspen.
Finals: Saturday, Jan. 25, 8 p.m.
2019 podium: Takeru Otsuka (gold), Mark McMorris (silver), Sven Thorgren (bronze)
Like in slopestyle, McMorris and Parrot have to be the favorites. They’ve dominated this event far too long not to be. Not to mention, last year’s champ, Japan’s Takeru Otsuka, isn’t competing. Toutant, Kleveland, Rinnekangas, Thorgren and Roisland all are, however, so it should be a good show.
All eyes should be on Corning, though. Health issues derailed his first two X Games Aspen competitions, so maybe his luck will change this year. He also struggled at the 2018 Olympics, but has otherwise dominated big air competitions everywhere else. His quad cork 1800 has become his staple, and if he lands that here at X Games he’ll likely win gold. Only 20, Corning will have has day in the sun soon enough.
On top of bringing back knuckle huck (Sunday, Jan. 26, 6:30 p.m.) for a second year, X Games has added two new snowboarding events for 2020 in superpipe best trick and a rail jam. Knuckle huck, which is where the riders toss themselves off the “knuckle,” or rounded part, of the big air jump, was a big hit last year. It was won by Fridtjof “Fridge” Tischendorf. He’s back, as is Kleveland, who will compete in the event he inspired for the first time.
The superpipe session (Friday, 9:30 p.m.) currently has eight riders, including James, Davis and Totsuka, so it should be stellar. The competition will be a 20-minute jam session with the riders getting to throw down their best single trick.
The rail jam (Sunday, Jan. 26, 1:30 p.m.) isn’t quite as star-studded, but does currently include Thorgren, Rinnekangas and Craig McMorris, Mark’s older brother and current X Games TV personality. Another jam session, riders will take to the rails on the slopestyle course and skip the jumps.
Of course, X Games wouldn’t be complete without the Special Olympics Unified snowboarding and skiing races Thursday morning that get everything started. Aspen’s own Chris Klug, an Olympic bronze medalist in alpine snowboarding, is always a contender.