Nico Porteous dazzles with back-to-back 1620s, wins X Games ski pipe
Winter Park’s Birk Irving takes the bronze
Nico Porteous had one major advantage on his competition Friday night in the men’s ski superpipe final at X Games Aspen.
You see, the 19-year-old from New Zealand spent most of the past year at home in the Southern Hemisphere where the seasons are flipped. So, when those in North America and Europe were stuck at home this past summer because of the coronavirus pandemic, it was winter down south and the 2018 Olympic bronze medalist used that to gain an edge.
“We had such a good season down in New Zealand this year,” Porteous said. “We had some amazing training facilities, so I was actually one of the select few in the world that was lucky to be training for pretty much a normal season. I just took advantage of that and really, really sent it as hard as I could and tried to be the best skier I could.”
And the best skier he could be is the best in the world. Porteous held off a pair of Colorado freeskiers in Crested Butte’s Aaron Blunck and Winter Park’s Birk Irving to win Friday’s nightcap at Buttermilk Ski Area. It’s his first win in Aspen and second podium overall, joining the bronze he won in 2019.
Porteous’s victory ended a two-year reign atop the podium for Aspen’s Alex Ferreira. Coming off his back-to-back wins in 2019 and 2020, the reigning Olympic silver medalist couldn’t find much consistency and finished seventh in the eight-skier field.
It was a third X Games medal for Blunck. The reigning world champion won the contest back in 2017 and now has back-to-back silver medals. The 24-year-old was plenty happy with another runner-up finish considering he overcame a preseason training crash in Switzerland that could have been far worse than it was, and it was pretty bad to begin with.
“To be honest, I didn’t really get the OK until about three weeks ago to compete,” Blunck said. “So coming into this season, I was expecting to hopefully get back but I was also going to come here and had no plans on competing. Just being able to be here and be back with good friends and watch everybody throw down, I couldn’t have done it without these boys and everyone else who is pushing the sport.”
Which he followed with a joyous, “We are back skiing, guys!”
Two runs into the eventual four-run final — the podium was based off the best single run — Blunck had a slight advantage over Irving and Canada’s Brendan MacKay. But Porteous’s second run left an impression, as it included a baffling combo of back-to-back 1620s, although it was far from clean enough for the judges to put him into the top three.
In the third run, Porteous delivered by perfectly executing his run, which again included back-to-back 1620s that pushed him into first place.
“Ever since I learned the left 16, I kind of had the vision that I really wanted to do back-to-back,” Porteous said. “And this year in New Zealand with the facilities we were provided, I was able to work really hard at that and learn it. It’s something I’ve worked on for so, so long and been on my mind for so long that it was almost a sigh of relief to myself that I did it.”
Blunck had a strong fourth and final run that jumped him over Irving and into second place, but nobody could match the back-to-back 1620s of Porteous, who held on for the biggest win of his promising young career.
MacKay, who won bronze in 2020, finished fourth. In fifth was two-time reigning Olympic gold medalist David Wise and in sixth veteran Gus Kenworthy, who was born in Telluride but now represents his mother’s homeland of England in competition. Bringing up the rear behind Ferreira in seventh was Canada’s Noah Bowman in eighth.
For the 21-year-old Irving, Friday’s bronze was his first X Games medal in four Aspen appearances. He had finished fifth the past two years, and was fourth in 2017.
“These last few weeks is the hardest I’ve ever worked in my life, pushing myself as much as I could,” Irving said. “I knew I had to keep up with these two and being on the podium for the first time at X, especially with two legends like this, is a dream come true. I couldn’t be more happy right now.”
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