Yesterday Jason and myself published our predictions for women's slopestyle and it's safe to say we didn't do great. Both of us went 0 for 3 on our actual podium calls but we did both have Sarah and Mathilde down as wildcards. Between us, we called the jump runs the'd need to medal spot on so that's something of a small silver lining on the cloud. Today, we're faced with calling the men's results in what is a far more open field. Even making it through the two-run qualifying is going to be a massive challenge because the field is so level, and that level is so high. It would be so easy to play it too safe and I think we might see a few guys make that mistake and then have it all to do on their final run.
The course is enormous and it seems likely that it's going to require a balanced run to win, meaning a really high level rail line alongside the huge jump tricks that almost everyone has these days. I personally struggle to have faith that the judges are truly going to score the rails as highly as they deserve but that's a double edges sword which also depends on the riders doing something technical/risky enough to set them apart. I picked my choices first last time, so today, Jason had that unenviable position.
Gold - Henrik Harlaut: He’s on a mission right now, and after watching him ski at X games a few weeks back I’m not convinced anyone will be able to take him if he lands his full run. Wouldn’t be surprised to see a nose butter dub into both way switch trip 14’s and that’s not even talking about what he can do on that insane rail course.
Silver - Oystein Braaten: the most consistent slope skier in the game, and somehow managing to get more tech with every contest while continuing to emphasize style. His rails will be on point and I’m banking on seeing his two top scoring big air tricks from X games coming out on the bottom two jumps (switch right double 14 safety and switch left double 14 blunt), possibly both with double grab variations, which would be nuts.
Bronze - McRae Williams: The early season comps have not quite been going McRae’s way, but if it all comes together he could put down a run that blows minds. He’s got great style and some of the best jumps in the game
Andri Raggetli, Alex Hall, Gus Kenworthy, Evan McEachran & Alex Bellmare. Andri has the most “tech” jumps in the game, if he can put together a rail run you can expect to see him near the top. The rest of the pack have heavy arsenal of rail tricks, and on this course the rails will separate the men from the boys. This field is far too unpredictable due to the level of talent, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see any of these guys take the cake. Don’t count out Woodsy or ABM either... or Goepper. I guess this is more of a “better mention all these guys so I don’t look dumb when they land a run and win” list.
The real problem I'm having with making this call is figuring how much risk each rider will take on the rails, and also guessing how the judges are going to score the best possible runs against each other. I can't really argue with Jason's analysis of the top two, I think that Dollo and Oystein have to be the overall favorites and I couldn't choose between them. For the sake of differentiating the picks, and because I like a gamble, I've put A Hall on the podium in third.
Gold - Oystein Braten or
To me, Oystein gets unfairly categorised as a comp robot. Like Gus, he's flawless, but both can be pretty creative with line choice, especially in the rails and neither deserves that moniker. I have no idea how the judges will score Oystein's switch dub 14s against the triples, but if X Games Big Air is any indication, switch dub 14 blunt to blunt is considered harder than the majority. That could tip the balance his way, since his rail game is typically immaculate and I could certainly see him taking the win.
In a field where anyone could win, Henrik stands out as the dominant force this year. His creative eye gives him the an advantage, especially on this course which seems made for him. He's sometimes let down by the technicality of his rail sections but this course would seem like it will reward creativity over technicality so that shouldn't be an issue. If he can land a perfect run, he'll probably win, but it might be all or nothing. I would say he tends to be a touch less consistent than some of the other guys, especially if he goes for his newly learned switch right triple.
Bronze - Alex Hall: This is a real gamble but to me, this seems like a course that will really suit Alex and his ability to think outside the box. I feel like the judges have a hard time scoring some of what he does, which may be his downfall, but he has everything required to win, let alone podium. Plus picking a real wild card means you get to feel smug on the off chance it comes good.
Andri Ragettli: An X Games medalist with a nosebutter triple 16 as his ender in that comp, the first guy to throw a quad 18, etc. It seems mad to have this guy as a wild card but so much hinges on his rail line. In the past, the rails have let him down on the biggest stage and these are some seriously difficult rail options. That said, if there's one guy who seems guaranteed to have back to back triples, it's Andri, so if he can piece it together on the rails he could take some beating.
James Woods: Woodsy has really solid rail game and the potential to get creative but I think his switch triple octo is his main weapon. It's probably the hardest single jump trick we're going to see but his setup jumps could let him down. As far as I know at least, he can't link it in a run with his right triple, which is a forward 14 and only the bottom two jumps seem trip-able. If he can find a way - or really turn it up on the rails - he could well challenge for the top spot.
Teale Harle: One of the most creative comp riders out there right now but often underscored. I'm not 100% sure he has the triples the judges are going to want to see but he could definitely mix things up with his rail choices and axes.
Alex Bellemare/ABM: Probably the best competition rail skier on the planet, Bellemare has a real dark horse shot of upsetting things on this course. I think it will depend on whether two triples really is the 'standard', but if most guys only have one, I think he's a medal threat, along with his creative compatriot, Alex Beaulieu-Marchand, who I still think got underscored at X Games a couple of weeks back.
I'd be stunned if these predictions even come close to working out given the strength and depth of the men's field. It's not inconceivable all our picks could be eliminated by the end of qualifying and I can think of at least 10 guys who I've not even mentioned that have the potential to win, let alone podium. One thing seems sure though (weather permitting), we're in for one hell of a contest this evening.