World champion is a title that most athletes hope to earn, but in the free skiing and riding world, an X Games gold medal is still seen as reaching the highest peak.
That was clear Sunday on the final day of X Games Aspen 2019, when Alex Hall, a 20-year-old from Park City, Utah, won gold Sunday in the Jeep Men’s Ski Slopestyle. Hall scored 95.66 on his final of three runs to best Alex Beaulieu-Marchand and Ferdinand Dahl in one of the last competitions of this year’s X Games, which ran Jan. 24-27.
Asked which carried more weight, first place at the X Games or at the 2019 FIS Snowboard, Freestyle and Freeski World Championships, which begin Feb. 1 in Utah, Hall said, “An X Games gold medal, for sure.” But he’s excited for the championships, and not only because they’ll be staged in his backyard.
Hall will return home to Park City, one of three locations for the World Championships, which also use venues at Solitude Resort and Deer Valley. This will mark the first time a World Championships based in the U.S. includes the range of freestyle events, from mogul and aerials skiing to snowboard, ski cross, halfpipe and slopestyle, the latter of which are X Games mainstays.
Also planned to debut during the championships are team events, including a mixed gender team snowboard cross, and team aerials. They’ll be introduced on the Olympic stage at Beijing 2022.
An estimated 1,400 athletes will compete in 15 events in the World Championships, according to U.S. Ski and Snowboard. By comparison, there were 158 athletes who vied for medals in five different X Games sports, according to ESPN. Criteria is used to qualify for the championships, as compared to the more subjective invitation process used by ESPN.
Some 55,000 spectators are anticipated over the 10 competition days of the World Championships. Final figures for the four days of X Games were not available Sunday at press time, but on Saturday alone, when The Real Cost Men’s Ski Big Air, SoFi Women’s Snowboard SuperPipe and a concert by the Chainsmokers took place, attendance was estimated at 43,000, according to ESPN.
Prestige on different levels
“The thing that separates the X Games from everything else is this is what we grew up dreaming about. There’s no two ways about that,” said James “Woodsy” Woods, who placed third in Saturday’s big air.
“The thing about the world championship is that’s a title I want next to my name,” he continued. “But this is what I live for,” Woods said Sunday.
Woods said he planned to sort out some of the issues he felt led to a disappointing slopestyle performance in order to be ready for Park City.
The intensity of X Games and the rigors of competing in multiple events was noted by a number of athletes, including ski slopestyle winner Alex Hall. “It feels good but I’m super tired,” he said.
Hall said he felt the judges on Sunday scored his final run, which was punctuated by tail taps on rails and a seatbelt Japan grab, for its creativity rather than just degree of difficulty. He was able to perform “the run I was thinking about at the start. I’m hyped they all worked out.”
Hall added that he was excited to compete at home in Utah and wasn’t worried about the kind of pressure that perhaps Alex Ferreira felt performing in his backyard and before a large contingent of friends and family.
“I think the X Games is more pressure than the World Championships probably. Hopefully it’ll feel more chill compared to this. We’ll see,” Hall said.