For 22 years, the Winter X Games have been coming into living rooms. Each year is akin to a DJ Clue mixtape, highlighting athletes the masses haven’t seen yet but are destined for greatness.
This year, the X Games are in the unique position of serving two purposes: Highlighting some of Winter X’s best athletes and showcasing some of the young talent that could go home with Olympic gold in Korea in February. On top of that, this year’s iteration features more storylines than your average soap opera.
Most notably is the return of Mark McMorris. The 14-time medal winner is making his return from an injury that McMorris thought would prevent him from ever being able to ride a snowboard again. The Canadian-born McMorris ruptured his spleen and broke his jaw, pelvis, left arm, and ribs while attempting a trick in British Columbia last March.
McMorris is one of the most decorated athletes in X Games history, rivaling guys like Dave Mirra and Tony Hawk. He’s so good that his average finish is second place. Seeing as how he has managed to take home 14 medals, that’s a testament to his dominance. Whenever McMorris enters an event, rival snowboarders need to plan to see him on the podium because McMorris’ track record indicates he’s winning something.
However, for every great comeback story, there will always be plenty of upstarts hoping to play the role of spoiler. One participant hoping to take down McMorris is 18-year-old American snowboarder Chris Corning, who has spent his entire life watching the Winter X Games.
“My first real memories were watching best method (in Big Air),” Corning said. “So that was the time I first remember watching. I remember watching it, but I don’t remember certain specific contests. I remember just watching the event and being super excited to go snowboarding. I just wanted to go so bad.”
For the uninitiated, Big Air is one of the showcase events when it comes to both the Summer and Winter X Games. A rider stands nearly 50 meters high, with the only way down being a curved ramp at angles up to 49 degrees. This provides the rider with plenty of chances to build up speed quickly and grab, as the event’s name suggests, big air.
“I’m the only American for Big Air,” Corning said. “And that’s super cool because it gives me the opportunity to show off my skills against the best in the world. We have some of the best in the world in the United States. Just being able to be the one in for the U.S. is amazing and having the opportunity to be able to go and compete against all those other countries.”
Big Air became such a popular event during the X Games that the Olympics decided to adopt it for the first time in PyeongChang this year, making Aspen a high-stakes preview of what could happen in a few weeks.
“I’m super excited because we’re running both events (Big Air and Slopestyle),” Corning said. “So we’ll get some extra exposure and have the opportunity to go compete in one of the events I’ve always wanted to compete in since I was a kid.”
For Corning, having grown up watching the Games has all lead up to this point. His parents started buying him custom snowboards at the age of seven. They helped at every stage of his career, moving the family twice in the past five years as he’s shot up the rankings and gotten more and more attention.
Corning, though, is good at blocking out the hype and remaining focused. He’s especially good at maintaining his focus only on the event that’s happening at the present moment and not what’s on the horizon. That focus is what helped him earn a second place finish in Big Air at the Copper Creek Grand Prix. Corning followed that up the next week with a second place finish in Breckenridge to secure his spot on the Olympic team.
It remains to be seen whether Corning can bring this success to Aspen, but one can only hope that no matter what happens, fans are treated to an epic duel between him and McMorris this weekend.