There’s a funny thing about the Aspen 2021 FIS Snowboard and Freeski World Championships opening Wednesday at Buttermilk and continuing through March 16: Athletes who were invited to both said they are feeling less pressure for this event than in January for X Games Aspen 2021.
While that may sound counterintuitive since the World Championships draw a much larger field than X Games and are only held biannually, skiers and snowboarders who participated in a virtual opening press conference Monday said as much.
“The vibe is much more relaxed and a little lighter” because of both the weather and the larger field, said freeskier Nick Goepper. Whereas X Games Aspen featured the best 10 athletes in each discipline, Goepper said, “Here, there are the best 50 guys and girls” for each event.
He is hoping to add the title of world champion to a resume that includes reigning X Games slopestyle gold medalist and two-time Olympic medalist.
About 300 athletes representing 37 nations are anticipated for the World Championships, according to U.S. Ski and Snowboard. Many will remain in Aspen and environs for the Land Rover U.S. Grand Prix World Cup slopestyle and halfpipe events that immediately follow the World Championships and which will serve as a qualifier for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
That the 2021 World Championships will be held at all during the global pandemic is something that halfpipe skier Aaron Blunck said he appreciates. Having it on close-to-home snow is even better.
“To have the world championships in the state of Colorado is really nice,” said Blunck, who will attempt a World Championships three-peat, having won in 2017 and 2019. Blunck also was a surprise X Games medalist in January as he was just a few months beyond a serious training accident in Austria.
Snowboarder Mark McMorris, who could not compete in X Games 2021 due to a positive COVID-19 test, is coming off a recent win in the “Natural Selection” backcountry contest. McMorris said he’s eagerly awaiting his return to the slopestyle course at Buttermilk.
“Aspen has always been good to me. To be back here is a really nice relief for me,” McMorris said.
Maddie Mastro, who rides out of Mammoth Mountain, California, and is expected to again challenge American teammate Chloe Kim in the halfpipe, spoke of how having fewer contests during this pandemic season has given her more motivation than ever and instilled something of a sense of normalcy.
“That’s something I’m really grateful for this season,” Mastro said.
Something else the athletes who are used to living out of their suitcases cited Monday as a reason for gratitude: Remaining at the same venue for two weeks.
“We don’t get to do that often, settle in,” said Red Gerard, the 2018 Olympic gold medalist who lives in Silverthorne. “To hang in Aspen for 15 days, I can’t be bummed.”
For the FIS World Championships television schedule, visit usskiandsnowboard.org/follow/all-sports.