On Jan. 31, the 25th edition of the Winter X Games kicked off in Aspen, Colorado. Held at the Buttermilk Ski Resort, the event featured only skiing and snowboarding events and was organized in a fenced-off venue, with no spectators permitted due to the ongoing pandemic. The pandemic also caused some athletes to withdraw from the Games, namely Canadian snowboarders Mark McMorris and Max Parrot.
The X Games are an annual extreme sports event hosted by ESPN. The first Summer X Games were held in 1995 in Newport, Rhode Island, with the winter edition being introduced two years later in Big Bear Lake, California. Among the various extreme sports, the event prominently features skateboarding, motocross, skiing, and snowboarding.
Due to the freestyling nature of the events, past X Games have seen their competitors introduce new, never-before-seen tricks. Some notable feats include Tony Hawk’s first ever 900 in skateboarding, Shaun White’s Double McTwist 1260 in snowboarding, and Travis Pastrana’s first double backflip in Moto X.
This year, despite a reduced number of events and competitors, athletes put their best foot forward to deliver exhilarating performances.
Jamie Anderson won another gold medal in Women’s Snowboard Slopestyle with her first run, making her the most decorated female competitor in X Games history with a total of 20 X Games medals. Zoi Sadowski-Synnott took second place in the same slopestyle event, while Quebec’s own Laurie Blouin won the bronze medal.
Dusty Henricksen from Mammoth Lakes, California made his X Games debut this year. Any pressure of his first Games did not seem to affect the 17-year-old snowboarder, who went on to win not one but two gold medals in Men’s Snowboard Slopestyle and the Snowboard Knuckle Huck.
“I was just trying to stay on my feet and snowboard and have a good time with all these boys,” Henricksen said in an interview with Forbes.
His win in the slopestyle event made Henricksen the first American male snowboarder to win the event in 12 years—since Shaun White in 2009—as well as the first snowboarder to win two gold medals in his rookie appearance.
Alongside Henricksen, Chinese freeskier Eileen Gu also made her first X Games appearance. Gu took first place in Women’s Ski Superpipe, as well as Women’s Ski Slopestyle and third place in Women’s Ski Big Air. Her debut made Gu the first woman to win three X Games medals in her rookie appearance, and the first rookie ever to medal in every event she competed in.
Marcus Kleveland, an X Games snowboarding veteran from Norway, made his seventh X Games appearance. In the Men’s Snowboard Big Air, Kleveland placed first, earning him his fifth X Games gold medal. However, while he started off strong in Men’s Snowboarding Slopestyle, Kleveland eventually fell short, finishing the event in fifth place.
This year, the slopestyle events took on a “jam session” style where competitors had a set amount of time to complete as many runs as they could and were only judged on their best run and not on overall performance. This method has received backlash, especially from fans who claimed the all-or-nothing judging style was partially responsible for Kleveland’s low placement.
Overall, the 2021 Winter X Games did not fail in showcasing some of the world’s best winter extreme sport athletes. Even with fan favourites like Shaun White withdrawing from the Games, athletes like Marcus Kleveland, Chloe Kim, and Nick Goepper all delivered expert performances. Moreover, with first-timers Dusty Henricksen and Eileen Gu breaking records, this year’s event kept viewers on the edge of their seats.