With Shaun White’s once-invincible aura coming into question over the last few years thanks to several high-profile defeats at major contests, Saturday’s snowboard superpipe final at Dew Tour Breckenridge provided the latest litmus test for the 29-year-old superstar’s current standing among his peers. And if the question was “Does he still have it?“, the answer has to be a resounding “yes”.
With snow covering everything in and around Breckenridge in a sheet of white, the conditions created a challenge for the riders, as keeping up speed in powdery conditions would be crucial to maintaing height and putting down a good run.
One rider who did not seem to struggle much with speed or height was Shaun, who went into his standard huge first-hit backside air on Run 1, then landed a frontside double cork 1080, cab double cork 1080, frontside air, double McTwist 1260 and frontside 540 stalefish. His score of 92.60 vaulted him into first place, far ahead of the rest of the field, after the first set of runs.
Olympic gold medalist Iouri Podladtchikov had attempted a double McTwist 1260 of his own on Run 1 but landed low, squatted and lost speed, leaving it all up to his second run to crack the podium. I-Pod fully intended the try the double McTwist 1260 again on Run 2, but the course had gotten much slower by that time, forcing him to alter his plan in the middle of his run.
“I actually caught some snow on the way there [to attempt the trick] and I had to change last second,” Podladtchikov explained. “I was fully going into it, but then the snow caught me and I couldn’t go for it because it would’ve been like one-and-a-half [corks] on my head.”
Run 2 for Podladtchikov ended up going like this: massive frontside air on the first wall, backside 900, frontside 1080, cab double cork 1080, frontside double cork 1080, cab 720 tailgrab. The judges scored the Swiss shredder an 84.20 for the run, putting him into 2nd behind Shaun for the time being.
Ayumu Hirano is another rider with the amplitude and the bag of tricks to challenge Shaun but, like I-Pod, a mistake on his first run left his second run as an all-or-nothing attempt. Just like in the semifinal, Ayumu started off his runs with a lofty super-stylish crippler with a Japan grab. His second run also included a backside 900, frontside double cork 1080, cab double cork 1080 and frontside 1080. The 17-year-old was rewarded with a score of 89.40 that put him into second place, bumping I-Pod down to 3rd.
The final rider with a chance to shake up the podium was Steamboat Springs, Colorado native Taylor Gold, the defending champion of the event. The 22-year-old put down a double Michalchuk, frontside double cork 1080, cab 720, frontside 720, cab 1080 and frontside 900 tailgrab but fell just shy of the podium by fractions of a point and would settle for 4th place.
Another rider who narrowly missed out on the podium was Brett Esser. The Breckenridge local briefly held the lead with an 82.80 and was sitting in 2nd place after the first set of runs. Esser was one of very few riders attempting switch backside tricks in the pipe – he and Chase Josey were the only ones to land switch backside 900s – and he also worked a frontside 1260 into the top of his run. After improving on his run just a tad on Run 2, Esser bumped his score up to an 82.80 but would end up in 5th place.
Despite the conditions, the 12 riders in the final proved just how loaded the field really was by managing to land heavy runs and tricks all throughout. “I think we had the most complete field of riders in awhile,” I-Pod said of the competition. “Already in qualifiers, it was really heavy. Of course the conditions were hard, but those are the best snowboarders out there. It’s always super interesting to compete if everyone’s there and everyone’s trying because it’s a big event. And the pipe was really good for what it was and how much it snowed.”
But for all the impressive riding, it was Shaun White once again retaking his place atop the Dew Tour superpipe podium, where he has been several times before.
“It was super impressive what Shaun did and how he handled the conditions,” Podladtchikov said of his good friend’s riding. “You could again see Shaun’s got the most experience out of all of us, and that really gave him a huge advantage today.”
1. Shaun White, 92.60
2. Ayumu Hirano, 89.40
3. Iouri Podladtchikov, 84.20
4. Taylor Gold, 84.00
5. Brett Esser, 82.80
6. Christian Haller, 75.00
7. Matt Ladley, 74.00
8. Jan Scherrer, 67.20
9. Ben Ferguson, 62.60
10. Arthur Longo, 57.40
11. Chase Josey, 52.00
12. Gabe Ferguson, 41.60