Twenty Years, 20 Firsts celebrates the 20-year legacy of the X Games in action sports with a collection of 20 of the most iconic first-trick moments in X Games history. Between March and X Games Austin (June 5-8), XGames.com will roll out the top 20 firsts, including moments such as Travis Pastrana's groundbreaking double backflip and Shaun White's perfect SuperPipe score, and the stories behind them. Now, fans can vote for their favorite moment.
Usually when an athlete does something no one has done, he opens the door for others to follow. The double backflip on a dirt bike has been landed dozens of times since Travis Pastrana did the first in 2006. Likewise skateboarding's 900, first landed by Tony Hawk in 1999, and snowboarding's triple cork, pioneered by Torstein Horgmo in 2010.
When a trick remains unrepeated over multiple years, you know it ranks in an elite class of difficulty and danger.
Enter Heath Frisby, a freestyle snowmobiler from Caldwell, Idaho. In early October 2011, four months before the 2012 winter X Games, Frisby decided he would try a front flip in the Best Trick finals in Aspen. He had heard talk of Justin Hoyer preparing for a double backflip. He figured a front flip would be a wild card, but, if he landed it, it likely would be the only maneuver capable of beating Hoyer's double.
When he confided in people what he was planning, they thought he was joking. But no one told him it couldn't be done.
Frisby tried a handful of front flips off a ramp at his buddy Joe Parsons' house in Yakima, Washington, in January. Each time, he landed in a foam pit. Aspen would be his first attempt on snow.
"People were really worried," Frisby recalled.
As it happened, just before Frisby jumped, Hoyer crashed while attempting his double backflip and was carried off the course with leg and arm injuries. Frisby tried not to watch.
His main concern wasn't the rotation -- which is much more difficult than a backflip because of the takeoff angle -- but the landing. "I knew it was going to be brutal, just because of the way a front flip works," he said. "I wasn't worried about making it all the way around; I was really successful in the foam pit with making it all the way around. I was just worried about being able to hold on because I knew when I landed it would be really, really violent."
There's a reason forward rotations are rare -- not just in snowmobiling but across all action sports. For starters, on a snowmobile ramp, picture the uphill takeoff angle compared with the downhill landing angle. To go from one to the other while flipping forward, you must travel roughly 440 degrees on the compass. By comparison, to execute a backflip off the same ramp, the degree of rotation is more like 280.
"A backflip," Frisby said, "you're not working against anything; it's the way it's supposed to be done. It's almost effortless. A front flip is the exact opposite. And you're basically doing it blind all the way around. You can't see anything."
On his first attempt, Frisby preloaded near the top of the ramp, grabbed his brake and threw his weight forward as hard as he could, then held on for the flip. He landed almost perfectly.
Still, in an ode to the trick's nature, he smashed his face on his handlebars so hard that it concussed him.
The judges gave Frisby a 96.66 -- seven points better than second place. Frisby was most ecstatic to have landed the trick on his first attempt. He has never tried another front flip.
"It was just an overwhelming amount of joy knowing that I was done," he said. "I didn't even care if I won. I was doing it to be the first person in the world to do it."
And still the only.