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Winter X: White eager to return to slopestyle

Pat Graham, The Associated Press

ASPEN, Colo. – Ever the innovator of tricks, Shaun White has fallen behind the times.

His routines are a little rusty, his maneuvers in need of a little polishing.

That’s what a year off from snowboard slopestyle competition will do.

For once, the two-time Olympic halfpipe gold medalist won’t be favored when he takes part in the slopestyle event at the Winter X Games this week. For once, he has to learn new tricks to catch up with the rest of the field.

This was going to be fun. He’s always game for a good challenge.

A pioneer in the halfpipe, White took a hiatus from slopestyle competitions in the wake of the 2010 Vancouver Games, where he easily captured gold.

Now, he’s returning to slopestyle, an event that tests riders’ ability to handle a variety of terrain as they go over rails, jumps and other obstacles.

White won that competition in 2009 and plans to be in the thick of things again this time, possibly even in years to come.

That’s because there’s a strong possibility the International Olympic Committee will add the snowboarding slopestyle event – along with skiing slopestyle and skiing halfpipe – to the program for the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

If the committee does, count White in.

“It would really shine some cool light on the sport,” the 24-year-old White said Wednesday, surrounded by a panel of Winter X athletes. “It has many aspects to it.”

Lately, he’s been brushing up on his slopestyle skills, even landing a double cork 1080 off a jump in practice Wednesday. He was almost as proud of pulling that off as he was when he first nailed the Double McTwist 1260, the most unpredictable and dangerous trick in his arsenal, a trick that heavily accelerated the progression in the halfpipe.

He’s become the undisputed king of the pipe and will go for a fourth straight Winter X title this week.

Yet he’s still trying to get back up to speed in slopestyle and close the gap on riders such as Norway’s Torstein Horgmo, a spin machine while in the air.

“I’m really excited to get geared up,” said White, who’s won 15 medals at Winter X, including 10 gold. “I’m pretty confident.”

By competing in two events this weekend – both finals are Sunday – White is receiving a glimpse of what it could be like down the road, should slopestyle be added to the Olympic mix.

Only a few snowboarders are competing in both events at Winter X, including Olympic bronze medalist Scotty Lago who’s still planning on participating even though he broke his jaw earlier this month while filming in Jackson Hole, Wyo.

In order to make it work, White has had to squeeze in superpipe training at night with the women.

It’s led to some good-natured razzing, especially with his long, flowing red hair.

“The running joke is, ‘Who is that chick? Who’s the red head?”‘ White said with a smile.

Snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler, the defending superpipe champ at Winter X, couldn’t resist chiming in.

“Her hair is so flowing,” Bleiler playfully teased. “Her pants are so tight.”

“Very nice,” White countered. “That’s my gauntlet I run.”

White, of Carlsbad, Calif., has cut back on contests this season, but hardly on training. He’s still coming up with outlandish maneuvers.

But nothing quite as adventurous as last winter when he worked on the McTwist, a move in which he hurtles himself 15-to-20 feet above the halfpipe, then does two head-over-heels flips and 3 1/2 rotations.

A risky trick that nearly ended his season – and his Olympic aspirations – at Winter X last January.

Working on the jump during a practice run, White misjudged his position above the pipe and came down hard, slamming his face against the pipe and falling flat on the ice.

About an hour later, the world’s best halfpipe rider won the event, demonstrating his toughness.

“I try to pride myself on not falling too often,” said White, who announced another partnership Wednesday, this one with BF Goodrich Tires. “When you crash in a certain fashion as I did, where my helmet was literally torn off my head and flew away, it was a pretty heavy crash.

“But I was proud of taking a hit like that and bouncing back.”


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