X Games Norway 2017: Skiers to watch
Welcome to Norway
X Games Norway 2017 kicks off on March 8, 2017, featuring Men's and Women's Ski Slopestyle and Big Air, along with snowboarding, music and everything we've come to expect from X Games. But before we get into the action, XGames.com has assembled a preview of invited skiers to watch once the action begins at the Hafjell ski resort (home to skiing events in the 1994 Olympics). Here are the best of the best in freeskiing heading into X Games Norway.
Heading into X Games Norway, Quebec's Alex Beaulieu-Marchand has fresh momentum behind him after his recent bronze medal finish in Men's Ski Slopestyle at X Games Aspen 2017. After five appearances at X Games, this recent bronze medal was his first medal, and Beaulieu-Marchand is primed to repeat that success. His strengths in Slopestyle are multifaceted, with creative rail grabs such as the "Splaffy" (he grabs the front of his boot while he's sliding) and the switch left side double bio 1260 (because of the unique rotation). After his bronze medal win in Aspen, Beaulieu-Marchand was overjoyed. "It's a dream come true," he said. Beaulieu-Marchand will compete in Men's Ski Slopestyle on March 9 in Norway.
For Norwegian skier Oystein Braten, X Games runs in the family. His older brother, Gjermund, is a snowboarder who has also appeared in X Games. But at X Games Aspen 2017, Oystein Braten brought home family boasting rights when he won gold in Men's Ski Slopestyle. His first gold medal at X, Braaten is the second Norwegian to win gold in the discipline (Andreas Hatveit won gold in 2008, and he's also working with TV2 during the X Games Norway event). Heading into Norway, Braten is coming off a dramatic Aspen win when he lost his ski in Run 1 and had to depend on Run 2 for the win. And when in clutch time, he pulled through with flying colors. Braten will compete in Men's Ski Slopestyle and Big Air in Norway.
Swagger, enthusiasm, Wu-Tang influenced ski garb -- welcome to the world of Henrik Harlaut. Harlaut is a double threat heading into X Games Norway, with invites to compete in Men's Ski Slopestyle and Big Air, but there's more to Harlaut than competition results. In fact, Harlaut is heading into Norway hot off the X Games Real Ski all-video competition, in which he completed a 90-second video of all-urban freeskiing. A native of Sweden, Harlaut has three previous Ski Big Air gold medals and the drive to add a fourth at X Games Norway. Harlaut's nose-butter takeoffs are a sight to see -- he literally slides his skis sideways when taking off. And he is flawless and filled with effortless style and energy.
Concerning X Games competition, Colorado's Gus Kenworthy is what some may call a triple threat in that he has competed in Men's Ski SuperPipe, Slopestyle and Big Air. Heading into Norway, Kenworthy is going the double threat route with invites to compete in Big Air and Slopestyle. Although Kenworthy finished off the podium at X Games Aspen 2017 in both Pipe and Slope, he is still one of the most stylish and air-friendly forces to be reckoned with on skis. Coming off a nomination for the ESPYs Best Male Action Sports Athlete in 2016, Kenworthy still has much work to do on the mountain. "I want more," said Kenworthy heading into Aspen. "I still don't have a gold medal."
Last year at X Games Oslo 2016, Norwegian skier Johanne Killi, 19, made her home country proud when she won a silver in Women's Ski Slopestyle. This year in Aspen, Killi returned to the podium with a bronze medal finish, and now heading into Norway, Killi has medal momentum and home country advantage on her side. She's on the hook to compete in two disciplines in Norway: Women's Ski Slopestyle and Big Air. After a solid month on the road for competition purposes, Killi is now back at home in Norway, readying for X Games Norway. "This past year has been a tough year for me," said Killi after Aspen. "I didn't feel I was capable of ending up on the podium this year, so it feels unreal to have won a medal."
Heading into X Games Aspen 2017, France's Tess LeDeux was an X Games rookie and also the cousin of three-time SuperPipe gold medalist Kevin Rolland. When all was said and done in Aspen, LeDeux left Aspen with a silver medal in Women's Ski Slopestyle. At age 15, LeDeux was the second youngest athlete at X Games Aspen and also a force to be reckoned with. LeDeux's fearless approach to Slopestyle had her hitting wallrides and highly technical jumps in Aspen, and she's looking to repeat in Norway. Leduex says it was a "dream come true" to compete in X Games, and in 2017, she's realizing that dream twice in the span of less than two months.
Switzerland's Kai Mahler is a three-time XG Aspen Big Air medalist (2 silver, 1 bronze) and is the youngest Big Air medalist (Snowboard or Ski) in X Games history. Known for his stylish spins, Mahler prefers to throw creative doubles like the switch double misty 1440. Mahler hails from a small farming village in Switzerland known as Fischenthal, is a fan of Japanese anime and refers to himself as "The Finesse Kid." Mahler is also heading into X Games Norway coming off of a bronze medal win in Men's Ski Big Air at X Games Aspen 2017. With tricks such a triple cork 1620 safety grab, Mahler has some extra bling on display for his fans.
At X Games Aspen 2017, Estonian freeskier Kelly Sildaru set a few new records following her performances in Women's Ski Slopestyle and Big Air. At age 14, Sildaru became the youngest athlete to take two X Games gold medals before the age of 15 (she won gold in 2016 as well), but that was not all. Sildaru also became the first woman skier to earn two medals at a single X Games event (she took silver in Big Air and gold in Slopestyle). Now, heading into Norway, with the power of a new vlog series behind her, Sildaru is primed to become the new face of Women's Ski Slopestyle and Big Air. She is flawless, technical and stylish, with none of it forced.
The second-youngest on the Women's Ski Big Air roster, Giulia Tanno, 18, from Switzerland, won Nine Queens in 2016 with a switch 1080 and is a promising up-and-comer. She's proved herself already at major events, having hit the podium at three big slopestyle contests in 2016, and was also on the XG Aspen Slopestyle roster. Heading into Norway with a bronze medal from XG Aspen's Womens Ski Big Air competition, Tanno is doubling up on Big Air and Slopestyle, with hopes for the best. Tanno was extremely proud of the addition of Women's Big Air to the X Games lineup. "We showed the world what we got, and there is much more to come in the future," said Tanno following her bronze medal win in Aspen.
The often underrated McRae Williams has had no problem stepping up on skiing's biggest slopestyle stages, including X Games, but he's also able to adapt his skiing to the virtual audience, releasing a successful series of web videos that document his travels from the slopes of Europe to Australia. Most at home on the X Games Slopestyle course, McRae Williams hails from Park City, Utah, and is one of the most stylish skiers in the field, with a gold medal win at X Games Tignes 2013 and another silver medal finish to back up his momentum. And Williams has special competitive skills in his repertoire: He can spin in every direction when airborne, and he can mix up his runs with varied tricks in the rail and jump sections. Williams is currently enjoying the pow in Utah, but is primed for a gold medal spot in Ski Slopestyle at X Games Norway.
No, not THAT James Woods. This James Woods is a U.K.-based freeskier fresh off a Men's Ski Big Air gold medal win at X Games Aspen 2017. Woods is not of the same ilk as other freeskiers. A native of Sheffield, England, Woods grew up skiing on artificial turf but adapted to snow with ease and started turning heads after entering the competition realm in 2013. Now a seasoned X Games competitor, Woods was a consistent top-five finisher until a defining moment changed all of that in January. Woods took the Big Air win and became the first U.K. skier to earn X Games gold. Currently living out of his travel bag amid the competition season, Woods is set to defend his Big Air gold medal heading into X Games Norway, while also competing in Men's Ski Slopestyle.