COPPER MOUNTAIN, Colo. — The Winter X Games in Aspen, Colo., start exactly two weeks before the Winter Olympics in Sochi and barely one week after the final qualifying events for freeskiing skiers and snowboarders.
The Olympic athletes will already be chosen after a grueling qualifying season packed into six weeks.
So, will Sochi-bound competitors throw down in Aspen when the brightest lights on the biggest stage are only 14 days away?
“It's the X Games. It's still $25,000 on the line,” said Devin Logan, the only U.S. woman vying for a berth on both the ski halfpipe and ski slopestyle teams in Sochi. “It's the best training for the Olympics. If you can throw your best run at the X Games, you are ready for the Olympics.”
While a perfect pressure test or chance to fine-tune tricks before the biggest competition of many of the athletes' careers, X Games training and competitions can feature carnage.
A tiny miscalculation while spinning double backflips in a 22-foot halfpipe or triple backflips off 80-foot jumps in the slopestyle course can do serious harm. At the very least, even a bobbled landing in the heavy-hitter playgrounds can ground athletes for a few weeks.
So will Olympic-ready athletes maybe throw their B-game runs, holding back on those dangerous doubles and triples at the X Games, to be held Jan. 23-26?
Not a chance, said Mike Jankowski, head coach of the U.S. halfpipe and slopestyle teams.
“Being careful or cautious is something that can cause hesitation in your riding and that's the last thing you want when you are riding at this high of a level,” said Jankowski, noting that X Games participation has been a lively topic of conversation among coaches and athletes.
Even if an athlete planned to hold something back, the excitement of the X Games can dash those plans, said Park City, Utah, slopestyle skier Alex Schlopy.
“If I'm going to Sochi and I'm at the X Games, I'll probably just practice and keep doing the same runs I've always been doing,” Schlopy said. “Even if I tried to hold back, you never know when you get in the heat of the moment, you just let go.”
The Winter Games in Sochi will feature the first-ever skiers in the halfpipe and both skiers and snowboarders in the Olympics' inaugural slopestyle contests.
Those Olympians most certainly will have a history at Aspen's X Games, a venerable venue that has launched every halfpipe and slopestyle career. Athletes harbor a loyalty to the X Games. They wouldn't be bound for the Olympics without it.
“If I'm feeling good and I'm going to the Olympics, why wouldn't I take a little more practice and go to Aspen, which is a place that has always been good to me,” said Simon Dumont, a 27-year-old ski halfpipe pioneer who will be making his 13th Winter X appearance. “I'd love to go there and put on a show and hopefully take a medal there and go to Sochi and take another one and then, whew, end my competitive career and move on to bigger and better things.”
The Winter X Games use Snow Park Technologies to sculpt its halfpipe, cross and slopestyle courses. The California park designers are heralded by athletes as the world's best. To stand atop a fresh SPT course with thousands of cheering fans below is the stuff of dreams for many competitors.