X Games Aspen 2023: Predicting who comes out on top in skiing

Austin Colbert
The Aspen Times
Basalt freeskier Hanna Faulhaber takes part in an introductory press conference ahead of X Games Aspen on Thursday at Buttermilk Ski Area in Aspen.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Let’s make some skiing predictions.

I made my X Games snowboarding predictions a day earlier and remain only mildly lukewarm in terms of confidence, but maybe I’ll feel better about the skiers.

How is Basalt local Hanna Faulhaber going to fare in her second X Games after winning bronze as a rookie a year ago? Can Aspen native Alex Ferreira win a third X Games gold medal? Sadly, I don’t have those answers for you, but I’ll make my best guesses at the very least.

Women’s Big Air, 5:30 p.m. Friday

Projected winner: Mathilde Gremaud

The first ski competition of X Games this year should be fun. Women’s ski big air is underappreciated and has some of the best athletes in the sport. On top of that list is my pick, Swiss superstar Mathilde Gremaud, who has twice won ski big air in Aspen (2019, 2021). She struggled and finished eighth last winter, but I see her bouncing back. Olympic big air champ Eileen Gu wasn’t on the start list as of Thursday night — she’s still slated for slopestyle and halfpipe — but big hitters like Sarah Hoefflin and Tess Ledeux will be back. France’s Ledeux won both big air and slopestyle gold at X Games last year.

Knuckle huck, 7:30 p.m. Friday

Projected winner: Joona Kangas

The most difficult contest to predict, but one of the most fun to watch. Like non-sports fans trying to fill out a bracket during March Madness, I’m picking Joona Kangas to win based solely on him having an awesome name. He’s a 25-year-old from Finland making his X Games debut. He’s also an Olympian having competed in slopestyle at the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang. That, however, is the end of what I know. His competition includes Swedish legend Henrik Harlaut and Utah’s dynamic duo of Alex Hall and Colby Stevenson.

Men’s Slopestyle, 10:30 a.m. Saturday

Projected winner: Birk Ruud

Another stacked field that’s difficult to predict. Alex Hall is the reigning Olympic champion in slopestyle who also won gold here in Aspen in 2019, so the Utah skier should be a popular pick. But, I’m going with Norway’s Birk Ruud. The 22-year-old just finished third in Laax — Hall was second and Andri Ragettli first — so he comes in with good form. Ruud is more known for his big air talents here at X Games, having won Aspen big air gold in 2019. He’s only competed in slopestyle in Aspen once, finishing ninth in 2020. But, he did finish fifth in slopestyle at the Beijing Olympics last winter, so he’s certainly capable.

Utah freeskier Alex Hall is a favorite to take gold in the men’s big air.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Women’s Halfpipe, 5 p.m. Saturday

Projected winner: Eileen Gu

I really, really, really want to pick Hanna Faulhaber. And, I really believe Basalt’s own is a legitimate contender in only her second X Games appearance (she won bronze in her debut last year). But, Eileen Gu exists on a different planet than most humans, in the best way. The San Francisco skier, who still represents her mother’s homeland of China in competition, won three medals in three events in her X Games debut two years ago. She sat out X Games last year to focus on the Olympics, where she again won three medals in three events, including two gold. Gu is virtually untouchable in the halfpipe right now, dominating the way Chloe Kim does in snowboarding. Canada’s Cassie Sharpe, one of her top challengers, is sitting out this year, but Estonia’s Kelly Sildaru is back and a worthy opponent. Sildaru won last year in Gu’s absence.

The halfpipe before training on Thursday ahead of the return of X Games to Buttermilk Ski Area in Aspen.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Women’s Slopestyle, 11 a.m. Sunday

Projected winner: Eileen Gu

If you read my snowboard prediction piece on Thursday, you know I’m cowardly and don’t like to dive off the deep end too much in my picks. But, Gu is so good it would be silly not to pick her. If she’s healthy and going 100%, she can’t be beat. Kelly Sildaru is her toughest competition. The phenom has cooled off a bit the past year or so, but she was slopestyle skiing’s dominant force only a few years ago. Gu vs. Sildaru will be about as good as good gets. And, the field remains stacked after those two, adding more intrigue. I’m probably as excited for this event as any at X Games this year.

Men’s Big Air, 5:15 p.m. Sunday

Projected winner: Alex Hall

I mean, Alex Hall tends to win something wherever he goes anymore, and it’s difficult to believe he leaves Aspen empty-handed. He won this contest last year at Buttermilk in large part because of the very casual double cork 2160 he landed. The number of spins required to win big air contests these days truly is defying the laws of physics. He will have to hold off someone like Birk Ruud, although my darkhorse is Matej Svancer, who is ready to break through into superstardom.

Crested Butte halfpipe skier Aaron Blunck trains Thursday at Buttermilk Ski Area.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Men’s Halfpipe, 6:30 p.m. Sunday

Projected winner: Alex Ferreira

No, this isn’t me trying to be a homer by picking the local guy. Fact is, with New Zealand standout Nico Porteous apparently sitting this one out, I think Alex Ferreira is the best of the bunch. Now, Porteous has become the best halfpipe skier on the planet, an assertion backed up by his Olympic gold medal from Beijing. But Ferreira, who won X Games Aspen gold in both 2019 and 2020, is healthy and coming off a World Cup win in Calgary and loves to compete in front of the home crowd. Yes, the field remains stacked with Aaron Blunck, David Wise, and Birk Irving all set to compete — and that’s just the American roster. Watch out for Finland’s Jon Sallinen, who is making his X Games debut. The 2022 Olympian is part of Peter Olenick’s crew training out of the Roaring Fork Valley.

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