Words: Jeff Schmuck
Photos: John Vandervalk
Video: Neil Sotirakopoulos
Welcome to the inaugural European X Games in breathtaking Tignes, France.
Following last week's hiccup-filled European Open in Laax, Switzerland, many of the Euro tripping skiers convoyed their way across the green fields and jagged peaks of Switzerland via planes, trains and automobiles to the southeast corner of France, where the village of Tignes is truly a sight to behold.
Tignes, France. photo: Trennon Paynter
Surrounded by jaw-dropping mountains in every direction that boast some of the gnarliest lift-accessed terrain I've ever laid eyes on, the home of Euro X may just be the most beautiful setting for a ski contest in recent memory.
And although the vibe doesn't feel as intense as Winter X Games in Aspen, the hearty pipe and slopestyle course flanked by exact replicas of all the omnipresent media hullabaloo present in Aspen makes this look and feel exactly like X Games. Combine that with my aforementioned National Geographic-style rhapsody about the picturesque setting, which has only added to the anticipation for this first time event, and it appears we may just be set for one hell of a week.
After a few days of practice in the pipe and on the frequently-changing slopestyle course which many of the riders aren't all that excited about (hence why it's frequently changing), the event officially kicked off tonight under windy and chilly skies and of course, the sunglasses at night-required X Games lights...deja vu indeed.
Just missing the sharp cut this evening were Walter Wood, who got bounced onto the wrong side of the bubble at the 11th hour...
Duncan Adams, whose style disquisition was lacking the judges' desired amplitude...
French favorite Thomas Krief, who had more signs in the crowd with his name on it than anyone, Dan 'The Man' Marion, who despite not making it into finals won first place for music selection with Motley Crue...
Dan Marion. Got Wind?
Peter Olenick, who had a rough night after he needed to switch skis during practice and only got one run in before the contest began and has been nursing a sore knee, Banks Gilberti, who was scored lower than many expected on his first run and crashed on his second, and Matt Duhamel, who surely has many, many years ahead of him, but unfortunately tonight just wasn't his night.
Quite possibly the biggest and most surprising and unfortunate story of the night was another skier who failed to qualify, and you don't generally hear this name after that phrase...Simon Dumont. The Dumont bobbled on his first run and needed to step up to the plate on his second, which in fine Simon form he did with a raging fire in his eye, throwing two massive back-to-back 9's, to an even bigger cork 5, to alley-oop 7, to switch 7, to an attempted alley-oop 10, which to shock and gasp of the crowd he drifted a bit too much on, smashing on the deck of the pipe and failing to make finals in the first time since, well, ever.
Just on the right side of the cut-off line and moving onto tomororow night's finals was AJ Kempainnen, who has been upping the amplitude as of late to complement his always on point technicality.
Just in front of him in 7th was Mike 'Milk' Riddle, who damn near aired out of the valley on his flat 3 bow n' arrow, along with sending it on every single one of his other hits.
Tucker Perkins continued to emerge as one of the most serious threats on the circuit by once again setting the bar high with the first double of the night. Tucker's flawless landings, 9's and other spectacles helped him clock out in 6th this evening after a productive day at work.
Byron 'Lobster' Wells took 5th, and was penciled in at the top of the leader board for a good portion of the contest thanks to his patented increased amplitude as he raged down the pipe, highlighted as always by his silly cork 5 tip grab that's damn near as pretty as the Alps.
His big bro Jossi Wells was just a notch above in fourth, and on top of showing everyone in attendance precisely how a halfpipe should be skied, he also treated the crowd to what could have easily passed as a full-blown hip hop video, as the jumbotron caught him animatedly rapping along to his song of choice for a solid couple of minutes while Xavier Bertoni was being interviewed at the bottom. Definitely one of the highlights of the night.
The two hometown heroes Kevin Rolland and Xavier Bertoni placed 3rd and 2nd respectively, and make no mistake, European X Games is Kevin and Xav's party, and everyone else is just invited. The roar of the crowd before, during and after the two already iconic Frenchmen skied their hearts out was borderline deafening, and as a result, no one on this side of the pond is smiling bigger tonight.
Kevin's moment in particular was made that much more storybook-like when he was just outside of the bubble in 9th when it came time for him to drop last. Undoubtedly feeding off the crowd's electricity, he seized the day and blew the roof off the place with a authoritative run that included a right side double up top and cork 12 at the bottom.
But although the much loved hometown heroes fought and won the good fight, it was Justin Dorey who won the war. After bobbling on his first run, J-Bone went balls out with a right side double flip, to cork 9, to flat 3, to switch left 9, to switch right 7, to a right flat 5 to earn first place and a whole lot of confidence going into tomorrow night.
Stay tuned for more from Tignes, France, because there's still so much to come, including men's superpipe finals tomorrow night, followed by men's slopestyle eliminations on Thursday, and men's and women's slopestyle finals and women's superpipe finals on Friday.
1) Justin Dorey - 91.00
2) Xavier Bertoni - 87.33
3) Kevin Rolland - 85.66
4) Jossi Wells - 84.66
5) Byron Wells - 82.00
6) Tucker Perkins - 80.66
7) Mike Riddle - 79.33
8) AJ Kemppainen - 76.66
9) Walter Wood - 76.33
10) Duncan Adams - 74.33
11) Thomas Krief - 71.00
12) Dan Marion - 67.00
13) Peter Olenick - 65.66
14) Banks Gilberti - 63.00
15) Simon Dumont - 62.33
16) Matt Duhamel - 58.00
Winter X Games Tignes - Superpipe Practice Day 2 from Orage on Vimeo.