Colorado snowboarder Chris Corning a favorite for X Games gold
MEN’S SNOWBOARD BIG AIR
Who to watch: Chris Corning, Kyle Mack
When: Elimination round — Thursday, 1:30 p.m. MST
Final round — Friday, 8:35 p.m.
MEN’S SNOWBOARD SLOPESTYLE
Who to watch: Chris Corning, Red Gerard, Kyle Mack
When: Elimination round — Friday, noon
Final round — Saturday, 1 p.m.
WOMEN’S SNOWBOARD HALFPIPE
Who to watch: Arielle Gold
When: Saturday, 8:45 p.m.
In a way, it feels like now is the time for Chris Corning to have his championship moment close to home.
The 19-year-old Silverthorne resident is days removed from winning the Laax Open World Cup snowboard slopestyle in Switzerland, a breakthrough result on foreign snow.
On the homefront, though, Corning has yet to top the podium at one of the sport’s major events. He’s weeks removed from finishing in a close second place behind Norwegian star Stale Sandbech in the slopestyle competition at Dew Tour at Breckenridge Ski Resort. He’s months removed from finishing in an even closer second behind Canadian star Mark McMorris at the Burton U.S. Open at Vail Mountain last March.
That all followed up his maiden Olympic appearance last February when he finished off the podium in both slopestyle and big air while his fellow under-21 Summit County snowboarders, Red Gerard and Kyle Mack, won gold and silver in slopestyle and big air, respectively.
The good news for Corning is two-fold. One: He is as confident as he’s ever been in his snowboarding following an offseason of next-level strength and conditioning and an early 2018-19 season chock-full of one World Cup competition after another. Two: After the Laax victory, he’s a favorite to win both the big air and slopestyle events at this week’s Winter X Games at Buttermilk Mountain in Aspen.
Or, judging by recent competition results, he should be. Despite his recent podium finishes, Corning’s presence still feels under the radar heading into this year’s X Games.
“I think for sure that people are starting to notice a little bit,” Corning said from Aspen on Wednesday. “I can start seeing that change a little bit, but no matter what, I sort of feel like an underdog in the whole thing, with not as much of a following as the other guys. But that’s alright with me.”
Other snowboarders possessed that drive to win through last year’s Olympic cycle. The question is, is it still simmering within those riders? For Corning, the answer to that question seems to be an affirmative “yes.” It feels like the 5-foot-8 rider has a bit of pitbull in him whenever he attacks a slopestyle or big air course.
Riding with that fire to further prove himself, this will be Corning’s second go-round at the X Games. Last year, he gutted through a sudden stomach illness and a lingering hip injury before finishing fifth in big air and sixth in slopestyle.
Since last year’s stress-filled Olympic run, which included X Games, Corning has opted to compete routinely in World Cup slopestyle and big air competitions across the world. At the same time, other top riders have opted to compete in a select few events. Heading into what many would deem the year’s biggest event, Corning is hopeful that his hours devoted to actual competition will help to set him apart come drop-in time at Buttermilk.
“The more you practice something the better you are going to get at it,” Corning said, “and the more you practice competing, the better you’re going to get at that.”
Competing alongside Corning in the big air and slopestyle competitions will be the world’s best snowboarders, including Summit County-based riders Gerard, 18, and Mack, 21. For both Gerard and Mack, this will be their first competition since last month’s Dew Tour, where Mack finished in last place in slopestyle after he suffered a shoulder injury on his second of three attempts on the jumps portion of the course. The injury removed Mack from the competition while Gerard finished in 11th place.
Both Corning and Mack are expected to compete in the big air competition, which begins with an elimination round on Thursday at 1:30 p.m. MST, before the final round is slated for primetime on Friday night at 8:35 p.m. Gerard is expected to compete only in slopestyle, which will begin with its own elimination round Friday at noon before the final round, slated for Saturday at 1 p.m. Nineteen total athletes are currently expected to compete in the men’s snowboard slopestyle event that will be without defending champion Marcus Kleveland of Norway after he suffered a season-ending injury at Dew Tour. The group includes such international star powers as McMorris, Sandbech and Japanese stars Yuki Kadono and Takeru Otsuka.
A smaller field of 11 riders will take to the massive big air jump at Buttermilk Mountain, where Corning and Mack figure to be challenged by each and every other competitor in an event that will be without last year’s champion Max Parrot. Earlier this week Parrot was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma, which will keep him out of competition indefinitely.
When Corning takes to the big air jump, he anticipates attempting his biggest competition trick to date, a backside quad-cork 1800. The groundbreaking move requires Corning to invert on his vertical axis four times while rotating horizontally for five, full 360-degree rotations toward his snowboard’s back side. He’s landed it once in competition, at a World Cup event in Cardrona, New Zealand, in September, becoming the first American to do so in the process.
Beyond that trick, though, Corning said on Wednesday that he is also mulling whether or not to attempt his flat-spin frontside 1800. It’s a move he’s landed a handful of times, such as at a big air jump at Mammoth Mountain in California, though he’s never attempted or landed it in actual competition. In a competition where it’s expected he and maybe a couple of other snowboarders will attempt 1800s, Corning said the idea of landing two different 1800s in two different directions could be something that sets him apart.
“But it comes down to the fact everyone has an opportunity to win that contest,” Corning said. “It depends on if it’s their day or not.”
The big air competition will consist of a similar format to last year when snowboarders, in a rapid fire fashion, dropped in one after another over a set amount of time. When that clock expired, judges scored the snowboarders based on their best tricks executed spinning in different directions.
As for slopestyle, Corning said he’s feeling comfortable with the traditional course layout, which will begin with three sections of rails followed by three jumps. At recent slopestyle competitions, including Dew Tour and the Laax Open, Corning has made it a staple to feature his trademark rodeo flip off of one of the rails.
On an X Games course that Corning said features a tricky rainbow rail feature, how Corning negotiates the rainbow rail and where he places that rodeo will prove pivotal in the flow and scoring of his slopestyle run.
Corning will most likely not attempt an 1800 on the slopestyle jumps, as he said they are too small and close together to safely try. Even without the 1800, and even if he’s not the slopestyle rider being talked about the most this week on ESPN’s X Games preview broadcasts, the fact remains he’s currently wearing the yellow jersey that signifies he’s atop the International Ski & Snowboard Federation’s World Cup slopestyle leaderboard. And now, with a much bigger event in the X Games on deck, Corning hopes all of that time invested will pay off.
“It goes back to one of my favorite sayings,” Corning said, “‘hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.'”
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