ASPEN – Heading into Friday’s big air elimination round, Chris Corning knew the X Games Aspen big air format would be a beast. The 25-minute jam format pushes snowboarders to the limits of muscular endurance and focus, with one rider after another hucking themselves off the 300-foot in-run and 80-foot jump over and over again until time expires.
But Friday’s qualifier, topped by Canadian star Max Parrot, turned out to be a challenge in a different way for the 20-year-old Silverthorne resident and American big air star.
After the 25-minute clock expired in the final round, Corning was up top ready for his last run ranked in sixth position — the bubble spot to make it into Saturday’s primetime final. He and a few other boarders needed to take one last run down down to ensure everyone had completed the same number of runs down the mountain.
Just ahead of him Japanese youngster Ryo Aizawa dropped in and surfed on the back of his board to hold onto the landing of a quad-cork 1800 — a massive four-inversion, five-rotation trick on the boundary of snowboarding’s progression. It also happens to be Corning’s best trick.
The trick suddenly bumped Aizawa above Corning and the cut line in the X Games’ jam format, where snowboarders are scored on “overall impression” and re-ranked after each and every jump. In the end, Friday’s qualifiers were, in order, Parrot, Mons Roisland, Darcy Sharpe, Ryo Aizawa, Yuki Kadono and Rene Rinnekangas. Parrot led the way after easily landing a cab triple-cork 1620 a backside triple-cork 1440 and a frontside triple-cork 1440.
“The level of riding is totally insane,” Parrot said. “Our sport has been progressing so far, so much and every year I get surprised, actually. For qualifications, triples over triples, it’s almost like it was a final.”
Triple corks were one thing, but the quad cork that totally disrupted Friday’s qualifier. In recent years Corning has been the first rider to land it at various competitions and on different types of jumps, including last month in the scaffolding-jump spotlight at SunTrust Park in Atlanta, Georgia. Corning effectively won that competition, and the 2019-20 FIS snowboard big air World Cup, with the trick.
After Aizawa landed the quad cork, with Corning in seventh place, U.S. Snowboard coaches Dave Reynolds and Mike Ramirez told Corning him to go for the quad cork — something Corning hoped to save for final. The recommendation came 10 seconds before he was set to drop in for his final run.
Corning wasn’t able to land the trick, his 2020 X Games was brought to a painful and emotional end.
For the ever-focused, ever-motivated Corning, was this more fuel to the fire to come back and win his first X Games Aspen medal next year?
“Yeah, I mean, it more just sucks,” Corning said. “Cause I don’t know what to do. …Usually, when we’re at a big air comp, you have time to think about stuff and understand what you’re going to do. But, here, there’s no thinking. You’re just going. I’ve competed for so long doing it the other way that switching, that kind of thing was hard for me. But it is what it is.”
Corning entered the final round in sixth place after landing a a backside triple-cork 1440, a switch frontside 1260 with a nose grab and a flat-spin frontside 1440 with a melon grab. In the emotion of the moment right after the round ended, Corning was confident that it was good enough for him to qualify compared to the batch of tricks landed by the qualifiers just ahead of him.
He said the new X Games format, where riders aren’t awarded explicit scores, made it hard to gauge just how far you are ahead or behind of competitors and just how much more you may need to do.
“It’s really hard to strategize,” Corning said. “You’re just guessing. The coaches have no idea what I should do. And I have no idea what I should do.”
Top finisher Parrot said he wouldn’t tip his hand on what tricks he’ll try Saturday night (8 p.m. MST, ESPN) when automatic-qualifiers Mark McMorris and Sven Thorgren join the qualifiers.
“Bigger tricks,” Parrot said. “I ain’t gonna say. I have many tricks. You’ll have to watch to see it.”