An incredible first day of finals action at the Aspen 2021 FIS Snowboard and Freeski World Championships wrapped up with halfpipe competition on Friday afternoon, where clear blue skies and spring-like temperatures brought a relaxed vibe around the pipe, while inside it Eileen Gu of China and New Zealand’s Nico Porteous turned the heat up with stellar gold medal-winning performances.
It was perhaps no surprise that both Gu and Porteous were also winners at the X Games competition held in the same pipe roughly six weeks ago, as both came out gunning on their first runs, putting down early scores that would hold up through the duration of the competition.
Broken hand, no poles, no problem as Gu crowned World Champion
In just two years of international competition 17 year-old Eileen Gu has quickly established herself as one of the world’s premier freeskiers, and on Friday she did nothing but strengthen that reputation.
Skiing without poles due to a broken hand suffered in the lead-up to Aspen 2021, Gu struggled somewhat in qualifications, making it through to finals as the sixth-ranked skier in the field. However, dropping in third on Friday for finals, she quickly showed that her qualification performance wasn’t the one that would be remembered, erasing that memory by stomping a near-perfect first run.
Kicking things off with a heavy back-to-back combo of a right-side 900 safety into a left 900 Japan, Gu then followed those up with a right 720 lead tail, into a switch left 720 Japan, then a left alley-oop 540 mute, before finally laying down a left 540 double Japan to finish things off in style and earn herself a score of 93.00 points.
“It feel’s so so good (to win gold),” Gu said from the finish area, “I broke my hand a few weeks ago…and it’s my first time ever competing without poles. I wasn’t sure how comfortable I would be with that. I definitely was really struggling on qualifier day and during training and that shook up my confidence a little, but dropping in today I was really feeling it, and Aspen Snowmass is always so amazing. They build the pipe so well. They build all their courses so well. I’m just really excited to be here and really excited to show the world that I could come back and ski well.”
Second place and the silver medal went to Rachael Karker of Canada. The top scorer from Wednesday’s qualifications, Karker had the final drop of the day for the women, and was sitting in third place behind Gu and Zoe Atkin of Great Britain before her run.
Boasting some of the biggest amplitude in the women’s field, Karker put down an exceptional run highlighted by her own back-to-back 900s, and although a couple of minor bobbles kept her from catching Gu, she was able to overtake Atkin to earn Aspen 2021 silver with a score of 91.75.
Atkin, meanwhile, would carry on what has been a tradition of bronze medal performances for the strong freeski family she’s a part of, as her sister Isabel earned World Championships third place honours in slopestyle competition at both the Sierra Nevada 2017 and Utah 2019 events. Skiing a smooth and technical run that included a left-side 720 octograb, Atkin scored a third-run 90.50 for the bronze.
Porteous shakes off broken foot to win gold with
The men’s Aspen 2021 halfpipe competition was a rollercoaster affair, featuring both boundary-pushing progression and heart-stopping crashes, as the 10 of the world’s very best put it all on the line for gold.
With the hot alpine sun beating down on the skier’s left wall, we saw several skiers in the men’s event go down hard, including 4x World Championships medallist Kevin Rolland (FRA), who was making his return to competition after two years away from the sport due a non-competition crash back in 2019. Favourites like Noah Bowman of Canada and David Wise of the USA also had hard falls, but all athletes walked away from competition in one piece.
One skier who did not seem to have any struggles, however, was 19 year-old Nico Porteous, who dropped in on his first run of the day and went hard. Starting things off with a switch right-side 900 mute into a switch left double 1080 safety, Porteous then launched into the groundbreaking combo he debuted at X Games back in January, putting together a right double 1620 mute straight into a left double 1620 safety, before finishing his run with a left alley-oop double 900 Japan.
While Porteous would actually try to go one better on his final run by finishing off with a left alley-oop double 1080 Japan, a hand drag on that landing meant that the first run score would stick, and the New Zealander would earn gold with a score of 94.50.
All of this, it should be mentioned, was accomplished by Porteous while skiing on a foot with a bone broken just five weeks ago.
“I went through a crazy high at X Games,” Porteous said following his win, “And then three days later after breaking my foot, I kinda went into a real low period and was stuck at home for a month and couldn’t do anything. The first day of training here in Aspen was my first day back in the pipe. I’m just absolutely stoked for this win. This pipe has been so good to me.”
In yet another inspiring story for the day, the men’s silver medal went to Canada’s Simon d’Artois, who was, like Rolland, dropping in on his first competition after two years off due to injury.
D’Artois’ day went a little better than Rolland’s did, however, as the 29 year-old threw down a thrilling second run that featured the biggest top-to-bottom amplitude of the day and four double corks - including left and right double 1260s - for a score of 91.25 and the second Aspen 2021 halfpipe silver medal for Canada of the day.
Third place went to another skier who had a tough crash, as Birk Irving (USA) was able to ride a first-run score of 89.75 through to a podium spot for the home squad. After putting down his clean first run, Irving went down hard on the first hit of his second attempt and was forced to sit out the final run of the competition. However no other skier was able to reel in that first run score and Irving would limp away with the bronze medal.
Freeski action at the Aspen 2021 FIS Snowboard and Freeski World Championships continues on Saturday with slopestyle finals, with the first athlete dropping in at 9:30 MST.
- GOLD - Eileen Gu (CHN): right 9 safety, left 9 Japan, right 7 lead tail, switch left 7 Japan, left alley oop five mute, left 5 double Japan
- SILVER - Rachael Karker (CAN): left flair 5 mute, right 9 Japan, left 9 Japan, right flair safety, left cork 7 safety, switch left alley oop 5 safety
- BRONZE - Zoe Atkin (GBR): left 5 nose, right 7 , switch left 7 mute, right 5 tail, left 7 octo, switch right 7 safety
- GOLD - Nico Porteous (NZL): switch right 9 mute, switch left double 10 safety, right double 16 mute, left double 16 safety, left alley oop double 9 Japan
- SILVER - Simon d’Artois (CAN): right double 12 mute, left double 10 high safety, switch right 7 mute, left double 12 mute, left alley oop double 7 safety
- BRONZE - Birk Irving (USA): right double 12 safety, left double 14 safety, switch right 7 Japan, left down the pipe double 9 Japan, left alley oop 7 Japan to Japan, switch left 10 tail