Words: ckoPhotos: Felix Rioux, Ethan StoneIf you had forecast any of what was to happen Sunday afternoon in Aspen, you're certainly a smarter man than I. It was X Games Slopestyle for the men and, fresh off of appearances in the US , the big guns were out in hopes of cashing in on the fame and prize money associated with skiing's most hyped contest of the year. Qualifications got underway around 10:00am, and despite the perfect bluebird weather, it seemed everyone was having trouble putting down a full run. Up-and-comers like John Spriggs, Charley Ager and Tanner Rainville were all gunning for a place among skiing's elite, but couldn't quite hold it down enough to find a place in the ten openings for the finals. Andy Mahre and Pep Fujas were also tossed out during the elimination round, but not for a lack of creativity. Both K2 riders decided to compete on the new rockered Hellbents, sans poles, and were throwing nice 5s of all varieties, lipsliding the rails (not the boxes) and generally destroying most everyone's notion of a typical X Games run. Like so many others though, speed issues (ski issues?) quickly sequestered them to the sidelines for the finals. 270 on to the flat-down rail, like a big boy. Notice the object in the bottom right corner? That's a guy who gets paid to sit next to the rails with a big furry microphone all day, so you can hear that nice, crisp "tssssssschk" of a railslide on live television. Midway through the qualifiers, the pressure was on for some of the heavy hitters. Jon managed to pull off the top-scoring qualifying run, continuing with his air prowess from the Open. The same couldn't be said for the likes of TJ Schiller and Peter Olenick, who just couldn't get it together during their two kicks at the can. TJ's loss was JF Houle's gain as he sat on the bubble and eventually made it into the finals, but a fall took him out anyway in the first round. So it was down to 9. Jon came in on top in qualifying, but his previous success on the course evaded him in the finals, and he ended up ninth. One gun down. Charles Gagnier octo-grabbed, one-footed, and generally tech'd his way through the course, but again, couldn't hold it down in the finals. Two guns down. That left a top five that few would have imagined going into the day. Charles Gagnier gets all tangled up in his octograb. Charles was one of several slopestyle specialists who wasn't able to put a solid run in during the finals.Colby West, who qualified sixth, stepped it up on both finals runs, bringing bigger spins to the rails and upping his switch 7 double-nose to 9. His efforts landed him in first place with a 90, the highest score dolled out up to that point in the competition. Up next, Simon Dumont and Jacob Wester double-flipped their way to fourth and fifth place finishes respectively. Sammy Carlson had been killing it all day, with very consistent runs and a bag of tricks that didn't allow anyone to question whether or not he belongs at the top of this sport,. Sammy brought a triple switch-up on the up-flat-down box and poked out a huge switch 10 mute for the lead. Sammy's poke during his switch 10 mute on the money booter was punctuated by the loudest collective "UNNNS" ever uttered by a crowd at the Winter X Games.In the end though, it was La Clusaz native Candide Thovex who captured the judges' attention and catapulted himself into the lead to a huge score of 95 - a number no one could have hoped to touch. Candide's run was certainly impressive, but one wonders if it deserved the highest score ever given in a ski event at X. Props to the Frenchman though; he played this contest like a violin, slyly getting into the finals with a run that included a zero spin over the gap, and then stepping it up in the finals by replacing the zero with a 9 and gapping a huge switch 630 onto the flat-down box. And just like that, Candide is your Winter X 11 Slopestyle champion. So what about the judging? The course? There has been a lot of talk on the forums about rails vs. boxes and their place at a high level competition like the X Games, and the fact that a run with a revert in it could actually score an untouchable 95.00. My comment on the above issues would be that this year's X Slopestyle was one of the best representations we've ever had of where skiing is right now. On the plus side, we have new and innovative tricks popping up all the time, an increasingly deep talent pool and pretty much unlimited options for the future. On the negative side, I think this competition illustrated quite well the problems inevitably faced when you have a event of this level that includes a sport with no formalized judging system. If someone is calling you out for hating on something, stay true to your opinion, we haven't yet defined rules for this sport so your take on things is just as valid as those that were sitting in the judges' chairs. Big ups to the athletes, organizers, and of course the judges. Considering the circumstances, you put on a great show and skiing is stronger for it. There are a number of things to comment upon in this photo: the excitement of the slopestyle start gate, the rockered K2s in the foreground, Colby West getting stoked for his run. But unquestionably, the most notable item is Michael Olenick's pants.This was the opening jib of the slopestyle course. Most competitors preferred switch-ups on the box side, although a few hardy craftsmen (like this one) sent it on the steel.AJ Burton skied to a 12th place finish in his first X Games appearance, and he managed to grab some of his tricks too—a feat that not all of the competitors could claim.As if to consciously contradict the widespread rumors that he is, in fact, a machine, Jon Olsson miraculously fell during both of his runs, freeing his reserved place on the podium for a newcomer. Certain skiers who will remain nameless (Colby West) were known to utter great sighs of relief when Jon went down on his second run.Andy Mahre drifts through a zero spin shifty, right on to his first NS cover.Since "octo" means eight, we must assume that this grab somehow references that number in appearance or execution. Or maybe Charles just calls it that because he looks like a bulbous, whirling cephalopod when he does it.The man of the hour, Candide Thovex, with a zero spin over the gap jump. Candide hit this gap with a 900 in his final run, followed by.......A very large switch 630 onto the flat-down box.John Spriggs and his shadow float a flatspin 540 over the gap.Sammy Carlson's mute grabs are incredibly photogenic.See what I mean?Okay, you get the point.Pep Fujas, busy making a statement.Frenchman Richard Permin showed promise, but didn't break into the top ten. His second-place finish at the King of Style big air this fall in Sweden kicked off what's looking to be a good year for Richard.Sammy Carlson at the start gate.Candide gets ready to drop.Double flips were everywhere at the X Games this year. Simon caught some hate for this double front in his slopestyle run, but hey, at least it's original—even if the Schrab brothers were throwing that shit in the X Games big air seven years ago.Colby West thinks it's better to double grab than to double flip. He brought his signature switch 7 double nose around to 900 during his third-place slopestyle run.The mute grab: preferred by seven out of ten skiers in a nationwide survey conducted by my imagination.--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Sunday, January 28, 2006 2:45pmCandide Thovex came from a ninth place first run to win the 11th Winter X Games Slopestyle with a huge score of 95.00. Candide was able to step up his final runs, switching out a zero in and replacing it with a 9 over the step-over, and then topping it off with a switch-630 on to the last flat-down. Sammy Carlson was close on his heels as was Jon but neither could overtake the frenchman in the finals. Colby West placed third in an excellent first X Games showing for the amped rider. We'll have photos and more coming soon...Men's Ski Slopestyle FinalsRankAthleteRun 1Run 2Best ScoreCandide Thovex31.6695.0095.00Sammy Carlson92.3389.3392.33Colby West89.3390.0090.00Simon Dumont87.6630.6687.66Jacob Wester86.6685.0086.66John Spriggs73.6624.6673.66Andreas Hatveit71.6652.3371.66Charles Gagnier65.0044.6665.00Jon Olsson51.3334.0051.33JF Houle6.336.3312:55pmJust got off the course from the Men's Slopestyle Elimination here at X. Jon Olsson continues his domination of the jump line qualifying first with what must be a comfortable run for him by now. Finals run in a half hour. Full results for qualifying below:Men's Ski Slopestyle Elimination (Top 10 advance to finals)RankAthleteRun 1Run 2Best Score1Jon Olsson92.6688.0092.662Sammy Carlson89.6638.0089.663Charles Gagnier87.0089.3389.334Andreas Hatveit82.6688.0088.005Jacob Wester86.0085.0086.006Colby West85.3339.6685.447Candide Thovex81.3336.3381.338Simon Dumont79.6622.6679.669John Spriggs17.3378.0078.0010JF Houle77.6634.3377.6611Peter Olenick35.0073.0073.0012A. J. Burton69.6670.0070.0013Tanner Rainville55.3364.6664.6614Richard Permin8.0060.3360.3315Charley Ager23.3357.0057.0016TJ Schiller39.3351.6651.6617Andy Mahre47.3327.6647.3318Josh Bibby10.6642.6642.6619Pep Fujas26.3330.3326.33 ^^ESPN posted all of their footage on google video, its got some commercials but here it is!