words by Mike Rogge

photos by Chip Kalback

X-Games. What can you say about it? It’s the few days of the year our sport is in the limelight, on primetime, and on full display for the entire world to see. Yes, it may be frustrating to hear Sal Masa-I’m-not-Googling-to-find-the-correct-spelling-of-his-last-name-kala’s unnecessary hype about “immortality” and “intense drama.” We get it. We know these athletes from their video parts, photos in the magazines, coaching camp sessions, personally, or maybe just seeing them on the hill. We know what the stakes are. We know what winning this competition can mean. We understand, Sal. This is our sport.

Recently, I had the chance to meet a few of this year’s competitors on a trip to Keystone’s famed Area 51 terrain park. Each one of them respect and represent our sport in the best possible way they can. Whether they’re at destiny’s doorstep, ready to be known by one name with a golden performance or in that category already, these athletes showcase the passion, dedication, and hard work of every skier. What I respect about these athletes that are preparing to battle each other in slopestyle, big air, and halfpipe is their dedication to training for the biggest stage in skiing while still laughing and enjoying their day on the hill together. Below freezing temperatures can’t eradicate their smiles. The pressures will never waiver their friendships.

This year instead of ranting about what athletes ESPN didn’t show on TV, who should’ve won, or the utter ridiculousness that some guy from the E! Channel hosts the entire broadcast when we all know Uncle E would do a better job, lets celebrate the monumental fact that we’re sharing a style, our style, of skiing with the world and regardless of the outcome, when it’s all said and done and the bronze, silver, and gold are handed out, it’ll still be our sport.

To all the athletes participating in this year’s X-Games, Good Luck!

-Mike Rogge

Jossi Wells

Jossi how stoked are you to be in X-Games this year?

I’m really stoked and I hope this year goes better than last year did.

(girls walk by giggling)

Do you know those two girls?

Yeah…they’re my friends that live ‘bout a two minutes walk from me…(smiles)…just my friends.

What events are you competing in this year?

I’m in slopestyle and halfpipe.

Any expectations?

Well I really want to win slopestyle this year so we’ll see how it goes. Pipe…umm....I haven’t done too much pipe training lately but I’m just gonna go out and do my best and see what happens.

Feeling any pressure to do a double flip during slopestyle?

No. Not at all. I’ve been practicing them and I know I can do them so I’m just really stoked to go out there and do my thing.

PK Hunder

PK, how’s it going today at Keystone?

Pretty good. The wind is starting to pick up so it’s kind of hard to ride.

Why did you choose Keystone as a place to train for the X-Games?

They have the three best jumps in the world and the lift line is short and it’s like five minutes per lap so you can get a lot of laps in.

You’re coming off a big win last year at Jon’s event; do you have high expectations for this year at the X-Games?

I try to not have expectations at all because I can end up disappointed. I want to do well and I have no expectations for the podium but I would like to be top 5 at least…maybe podium.

What else are you looking forward to this season; who are you filming with?

I’m filming a little bit with MSP here at Keystone although the weather isn’t looking good. I’m also filming with Field Productions.

A lot of double flips have been going down lately. Do you feel more pressure to pull a double flip in competitions?

I don’t know. I feel like if you do doubles on regular park jumps, like the smaller ones, you don’t have time to grab them and hold the grab. If you’re not grabbing it doesn’t really matter what trick you do.

Colby West

With getting third in slopestyle last year, are your expectations higher this year?

Yeah I think I’m going to be a little bit more prepared. Last year I kind of came in last minute as an alternate and wasn’t really ready for it but it kind of helped me out because I wasn’t nervous, I was just psyched to be there. This year I have a little more on the line I guess you could say.

I saw you the other day at Keystone doing double flips. Do you feel the pressure to do double flips in your slopestyle run now that a more people are doing them?

Well ever since I saw Jon doing them, I had thought about them before and had seen people do double back flips forever, and they’re actually just really fun. I think that even if I wasn’t in the X-Games I would still learn doubles. I mean I like flipping around. I do back flips on the ground. I used to jump off this bridge back home and do double flips off that when I was younger. It’s just a natural thing for me I guess. I didn’t really feel the pressure to learn them for X-Games, it’s just I found the right jump, you know, and its just a really fun idea. I think it’s cool to do two tricks in the air, one after the other.

Why did you choose Keystone as the place to train? I guess what I’m asking is what makes Keystone different than the other mountains?

Keystone is one of the first mountains open with their big jump line and they set up their last jump like a step up, true table almost so it was kind of a low impact landing that I figured I’d give it a whirl on.

What’s it like knowing most of the free world is watching you ski on ESPN?

Well…hmm…it’s kinda cool. All my friends back home get together and watch it and you know…(laughs)… people see me on TV from home and they’ll call me. I mean as soon as they see me on TV they call me and so I’ll have like a hundred messages at the end of that day. It’s kinda cool just being on TV and stuff but I think it’s almost easier. Like when there’s a big crowd there, it feels like there’s a big crowd but when there’s a lot more people watching on TV; it’s just the cameras there. When you’re in the middle of the slopestyle course, you still feel like you’re all alone, skiing down the run by yourself and that feeling is kind of cool.

How would you say life has changed since you took third last year at X?

I think I definitely have a little more pressure on me but it’s actually been a little easier. I started out with pretty much nothing, sleeping in my car, being on the road all the time, and worrying where I was going to get the money to keep traveling. Now it’s made it a little easier because I’ve proven myself just a little bit to the point where I can ask for a little bit more from my sponsors for traveling and stuff. I guess it’s just made it a little bit easier.

Jon Olsson

How’s it going Jon?

Pretty good…but not great. I haven’t jumped in awhile so I’m just sort of taking it easy, not trying too much but I’m getting back into it.

Cool man, so what brings you out here to Keystone to train?

Well last year they had pretty much the best early season park ever. This year’s really good too. Not as good as last year. They’ve got more snow on their jumps and they need a tiny bit of tweaking but that’s just my opinion. I rarely say jumps are perfect but they could tweak it a little bit. The rails are also nice. There’s lot of guys out here and it’s just fun.

They’re bringing back the big air this year to X-Games and of course, you’re one of the athletes in there. Are you stoked to have this event back at X?

Well if they have a big air and not a small air, which I’m assuming it’ll be, I would be stoked, but I doubt it’s going to be a big air. I want to say I’m stoked on the X-Games big air…I just hope it’s really big.

Now you’re the innovator when it comes to double flips. A couple of days ago I saw Colby stomping them and it seems like everyone is trying to get the double flip in their

run, Do you feel like that’s where skiing competitions are heading?

Well…I don’t know. You know it’s nice when I see other people doing doubles and most of them still have a lot of work to do. I guess we all try to do new tricks and if you don’t want to spin switch 10, 12, 14 then I think doubles are one of the ways you can go or you can always go in a different direction. You know, I like doing doubles. They’re extremely scary and you’ve got to push yourself real hard. I’d guess that doubles are going to be a huge part of the future of freestyle skiing.

Are we going to see a new trick out of you at X-Games?

I haven’t really been working for something brand new. I really want to focus on getting the doubles that I do have and making them look better than I have in the past, you know with more grabs. It’s hard when you reach this level; it’s hard to find new tricks. You know the ones that I thought I could do, I sort of did already. I don’t know…maybe in a couple of years I’ll find a new idea in my head but right now I want to build jumps so I can do them more often because right now, I can’t really do them unless I build the jump myself which I don’t get to do too often. You know when you’ve done a trick for ten years they’re going to look really good. I’ve done a DJ 12 three times so I think I’ve still got a lot of work making those perfect before I walk into something new.

Getting away from X, we’ve got the Jon Olsson Super Sessions coming up and I haven’t really heard too much about it. Could you tell us a bit more?

Well, I can tell you that I’m not that good at hitting jumps that I don’t think are perfect. So on a day like today, I’m not really throwing down but if I’ve got a jump that I think is perfect then I’ll definitely throw down and that’s what Super Sessions is all about; build the sickest features ever and let all the boys loose on them. We’re going to have a press release on all the details real soon. The main focus is to build jumps that are not scary but they’re GIGANTIC.

You’ve also got your North American Open coming up that’s new. It’s your and Simon’s event and what can we expect out of that competition?

Well same basic idea. I don’t want to go to an event and feel the jumps are intimidating me. Pretend the US Open built, not the size of the JOI but I want to make a course that is as good as the JOI course but made for everyone on a slopestyle and give everyone lots of training. Basically I’m doing a US Open with JOI ideas.

Is it going to be a complete open or is it going to be a lottery system similar to the US Open?

It’ll be a complete open and I think one of the main reasons I wanted to do it is because the training and qualifying in the US Open is extremely stressful with three rounds of training, three rounds of practice. At the North American Open I’m going to send everyone out for an entire day, me and Simon are going to pick out who qualifies so all you’ve got to do is session the whole park the whole day. If you’re skiing well, I’m going to come up to you with a bib, obviously a cool bib, and tell you, “You’re going to compete in the finals tomorrow.” It’s going to be way more relaxed but also a true competition.

Alright Jon, we’re about to get off the lift so one more question. How’s the Lambo with the ski rack?

It’s pretty good; you know I’m trying to figure out if I should keep it. It’s not that cool to keep a car for two years but I sort of like it. I’m in deep thoughts about what I could change it for. I don’t know what could be better, maybe a Rolls Royce Phantom with a ski rack. If I get double gold at X-Games, I’ll buy a Rolls Royce Phantom.


Special Thanks to the athletes, Kate and Lindsey at Keystone, and Ahmet and Hornbeck for letting me crash on the couch for the week.