Defending champ Gagnier: Double the pleasure
Vincent Gagnier hates triple corks. While the ski world's top tier has jumped on the triples bandwagon, the XG Aspen 2015 Ski Big Air champ claims he's never even attempted one.
"I honestly think that they're very overrated -- except for Henrik Harlaut's -- and dangerous," says Gagnier. The Quebecois used two complicated double cork combos to take XG gold, becoming the first skier since Aspen 2012 to win Big Air without landing a triple. His victory was powered by a jump with the longest trick name in history: rightside double bio 1620 Screamin' Seaman octograb uncrossed into opposite octograb.
"The lack of personality in the trick [a triple] makes it unappealing to me," Gagnier explains. "If 30-something people on Earth can do it, I don't understand what the big deal is."
Now 22, Gagnier was less than a year out of major back surgery at X Games Aspen 2015; he shattered his T5 vertebrae in April 2014 when he caught an edge on a down-flat-down rail. "I landed straight on my back," he says. "I went numb from the waist down for a couple of minutes." Gagnier regained movement in his toes when ski patrol took off his boots, and he had spinal fusion surgery from his T3 to T7 the following day.
"The back is feeling so much better than [XG Games 2015]," he says now. "I don't complain about it as much while skiing, but it's still very uncomfortable from time to time. For example, cooking and cutting vegetables is more painful than skiing."
The quiet, unassuming two-time X Games medalist -- who is the baby brother of 2005 Slopestyle champ Charles Gagnier -- is lucky the injury didn't end his career. It barely slowed him down: He still earned the overall AFP Big Air title, a crown he claimed without a triple, of course. His creativity and technical prowess were enough for him to land on the podium at four out of five competitions. The ranks of the triple-capable continue to grow, but Gagnier remains the best Big Air skier on the planet.
A slight underdog at XG Aspen 2015 despite his 2014 silver medal, all eyes will be on the defending champ at Aspen 2016. Observers wonder how he'll innovate next. The Quebecois is up for the challenge. "I invented a new double grab in Mammoth a couple of weeks ago," he said in late December. "It's called the Mutant. I'd rather not say too much about it. I'll just say that it's a mute grab and a tail grab at the same time, and it's by far the hardest grab I have ever done."
Henrik Harlaut is the only skier to take back-to-back X Games Big Air gold, doing so in 2013-2014. Only Harlaut and Bobby Brown have won more than once; nine athletes have split the 11 XG contests. After missing XG Aspen 2015 Big Air due to injury, Harlaut returns to the roster in 2016 and likely will be Gagnier's biggest competitor. While their rotations are different, their approach is the same. Be unique. Gagnier throws one-of-a-kind doubles, Harlaut specializes in creative, daring nose-butters.
"I think our styles are very different but our mindset is similar: We're both trying to do something different from the rest of the field," Harlaut says. "We just execute our tricks differently."
As for Gagnier? "What's most important is that I want my tricks to look more beautiful than the tricks of my peers," he says.