X Rated: Who to watch out for in Aspen, Part 1

© Oakley Inc

Winter X Games Aspen – it’s the biggest snow show on Earth! These are the Superpipe names to watch.

X: the last letter in the alphabet, the mathematical unknown. A kiss, a dirty movie rating, and a generation getting too old to compete in the X Games. X stands for Xtreme, and every year the level of freestyle snowboarding gets Xtremer… here is our pick for the Superpipe podium in 2014.

Check out our pick of the riders as X Games drops in at Aspen's Buttermilk Mountain on January 23-26.

Shaun White© Oakley Inc

Shaun White
Yep, you read it right – after cancelling due to preparations for another important event in the near future, El Blanco has had a change of heart and is back in the frame for Aspen in both Superpipe and Slopestyle. With a new trick recently added to the bag – Cab 1440 Double Flip – and a fully recovered ankle, he’s at the top of his game. Which means that unless something very dramatic happens, Shaun will be expecting Superpipe gold, and so should you.

Iouri Podladtchikov stomps a massive front 9 tail© Danny Burrows

Iouri Podladtchikov
With the Burton European Open Halfpipe winner’s trophy freshly stashed in his trophy room, the Swiss-Russian hybrid is one of the few riders in the world with both the amplitude and technical difficulty needed to challenge for Superpipe gold. That Cab 1440 Double Flip recently stomped by Shaun? Well, iPod invented it, and it’s called the YOLO flip!

Ayumu Hirano© Oakley Inc

Ayumu Hirano
He’s only 5’ 1” (155cm) tall and 15 years old, but this softly-spoken Japanese boy already represents a serious threat to White’s Superpipe dominance. At last year’s Winter X Games XVI, Ayumu won silver with a run that may have lacked Shaun’s technical difficulty, but easily matched him in terms of both style and amplitude. Watching his near-perfect mastery of transitions, it is clear that Ayumu is the future, no doubt. But has the future arrived?

Greg Bretz takes a breath after a run in the Halfpipe at the Red Bull Snow Performance Camp in Wanaka, New Zealand on August 22nd, 2012
Greg Bretz Lifestyle Wanaka, New Zealand 2012© Miles Holden/Red Bull Content Pool

Outside bets:

Greg Bretz did some serious trending in December 2013 when he scored a very rare halfpipe victory over Shaun White at the Dew Tour. A flash in the pan, or the beginning of a very big roll? We’ll soon find out.

Arthur Longo is the best French pipe rider in a long time, as his silver medal in Tignes last year proved. Longo has the style, amplitude and technicality needed to podium in Aspen; the only question is: does he have the consistency?

Ariell Gold© Phil Ellsworth / ESPN Images

Meanwhile, in the women’s Superpipe event, it’s so close that all bets are off.

With newcomers Kaitlyn Farrington and Arielle Gold scoring some big wins recently (along with two return tickets to Russia) and veteran stars Kelly Clark, Gretchen Bleiler and Torah Bright still as dangerous as ever, it’s going to be a tightly contested battle for gold. Meanwhile, will Spain’s Queralt Castellet step up her game enough to step onto the podium? One thing’s for sure, the women’s contest will be EPIC!

Queralt Castellet poses for a portrait at the Red Bull Performance Camp, Wanaka, New Zealand on August 28th, 2012.
Queralt Castellet - Portrait, New Zealand 2012© Miles Holden/Red Bull Content Pool