A quick look at the base of X Games 14 – held last week in Aspen, CO. Hit the jump for a HUGE post about what it’s like to be in the Mono X.
Ahhhhh – it feels so nice to be sedentary right now. I feel like I’ve been in a barfight for the past week. From walking up a flight of stairs to sneezing – every muscle in my back and midsection aches with the abuse I’ve given it over the past seven days.
For those that don’t know, I’ve been down in Aspen, Colorado for the past ten days competing at Winter X Games 14 in the “Mono X” – which is just a tough sounding name for a skier cross with an all-monoski field.
What does an all monoski field look like? Here ya go.
As you can see, the type of disability someone has doesn’t make much of a difference in a competition like this. Paralysis level and limb count vary across the board – the only thing that matters is a willingness to go fast and commit to whatever abuse the skier cross course dishes out. We use the same course as the able-bodied men and women, with the only exception of a slightly smaller road gap and a longer run-in to the final jump, which requires that you travel at least 85 ft. just to clear the flat space under the ramp. And this year’s course was definitely the gnarliest course I’d yet seen at the X Games. Here’s a short video of some of the skier cross guys breaking down the course a bit more.
The first inspection started on Wednesday in which the entire monoski field inspected the course together. All told, there were about fifteen guys including last minute additions and replacements. It only took one inspection to knock two out just due to the sheer size and burliness of the course. I recount the course from memory as best I can:
Start off with three woopity-woos (think of washboards on a dirt road except each little ridge is the size of a Volkswagon) that lead into a 20 ft. step down (a jump that has a landing spot significantly lower in elevation than the takeoff ramp) into a banked “Zogg turn” (the banked turns that were described above as a “big, bowled out halfpipe” that you turn in). After that it’s a hip jump (15ft straight up) into 8 woopity woos, three Zogg turns, a 25 ft. step down, a 30 ft. road gap, 3 more woopity woos, some more zoggs, a step up, a step down, and a big, big final hit. I skipped quite a few things in the middle, but I kinda ran out of words to describe some of the more ridiculous features.
One of the things that is most difficult to get across to someone who has only seen the X Games on TV is just how big some of these features seem in person. Here’s the approach into the final jump as seen from my point of view.
Steve, a good friend and my local host in Aspen, was able to make it onto the course and inspect with me. After taking the photo, he had this to say: “I’m not even skiing this and I’m still getting butterflies. Ugh.”
We were given Thursday and Friday to practice before the first stage of the competition began. Even in that short time, we had seven guys drop out. Jim Martinson, one of the toughest guys on the course and unfortunately the first to go, broke his collarbone on the second-to-last feature the day before qualifiers. The other six quietly drifted away as we got closer to timed competition – presumably due to how intimidating the course was. I can’t speak for all of the competitors, obviously, but I definitely had a hard time keeping food down the morning before our first full run of the course. That final jump was arguably the largest any of us had ever hit, and that wasn’t even the most dangerous part of the course. Able bodies skier/boarder crossers were getting knocked out as well. A couple people went in for head trauma, one guy cracked some ribs, and one of the monoskiers in our field even bowed out due to an anxiety attack the night before the competition. One of the injuries I actually saw in person was Daron Rhalves getting ruined in a long woopity-woo section. Maybe this better explains the danger these cute-sounding features can pose…
Furthering the mind game that the course was playing on us, was the actual event of X Games itself. Straddling a weird line between a prestigious athletic event and a temporary transplant of Las Vegas, the X Games has a vibe unlike any other competition I’ve ever seen. All of the main features – from skier cross to half pipe to big air – are situated right next to each other, and at any given moment during the day, you’ll see some of the world’s best athletes using these jumps, pipes, and rails as their playground. Just riding up the lift is a spectacle unto itself.
Once you got away from the X Games Show and made it onto the course, the abuse began. One of the primary differences between monoskiing and regular, biped skiing is that we have suspension. That’s really nice for 90% of your time on the hill. Unlike a knee, suspension is replaceable and doesn’t require any rehab time if you destroy it. However, on the skier cross course, that means that your shock is going to have the occasional bottom-out – which is very, very painful. Here’s a short shot of me on the final third of the course. Make sure to listen for the sounds of impact and pain in the final few seconds.
And I know this is all show, but for a better idea of the suspension, check out this footage taken from the front of my ski…
When the comp day actually did arrive, we only had seven guys left out of the original field, which might’ve said something about the sanity amongst those who stuck around. After qualifiers, all we had left on the final day of competition was semi-finals and finals. After a hairy finish in semifinals that involved skiing the final third of the course with a broken outrigger, I swapped out the busted gear and headed back up to the top of the course for finals. The competitors who had made it to the finals were some of the best monoskiers in the world. Tyler Walker and Chris Devlin-Young were the expected favorites going in, but the second the gates dropped, it become fairly clear that everyone was putting it out on the line. Here are a couple screenshots from the first part of the race when we were all together.
I could actually feel Tyler behind me in the air as we went off the jump together. As his ski went beside me, it actually changed my direction in the air and I landed with my ski at a forty-five degree angle. Losing some speed, I got thrown back into third place. After going around the banked turn and over a few woopity-woos, we hit the “hip jump” which was an air that landed you on the side of the hill so that you were already on edge upon touching down. Your visibility is pretty limited on the take off – so I didn’t see what was going on in front of me until I was already fifteen feet in the air. Chris Devlin-Young had ejected out of his ski in front of me.
I was pretty certain that I was going to come down on top of him, and tried to throw my ski away from him as much as I could in the air. When I landed, I changed my trajectory so much at the ski loaded up and threw me over. I saw Chris at the bottom after our run and he showed me his helmet. Even after trying to dodge him, the tip of my ski had carved a long divot into the side of his helmet. An inch right or left and things could’ve been much worse. Lucky.
After I picked myself up at the bottom of the jump, I could see that Chris was still trying to get himself sorted out and so I took off. By the time I crossed the finish line, my back was screaming from the week’s worth of hits, but the knowledge that there was a bronze waiting for me past the finish line eased the pain a bit. Overall – I’m just happy that everybody survived, despite the injuries, anxiety, and air that followed us for the week.
I forget who told me this for the first time, but the quote has stuck with me ever since I started competing in the this event almost six years ago. “The two best days of every season is the day you arrive at X Games, and the day you leave.” After witnessing the novelty, speed, and scope of the event along with all of its stresses, aches, and pains – I couldn’t say that I agree more.
That said, I can’t wait for next year.