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Mikaela Shiffrin rules World Cup downhill in Bulgaria for her first win in 2020

Mikaela Shiffrin had gone nearly a whole month — insert overly-dramatic sound effects here — without winning on the World Cup tour, so, naturally, she burst back into the win column on Friday with a downhill victory by winning the Val d’Isere, France, downhill in Bansko, Bulgaria.

Shiffrin finished in 1 minute, 29.79 seconds, 0.18 seconds ahead of Itay’s Federica Brignone and Switzerland’s Joana Haehlen (0.23 seconds) in a downhill rescheduled from Val d’Isere last month.

Ironically, Shiffrin withdrew from the original Val d’Isere downhill because that came on the heels of a 17th-place finish in giant slalom in Courchevel, France, to hit the pause button on her season. Said downhill ended up getting snowed out twice in France.

While fans are used to Shiffrin winning World Cups — this is her 65th career win and fifth in 2019-20 — it’s only the second time she’s won in downhill (Lake Louise, Alberta, on Dec. 1, 2017).

“I was really excited about this track and the challenges in it,” Shiffrin told The Associated Press. “It’s not easy. It’s a little bit scary. At the start, I was like, ‘OK, you got to get tough now.’ It’s for sure a nice track for me.”

Big points

What originally seemed like a trip to Bulgaria to pad her overall lead in her quest for a fourth consecutive World Cup championships by participating in speed events this weekend became a bit more serious when Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova also entered training on Thursday.

Shiffrin led Vlhova in the overall, 925-726, going into Friday’s race. Vlhova, who had only competed in one World Cup downhill in her career (17th, Are, Sweden, in 2018), finished sixth on Friday, an excellent result for the Slovakian better known for her tech skills.

Nonetheless, Shiffrin gained 60 points on Vlhova and 20 on Brignone, who surged past the Slovakian into second. For the statistically inclined, Shiffrin now leads the table with 1,075 points, followed by Brignone (795) and Vlhova (766).

One sleeps better, we assume, on what is nearly a three-race lead.

While the overall championship is doubtless the goal, Shiffrin also pulled into second place in the downhill standings with 206 points behind Switzerland’s Corinne Sutter (243). It sounds a little silly — Shiffrin competing for a downhill globe — but the ladies are racing in another downhill in Bansko on Saturday.

Post-race breakdown

Via FIS SoundCloud, Shiffrin busted up the post-race news conference, when the Bulgarian host asked her about Saturday’s downhill.

“I thought tomorrow was slalom,” Shiffrin deadpanned. “Just kidding.”

On a serious note, it’s been quite an adjustment for Shiffrin from technical skiing back to downhill. Consider that she last raced the discipline on Dec. 6-7.

“The last time I was on my downhill skis was in Lake Louise, so it felt like a really long time ago. I felt a little bit strange on my skis yesterday (during training),” she said. “It’s hard to make the turns so long. I’m normally doing slalom and GS turns … It’s a little bit strange only to have now just two runs of downhill since early December. I wasn’t expecting this today and I’m not expecting it tomorrow.”

That said, Bansko seems like a fit for Shiffrin. As she has slowly expanded into speed events, she’s been meticulous in selecting the sites for her forays. Lake Louise is a mellow track and also conveniently scheduled early in the season.

St. Moritz and Crans-Montana in Switzerland have slowly been added through the years as has Cortina, Italy. By the way, this spring’s World Cup finals and next year’s FIS Alpine World Ski Championships are in Cortina. (Doubtless, Cortina making Shiffrin’s cut in not a coincidence.)

Bansko, though not an annual stop on the tour, also may get added to that list. The Bulgarian resort has hosted the women’s World Cup in 2009, 2012 and 2015 — Lindsey Vonn won super-Gs there the first two years — and has a reputation as a technical track.

Technical is ski-speak for a speed course with more turns — which just happens to be a Shiffrin specialty — and was targetted by Shiffrin’s coaching staff.

“This hill is pretty challenging and it’s prepared amazing,” Shiffrin said. “It’s for sure the most technical hill on the speed circuit. I was looking forward to coming here because that maybe suits me a bit better than some of the other typical speed tracks.”

Shiffrin will compete in Saturday’s, ahem, downhill, followed by Sunday’s super-G.

Vail Rec District hosts first-ever skimo race event at Arrowhead

The Vail Recreation District’s winter race series expanded into Beaver Creek on Sunday with an with an uphill and ski mountaineering competition.

Ski mountaineering, or skimo, has been increasing in popularity in recent years; the competition combines both an ascent and descent to determine a victor. Competitors use Alpine touring skis or splitboards.

Winner Sylvan Ellefson, a local cross-country skier who was national champion in the 30K freestyle in 2014, said Sunday’s race was the first true skimo competition he ever enjoyed in the Vail area.

“I’m glad they got to do it in Arrowhead, what a great spot to do it,” he said. “Location, parking, ease of access — everything was really well done.”

Ellefson was a winner of the Skimeister competition during his sophomore year at Vail Mountain School in 2003. The Skimeister competition combines results in both Alpine and Nordic to determine the best overall skier at the high school level.

The climb was approximately 1,700 vertical feet and just less than 2 miles from the base of Arrowhead Village up Cresta and Pow Wow to the top of Arrow Bahn Express Lift. The downhill route was on Golden Bear. 

The Beaver Creek Uphill and Skimo was the first race in the three-part Bloch and Chapleau Vail Grail Winter Race Series. The series will continue Feb. 16 with the Vail Mountain Uphill, and it will conclude with the Krueger Family Shamrock Shuffle on March 14. Results will be available online.

Skimo results by place

Top Total Place Place

Place Bib Name Age Sex Time Time In Sex Division In Div

1. 664 Sylvan Ellefson 33 M 28:24 31:34 1st 30 to 39 1st

2. 656 Mike Kloser 60 M 29:15 32:00 2nd 60 to 69 1st

3. 662 Michael Hand 30 M 29:09 32:00 3rd 30 to 39 2nd

4. 655 Kyle Wilcox 34 M 30:38 34:21 4th 30 to 39 3rd

5. 629 Eugenio Perez 39 M 30:44 34:39 5th 30 to 39 4th

6. 649 Andrew Letherby 48 M 30:16 35:09 6th 40 to 49 1st

7. 626 Taff Dirks 34 M 31:15 35:30 7th 30 to 39 5th

8. 638 Mike Trueblood 50 M 33:28 37:35 8th 50 to 59 1st

9. 660 Bruce Hayes 46 M 34:26 37:37 9th 40 to 49 2nd

10. 661 Marina Hand 31 *F* 34:20 38:30 1st 30 to 39 1st

11. 635 Lisa Tunninello 50 *F* 35:23 41:17 2nd 50 to 59 1st

12. 668 Dan Timm 55 M 37:25 41:36 10th 50 to 59 2nd

13. 609 Heather Pugh 29 *F* 36:41 42:53 3rd 20 to 29 1st

14. 642 Lewis Perna 47 M 36:42 43:47 11th 40 to 49 3rd

15. 671 Tj Voboril 39 M 38:26 44:17 12th 30 to 39 6th

16. 640 Julie Morrow 48 *F* 40:29 44:21 4th 40 to 49 1st

17. 624 Jonathan Zeschin 34 M 39:56 44:44 13th 30 to 39 7th

18. 675 Daniel Lyons 50 M 39:39 44:49 14th 50 to 59 3rd

19. 631 Hayden Krueger 15 M 40:43 45:07 15th 19 & under 1st

20. 641 Paul Gotthelf 67 M 39:33 46:00 16th 60 to 69 2nd

21. 603 Marie-Christine Carel 55 *F* 40:05 46:13 5th 50 to 59 2nd

22. 653 Karl Krueger 52 M 37:27 46:45 17th 50 to 59 4th

23. 637 Christopher Brandl 32 M 43:28 47:50 18th 30 to 39 8th

24. 613 Cait Boyd 48 *F* 45:04 49:31 6th 40 to 49 2nd

25. 617 Celynn McClarrinon 49 *F* 44:51 49:40 7th 40 to 49 3rd

26. 600 Chris Aubel 59 M 47:09 52:04 19th 50 to 59 5th

27. 619 Ellen Miller 60 *F* 46:56 53:26 8th 60 to 69 1st

28. 628 Luis Aguilera 42 M 46:24 53:44 20th 40 to 49 4th

29. 632 Pavan Krueger 50 *F* 47:50 53:45 9th 50 to 59 3rd

30. 606 Jill Lau 29 *F* 50:50 59:58 10th 20 to 29 2nd

31. 658 Tracie Rupert 38 *F* 53:12 1:01:08 11th 30 to 39 2nd

32. 602 Edgard Cabanillas 47 M 55:29 1:03:42 21st 40 to 49 5th

33. 601 Joyce Benson 59 *F* 58:05 1:07:10 12th 50 to 59 4th

34. 610 Savannah Shifrin 27 *F* 58:20 1:07:14 13th 20 to 29 3rd

35. 630 Jeffrey Geller 38 M 1:00:12 1:08:21 22nd 30 to 39 9th

36. 659 Justin Compton 40 M 1:15:25 1:24:31 23rd 40 to 49 6th

Uphill open results by place

Place Place

Place Bib Name Age Sex Time In Sex Division In Div

1. 608 Jason Platt 39 M 28:28 1st 30 to 39 1st

2. 615 Davis Krueger 17 M 29:32 2nd 19 & under 1st

3. 667 Dan Nielson 58 M 30:19 3rd 50 to 59 1st

4. 604 Jimmy Daly 33 M 31:51 4th 30 to 39 2nd

5. 625 Mark Pribramsky 50 M 32:11 5th 50 to 59 2nd

6. 612 Rec Vertuca 43 M 32:44 6th 40 to 49 1st

7. 611 Jim Telling 61 M 33:07 7th 60 to 69 1st

8. 676 Kevin Andrus 44 M 33:37 8th 40 to 49 2nd

9. 669 Matt Johnson 52 M 34:07 9th 50 to 59 3rd

10. 673 Courtney Knott 31 *F* 34:36 1st 30 to 39 1st

11. 618 Scott McClarrinon 50 M 35:24 10th 50 to 59 4th

12. 633 Karl Edgerton 57 M 36:02 11th 50 to 59 5th

13. 644 Gavin Richardson 51 M 39:03 12th 50 to 59 6th

14. 657 Carrie Assell 40 *F* 39:30 2nd 40 to 49 1st

15. 607 Danielle McNair 42 *F* 39:58 3rd 40 to 49 2nd

16. 650 Kim Fuller 33 *F* 41:09 4th 30 to 39 2nd

17. 654 Sue Bardsley 58 *F* 41:17 5th 50 to 59 1st

18. 648 Trina Richey 57 *F* 42:42 6th 50 to 59 2nd

19. 643 Carrie Larson 51 *F* 43:19 7th 50 to 59 3rd

20. 652 Cassie Scales 33 *F* 43:57 8th 30 to 39 3rd

21. 646 Kelly Daly 32 *F* 45:34 9th 30 to 39 4th

22. 616 John Krueger 55 M 46:42 13th 50 to 59 7th

23. 651 Matthew Lee 37 M 47:34 14th 30 to 39 3rd

24. 647 Michael Richey 54 M 49:54 15th 50 to 59 8th

25. 670 Christian Garcia 40 M 52:38 16th 40 to 49 3rd

26. 605 Shelley Hall 57 *F* 58:17 10th 50 to 59 4th

27. 623 Marlin Smickley 81 M 1:05:44 17th 70 & over 1st

Uphill ski results by place

Place Place

Place Bib Name Age Sex Time In Sex Division In Div

1. 663 Corrie Crane 42 *F* 39:15 1st 40 to 49 1st

2. 672 Tim Mt Pleasant 35 M 39:34 1st 30 to 39 1st

3. 645 Brad Zoller 42 M 42:11 2nd 40 to 49 1st

4. 634 Jennifer Sommer 37 *F* 43:46 2nd 30 to 39 1st

5. 636 Jesse Sommer 62 M 44:29 3rd 60 to 69 1st

6. 639 John Robb 50 M 47:55 4th 50 to 59 1st

Uphill splitboard results by place

Place Place

Place Bib Name Age Sex Time In Sex Division In Div

1. 674 Nick Kierstead 26 *F* 36:19 1st 20 to 29 1st

Japanese trio steals snowboard big air show

On a night where snowboarding fans at Buttermilk Ski Area watched with bated breath to see if Austrian star Anna Gasser would attempt a three-inversion triple cork trick, they didn’t have to wait long for excitement in the X Games Aspen women’s snowboard big air final.

Before Gasser even attempted — and nearly landed — the unprecedented triple cork on her first run Thursday, a trio snowboarders set the stage for one thrilling big air jump after another. In the end, the show was stolen by a collection of Japanese riders, including eventual champion Miyabi Onitsuka.

Twenty-five minutes before Onitsuka was crowned, on the first run down the 300-foot run-in to the 80-foot big air jump, Slovakian veteran Klaudia Medlova set the stage for one progressive trick after another by landing a double backside rodeo. The 21-year-old Onitsuka then landed a frontside 1080 to get into the conversation. Over her next two runs, Onitsuka followed the frontside 1080 with a backside 1080 and a huge backside 1260 to take the commanding lead in the jam format, where judges re-ranked snowboarders after each jump, based on “overall impression.”

Before Gasser could even drop in, Japanese 18-year-old Reira Iwabuchi landed a backside double-cork 1080 to put her in position for her eventual bronze medal.

Then Gasser attempted her triple cork for the first time, the closest she came all night. Gasser continued to try the trick, failing to get enough speed to get it around on her second and third runs before going for it again on her fourth run.

On that fourth run, Gasser had two people at the top of the ramp whip her onto the run-in for more momentum. But the failure to land the triple cork was the scariest miss yet, as the front of her board caught the landing and she hit her head hard on the landing.

After a couple of minutes being assessed by X Games medical, Gasser rode off OK.

As for the rest of the competition, Onitsuka followed up that frontside 1080 with a backside 1080 and then a soaring backside 1260. The 1260 was actually landed twice Thursday night after only being landed once before in women’s competition. The other rider to land it was eventual silver medalist Japanese teen phenom Kokomo Murase, who at 15 is the youngest snowboarder in any X Games competition this year.

After the competition where the trio of Japanese riders took home gold, silver and bronze, Onitsuka, in her best English, summed up the night.

“I can’t believe it,” she said. “Landing my backside double-cork 12 to take gold. I was so stoked.”

Glenwood nips Huskies hockey, 3-2

EAGLE— That hurt.

Glenwood Springs’ Coulter Strautman scored on the power play with 39.8 seconds left in regulation to lift the visiting Demons over Battle Mountain hockey, 3-2, Thursday night at the Eagle Pool & Ice Rink.

Glenwood Springs was on the power play after Huskies goalie Logan Gremmer got whistled for a slash on the Demons’ Sean Mooney with 1:47 left.

As the buzzer went off, Mooney helpfully clapped his stick to the ice at the top of one of the circles not far from Gremmer.

With the loss, the Huskies fell to 4-7-1 overall and, more importantly, 2-2 in the Peak League.

This would be a good time for the disclaimer that the Huskies wouldn’t have been in this game were it not for Gremmer and that fault for a one-goal loss cannot be assigned to one player.

“It’s a learning experience,” Huskies coach Derek Byron said. “It’s part of growing up. It’s not easy to teach, for sure, but we all make mistakes. We’ve got to get over it and get better from it.”

Let’s all remember that Byron knows this from playing Battle Mountain hockey back in the day, Class of 2007.

There are the good times and the bad, and they were all wrapped up into 51 minutes on Thursday.

A Dylan Webster goal staked the Demons to a 1-0 lead on the power play, perhaps an omen, early in the first period.

The Huskies started to crank with a booming shot from the point from Alex Parliament. Somewhere in a mass of Huskies’ and Demons’ bodies was Dillon Flaagan who redirected with his stick for the equalizer.  

Early in the second, Kyle Parliament fed Flaagan. 

If there is any good news from a last-minute loss, it’s that the Huskies really don’t have any time to cry over spilled milk. They’re right back at it tonight in Aspen.

Eagle valley wrestling fifth at Mel Smith Invite

So there’s the Mel Smith Husky Invitational in Florence that has nothing to do with the Huskies — locally speaking — but in which Eagle Valley ended up finishing fifth among 30 teams last weekend.

The Mel Smith is one of those measuring-stick meets as 3A squads work their way toward regionals. The Devils’ report card is “solid, but with work needed,” which is fine.

“Better to lose now than the big show,” Devils coach Melvin Veldez said referring to the postseason.

Cody Ponce finished fourth at 220 pounds, suffering his first losses of the season. Lucas Comroe fell to Pagosa Springs’ Dylan Pickering in the championship side of the bracket but got another shot at him in the third-place match.  Comroe got his revenge with a 10-4 decision.

At 106 pounds, Matthew Medina finished fourth. On the other end of the spectrum, heavyweight Abraham Garcia took sixth.

In the 132-pound division, Manuel Heredia lost early, but wrestled his way back to fifth, an impressive weekend of wrestling.

Meanwhile, Battle Mountain wrestling was at the Rumble in the Rockies in Rifle last week. A tournament of duals, the Huskies lost to Meeker and Grand Valley to start but bounced back with three straight victories (Basalt, Rangely and Coal Ridge) to win the Bronze Pool.

Eagle Valley wrestling was scheduled to take on Basalt and Summit County in Basalt on Thursday night. Battle Mountain was scheduled to host Grand Junction as well.

Saints beat Basalt

We have established the fact that Vail Christian’s boys’ basketball’s Jamison Lee, Alec Moritz and Hayden Sticksel are very good at that dribbling and shooting thing.

So give it up for sophomore Jesse Gonzales who scored in double digits for the first time in his career with 11 points, helping the 2A Saints to a 69-52 win at 3A Basalt on Wednesday night.

The 8-1 Saints clamped down defensively with a 19-6 third quarter. Senior Kaleb Williams was your star on the defensive end.

The Saints girls took a 55-40 loss to the Longhorns earlier in the evening. Abby Kuhns led the way with 16 points.

Vail Christian hosts Hotchkiss tonight at 6 and 7:30 p.m.

Demons take down Devils

Eagle Valley boys basketball hung it with Glenwood Springs in a 67-52 loss in Gypsum on Tuesday.

Keegan Garvey and Carlos Sanchez each scored 16 points, while Bryan Martinez had 15.

Eagle Valley was scheduled to play at Summit County on Thursday night.

Shiffrin fourth in World Cup downhill training

It appears to be “game on” for the women’s World Cup in Bansko, Bulgaria.

Mikaela Shiffrin finished in fourth during Thursday’s training run behind Switzerland’s Joana Haehlen, Italy’s Federica Brignone and Austria’s Tamara Tippler.

Thursday was the only dress rehearsal the ladies have. In addition to your regularly scheduled downhill and super-G in Bulgaria on Saturday and Sunday, respectively, the women also have the “Val d’Isere” downhill today in Bansko, rescheduled from France on Dec. 21.

Training results do not necessarily translate to results on race day, but Shiffrin has to feel pretty good about getting down the hill in fourth in her maiden voyage on this slope.

Shiffrin will start in the No. 16 bib today.

Petra?

Looking over Thursday’s training results, it’s nice to see Shiffrin’s teammate Breezy Johnson in sixth. Johnson has had a hellish run of injuries and it would bee great to see her get an opportunity to display her talent.

Further down the results was a bit of a shocker — Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova finished 10th. If that sounds a bit surprising, well, it is. Shiffrin’s chief rival for the overall and slalom has competed in only one World Cup downhill in her career — finishing 17th in Are, Sweden, back in 2018.

Yes, it’s a surprise guest to this weekend’s speed events in Bansko, Bulgaria. Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova appears to be racing in her first downhill since 2018. (AP Photo/Marco Tacca)
Bulgaria Alpine Skiing World Cup

Shiffrin leads Vlhova, 975-726, in the points. With speed events taking up five of the next six weekends on the women’s World Cup tour, the Slovakian appears to be rolling the dice to see if she can gain ground on Shiffrin.

Since we focus more on the tech side of things, let’s take a look at the downhill this season Your DH winners have been the Czech Republic’s Ester Ledecka (Lake Louise, Alberta, first race), Austria’s Nicole Schmidhofer (Lake Louise, second) and Switzerland’s Corinne Suter in Altenmarkt, Austria.

Suter leads the downhill points with 225, followed by Ledecka (182) and Schmidhofer (154). Shiffrin is actually seventh in the downhill points with 106 by finishing 10th and second in Lake Louise in December.

Shiffrin enters Bulgarian World Cup events

Welcome to Bulgaria, Mikaela.

Mikaela Shiffrin apparently will be racing in speed events in Bansko for the first time in her career, she announced on Twitter.

“Hey everybody, It’s Mikaela Shiffrin. I’m so excited to be in Bansko. It’s my first time here, first time racing here. So I’m super excited for these races and I hope you are too and I hope you enjoy the show.”

Presumably, the three-time defending World Cup champion will compete in both Saturday’s downhill and Sunday’s super-G. Downhill training runs are scheduled for today and Friday. Shiffrin is wearing the No. 20 bib for today’s training run.

Sestriere strangeness

Shiffrin is coming off a bizarre weekend of giant slalom and parallel GS in Sestriere, Italy. In Saturday’s GS, She finished 1-hundredth of a second off the pace — and finished third. Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova and Italy’s Federica Brignone shared the win.

Shiffrin is pretty familiar with a photo finish in World Cup races. She’s tied twice for a win in her career on the World Cup.  She and Vlhova were deadlocked on the top step during last year’s Maribor, Slovenia, giant slalom on Feb. 1. The previous occasion before that was Soelden on Oct. 24, 2015, also a GS, and it was Shiffrin and Anna (nee Fenninger), Veith.

The parallel GS on Sunday was the headscratcher. Shiffrin was the fastest in qualification but got knocked out during the Round of 16, officially finishing ninth.

Shiffrin is the model of avoiding all controversy in the press and in social media. Her statement via the U.S. Ski Team on Twitter was “I don’t like to talk about luck playing a role-even yesterday, .01 out, I feel like that was in my control. Today I’d say it’s a day where luck plays a role … it IS fun and people like to watch it. it’s just a work in progress to make it the best it can be.”

The ellipses are important here because what she said in between those sentences, according to Yahoo! Sports was, “But these two courses are not the same at all. I’m a little bitter.”

Shiffrin was referring to the blue and red courses used in the knockout stage of Sunday’s race. By the results in the single-elimination — 17 winners emerged from the blue course, while just three came from the red one — it appeared that the blue gates were just a faster path. Shiffrin raced on the red course and was eliminated by the eventual winner, France’s Claire Direz, on the blue.

Need for speed

Tactfully put, Shiffrin didn’t get the breaks last weekend, which is somewhat a theme for the season. Coming off a ridiculous 2018-19 campaign, where just about everything did go right — 19 wins in 29 starts between the World Cup and the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships and go down the list — not everything is so smooth this year.

Anyone expecting Shiffrin to win 17 World Cups — a new record — again and win the super-G, GS and slalom globes once more was clearly expecting too much.

It’s hard to repeat a performance, whatever the sport. In fairness, Shiffrin isn’t like an NFL team that won the Super Bowl and is now 7-9 and out of the playoffs.

Shiffrin leads the overall over Vlhova, 975-726, holds the slalom points advantage, is second in GS and a surprising sixth in super-G. But back to the overall, 192 of the 249-point lead Shiffrin maintains come from speed events.

While she hasn’t popped off a win in speed events this season, her participation has been valuable in her quest to four-peat as the World Cup champion. Finish in the top 30, which presumably means just getting down the hill in one piece for Shiffrin, gain points and build on her lead. That’s the goal for the weekend. Everything else is gravy.

So welcome to Bulgaria, Mikaela.

X Games Aspen 2020 preview: Scotty James, Mark McMorris back for more in men’s snowboarding

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:

SUPERPIPE

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.

SLOPESTYLE

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.

BIG AIR

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.

BONUS EVENTS

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.

acolbert@aspentimes.com


Sailors sweep past Battle Mountain basketball

Dean Smith lives.

It wasn’t exactly the four-corners offense, but the former North Carolina coach would have liked it.

With a 27-23 lead after three quarters, Steamboat Springs just passed the ball around and worked its way to a 34-30 victory over Battle Mountain girls basketball on Tuesday in Edwards.

Tuesday showed there are many ways to skin a cat. Not only did a delay offense eat clock, but it also seemed to make the Huskies feel the need to hurry up their own offense, which resulted in turnovers and more long Steamboat possessions.

“We’ve had some rough seasons the last three years and we’ve had several games this year when we’ve been up by even 20 points, and we didn’t know how to keep a lead,” Sailors coach George Ibarra said. “I always want us to play like we’re behind, but we needed to slow it down and make the other team make the next move.”

The Sailors started the fourth by hanging onto the ball for the first 2:10 of the period. The Huskies got the ball for three seconds and turned it over. With 5:28 remaining, Steamboat’s Katie Lake, who led all scorers with 10 points, got a steal and converted into a layup.

The Huskies finally got the ball for a little bit and scored on a Gianna Carroll field goal with 3:11 left.

Alden Pennington answered Lake’s second bucket of the fourth with a 3, closing the Sailors’ lead to 31-28 with a little more than two minutes to go. Shelbie Weiss tore down the baseline for a layup with 1:11 left to make it 34-28.

If you’re wondering, there is no shot clock in high school basketball in Colorado. CHSAA, the state’s governing body, has considered it but nixed the idea based on cost.

The Huskies fell to 4-6 overall and 1-1 in the 4A Slope, while the Sailors moved to 4-10 and 2-2.

Boys fall in nightcap

Battle Mountain boys basketball has a bad case of the Januarys, if that’s a thing.

The Huskies started the season well with a 4-2 record in December. That seems like a long time ago now. Battle Mountain fell to 1-4 in January with a 54-42 loss to Steamboat Springs on Tuesday.

The visiting Sailors (8-7, 4-0) got a little bit of space during a second-quarter, 3-point shower. The Sailors Connor Hansen, Cade Gedeon, Jake Kressig and Dawson Lindquist were all in on that.

With Steamboat Springs leading, 27-21, at the half, Steamboat couldn’t put it away not could the Huskies mountain a comeback. And it left both coaches perplexed after the game.

“We weren’t locked in,” Sailors coach Mike VanDahl. “Loose balls got by us. Rebounds got by us. In the first half, we really relied on our talent. But it’s a road win, our first league road win. You’ve gotta find a way to win and that’s the only stat that matters.

Lindquist topped the Sailors with 20 points, while Hansen and Kressig had 11 each.

While frustrating for the Huskies (5-6, 0-2), their coach doesn’t think his team is far away from capturing its December form.

“At times, I think we lose who were are,” Philip Tronsrue said. “We know who we are when we work as a team and well within the system as a team. We were right there. It was still a three-point game in the fourth quarter. There are just times when we lose focus on who we are.”

Ideally, that’s a team that presses and can control the pace and tempo of the game, while on offense has good execution producing good looks at the hoop

Steamboat Springs’ teams head to Glenwood Springs on Saturday, while the Huskies boys are at Adams City on Tuesday. Both teams return to league play at home on Jan. 31 against those same Demons.

Colorado artist Lisa Issenberg embraces the opportunity to make X Games Aspen medals

When Ridgway’s Lisa Issenberg first got into metal work, it was mostly jewelry and small sculptures. Then she was asked to make awards for Telluride’s Mountainfilm, and she’s been hooked ever since.

“It’s the most rewarding. There is something about being a part of recognitions,” Issenberg said. “Awards are like gifts with great honor, and you are part of that gratitude. Even if you are the unknown person behind the gift, it still feels good.”

Issenberg, who operates through her company, Kiitella — Finnish for “to thank, applaud, praise” — has had plenty of clients over the years, hand-making awards for The North Face, American Alpine Club, the Birds of Prey World Cup ski races at Beaver Creek and even Aspen Skiing Co. Since 2013, she’s designed the Aspen Power of Four medals and will make her biggest medal contribution to Aspen athletics this week with X Games.

“It’s a big one. I was pretty excited to get the call,” Issenberg said.

Working with ESPN’s Brian Kerr, the associate director of competition for X Games, Issenberg was commissioned to make this year’s medals for X Games Aspen. The first-, second- and third-place finishers in each of the contests will receive one of the roughly 90 medals Issenberg handcrafted out of her Ridgway studio.

This is the second year in a row ESPN has sought out an external artist to make its medals, with Portland-based artist Spencer Keeton Cunningham having had the honors in 2019.

“Lisa and I talked through a couple of different concepts of what we wanted to see and she came up with a spectacular piece for us,” Kerr said. “As we thought through it, it’s not just another award for these action sports phenoms — our podium athletes are actually getting a piece of X Games artwork around their necks. And that’s really cool.”

Ski racing stars such as Mikaela Shiffrin, Lindsey Vonn and Ted Ligety have all taken home awards made by Issenberg, and beginning Thursday she’ll be able to add some of the world’s best snowboarders and freeskiers to the list, not to mention the motorsport athletes.

Issenberg’s X Games medals are relatively simple. Round like a coin and meant to be worn around the neck, they feature a large X Games logo with a space at the top cut out in the shape of a mountain range. Issenberg said the mountain design is meant to represent the Maroon Bells, using her own artistic license.

The simplicity, typography and angles all draw inspiration from Herbert Bayer’s Bauhaus design. Bayer lived in Aspen from 1946 until 1975 and his influence can still be found around the city.

The metal comes from at least 90% to sometimes 100% recycled content, and all waste is recycled as well.

“He wanted these to feel like they were made by a human, and that’s wonderful,” Issenberg said of Kerr. “These top athletes, the top athletes in the world, they’ve worked really hard to get on the podium and they deserve a medal that has heft and depth and heart. And I like to say a little blood, sweat and tears, too.”

Issenberg, who came from the East Coast before moving to Telluride after college, shares the building her Ridgway studio is located in with friend John Billings, who has handcrafted the Grammy awards for the past four decades. When ESPN was looking for a Colorado artist to make its X Games medals, it first talked to Billings, who recommended Issenberg for the job.

“His workshop is in the basement. I can hear the polisher going. It buzzes at my feet all day,” Issenberg said. “Someone reached out to him — they were looking for someone more local, an artist to do the X Games awards, and he said, ‘You have to call Lisa.’”

Issenberg said the whole process from design to finished award took a few months. She made the medals at the same time, cutting them out at once, polishing them at once, and so on. Every aspect of the medals’ creation was done by her there in Ridgway.

And, in a move that is rare for Issenberg, she’ll be on hand this weekend to see some of her work meet its new owner for the first time. She’s never been to X Games before.

“That’s pretty cool to a normal human that is pursuing her passion,” Issenberg said of seeing her medals go home with superstar athletes. “Each one is different. You won’t find two that are the same.”