Eight months after he last rode a snowboard, two-time Olympic gold medalist Shaun White needed all of four days on snow to reclaim his status as the world's best halfpipe rider.
White, who spent most of last winter away from the sport which has made him a global celebrity, overcame an icy pipe and tricky late-afternoon light to win the opening Winter Dew Tour pipe competition at Breckenridge, Colo. As usual, his superlative height out of the pipe left the crowd (and fellow competitors) in awe, and his technical skills showed no lingering effects from his eight-month hibernation.
"Today was amazing for me," said White, adorned as usual in tight black pants. "I think the thing that really helped me is that I put the first hit up in the sky. They said it was like 26 feet? I was able to get out of the pipe and carry it down the wall."
The fact that White even showed up to the event surprised some, as he skipped last year's Dew Tour on the heels of winning his second Olympic gold medal in 2010. But he wasted little time finding his form this week. In Friday's halfpipe semifinals, he posted a score of 98 points, one of the highest in snowboarding history.
After Saturday's competition, White said he entered the event "because it's Breckenridge and that's a new sponsor with me -- Vail Resorts [which owns Breckenridge]. I think last season I was taking my time getting ready for the season, and it put me in a weird spot. I like that I was able to enter this event, and immediately -- I've only been riding four days -- I'm already doing my hardest tricks."
White's 95-point winning run featured his signature trick, the double McTwist 1260, as well as a frontside double cork 900, a backside 540, a frontside 540 grabbed stalefish and an alley-oop backside 540 to finish.
A few minutes after the event, White fought through a thick crowd of fans and autograph seekers near the base of the resort and rushed to catch a plane. As for the question of whether or not White will enter the remainder of the tour, or even if he'll compete at all before the Winter X Games, scheduled for the last week in January,"we're still figuring that out," said his coach, Bud Keene.
Louie Vito, another rider coached by Keene and the defending Dew Cup overall champion, finished second to White with a run that included three double corks and scored 92.75. But third-place finisher Iouri Podladtchikov of Switzerland may be the one with the most hope of beating White in the near future. "I-Pod," as the Russian-born 23-year-old is known, rebounded from a gnarly crash in his first run that left blood pouring out of his nose and his face looking like a cheese grater got him. He, like Vito, landed three double corks and earned a 90 for his second run, which he completed sans goggles after breaking them in his crash.
Podladtchikov holds a trump card that could factor heavily in the 2014 Olympics: the vaunted switch backside double cork, a trick White has yet to master. "I saw it on the Internet," White said. "It looks pretty cool."
Podladtchikov has only tried the trick once, while training in New Zealand in October, and still hasn't thrown it in competition. He didn't have enough preparation time to break it out this week, he said.
"I enjoy having him in a contest because he really pushes everybody," Podladtchikov said of White. "He's still the guy to beat, so it's amazing to have him around to see his show."