Where I'm from, snowboarding and skiing weren't chief pursuits. Growing up, my boys and I played football in the streets or pickup basketball wherever we could find a hoop--neither of which required an exorbitant lift-ticket fee. But now and again, when money was good, we'd skip school, leave Philly and make the short two-hour drive to the mountains. We made a day of it--grabbed hoagies for lunch and snack food for the car. The outings were more about the adventure (and the beer), though, than they were about carving it up. And if we made it through the day without one of us suffering an injury or finding someone fall-down drunk at the lodge bar, we considered it successful.
But those trips were rare, mainly because we couldn't walk outside our homes and practice a 900 (two and a half rotations) on our snowboards. More to the point: None of us--particularly me--was very good. A few of my friends weren't bad skiers, and by that I mean they were skilled enough to gather moderate speed without falling.
The first time I tried skiing was in sixth grade when my buddies convinced me to go on the school trip to Blue Mountain. Bad idea. When I close my eyes at night, I can still see the fear on the faces of the family of four I plowed over. (I skipped the lesson that day--because, my logic went, how hard could it be?--so, unfortunately for them, I never learned how to stop. Note to potential skiers/snowboarders: Learning how to stop is imperative. )
In college I picked up snowboarding on a road trip to Ithaca College in upstate New York. I wasn't much better at that than I was at skiing, but I loved it, and there weren't any unfortunate incidents involving families, which kept me going back. I always wanted to progress to the point where I could drop into a half-pipe and throw one of those crazy, impossibly acrobatic moves with names like McTwist or Stalefish. I wasn't sure how, exactly, any of it was accomplished, but it sure looked smooth.
Even now, many years and miles removed from snowboarding, I still appreciate watching it on television. Last week, I settled into my chair and watched the X Games on ESPN almost from start to finish. (That was a serious feat for me, considering it's an election year and I'm a politics junkie who spends almost all of his free time watching CNN or C-SPAN.) I also got my balls busted a lot from my boys back home. One phone call went like this:
Friend: "What are you doing?"
Me: "Watching the X Games."
Friend: "[Long, hard laugh] Board or die, dude. Board or die. [Pause] Pussy. [Dial tone]."
I imagine that's the belief held around here. You can do a lot of things in the great state of Texas, but as one local put it in his endearing drawl: "There ain't no snow 'round here...hear?"
That aside, it's hard not to appreciate the athleticism on display at the X Games, not to mention the unintentional comedy. The whole thing is tricked out and geared toward young guys with long shaggy hair and tattoos. Toss in coverage by the try-too-hard-to-be-hip ESPN SportsCenter hosts, and you have a confluence of events that's too good to be true. Really, even if you're not into sports like SnoCross (snowmobile racing gone wild) or Skier X (downhill racing gone wild), you're sure to be entertained by the freaks and their inability to communicate without the word "gnarly" (which, unbeknownst to me, has made a comeback).
The following, then, is a public service, an abbreviated, highlight-heavy rundown of the X Games and the total, like, awe-some-ness you missed.
The Big Crash: For the first time, ESPN went live from the X Games, and there was disaster written all over it.
One of the premiere events is Moto X Best Trick, where a bunch of madmen on motorcycles scream up ramps, fly very high in the air, do a trick and try not to crash. The event started at the summer games many years ago. At the summer games, there are dirt and metal ramps. At the winter games, the ramps are made of ice, and the bikes have steel spikes on them to give them traction. It's very dangerous for them, but all kinds of fun for the viewer. Within minutes of the competition starting, many of the riders were doing backflips off the ice ramps, flying 90 feet upside down on their 250-pound motorcycles and landing. Not smart, but from the comfort of my couch, I was rooting for them to "go big. "
Brian Deegan must have heard me. On his first run, barely 10 minutes into the games, he pulled out something called the "Militia Twist"--a backflip with a 360. Unfortunately for Deegan, it went horribly awry; he was forced to "eject" from 40 feet up. He fell to the ground with a sickening thud. You could hear people in the background screaming "shit" and "holy fuck" because, remember, it was live TV. After learning that Deegan had broken his femur and both wrists, the announcer, who's cut from the same valley boy cloth as the contestants, said: "Yeah, bro, I dunno if trying to pull that on the ice was such a good idea."
Nah...wait, ya think?
Best Acceptance Speech Ever: Shortly after qualifying for Ski Slopestyle, where participants ski down the mountain while tricking off of huge jumps and staircases and railings, Simon Dumont was pulled aside by another vapid X Games reporter and asked to comment on how he had turned in such an amazing run.
"I was just charging out there," Dumont said with a sly grin. "I mean, shit, it was fun. This is live TV. I can't say 'shit' on live TV, can I? Ah, well, fuck it."
The Big Crash Part II: The only thing that comes close to being as stupid as backflipping your motorcylce on ice is racing a snowmobile uphill over bumps and jumps. Dave Allard figured that out when, during a SnoCross race, he miscalculated on a jump and planted his snowmobile front first into the ground. He shot over the handlebars and smacked into the snow and ice. To add injury to injury, his machine landed on top of him. Very, very hurty.
Prime Time With SportsCenter: In a shameless attempt to get a ratings spike for both the X Games and its flagship program, ESPN decided to hold the finals of the Snowboard SuperPipe during the 10 p.m. SportsCenter. Host Stuart Scott did the basketball scores and such and then kicked it to Linda Cohn, who was live in Aspen. In between runs, which were filled with absurd twists and flips, Cohn interviewed the snowboarders at the SportsCenter desk or told us interesting things like: "Japanese snowboard star Kazuhiro Kokubo is just 15 years old. They call him 'Buster.'"
For the final interview with superpipe winner Steve Fisher, Scott threw it to the woman he calls "L.Co." Cohn, clad in X Games-approved parka and knitted hat, asked Fisher questions about the 1080 spin that helped him win the gold medal. Fisher, bobbing up and down on his chair like a goof, answered the way snowboarders know best, using the words "yeah" and "stoked" almost exclusively, leaving L.Co to nod approvingly.
Now that's entertainment, dude.