TIGNES, France -- High in the Alps, the weather can be wild and unpredictable. And at the X Games, so can the competition.
A blizzard swept through Tignes, France, on the first day of X Games Tignes, forcing the Women's Ski Slopestyle competition to be postponed a day. Wednesday night, the wind whipped and circled the pipe ominously, but the Women's Snowboard SuperPipe competition went on, crowning Kelly Clark queen once again. Adding to the rough start, several skiers had to wait nervously for the airlines to deliver gear that didn't arrive when the competitors did.
Then, as if the blizzard never happened, the skies cleared and the party really started in Tignes. And the competition followed suit. Iouri Podladtchikov landed his YOLO Flip for the first time, Kaya Turski retained her Slope dominance for the fourth time in a row in Tignes, Sebastien Toutant overcame his friend Mark McMorris to return to the top of the Men's Snowboard Slopestyle podium, and the France versus USA showdown in Men's Ski Pipe didn't disappoint (USA won out this time). In a fitting finale to the week, French native Marie Martinod-Routine returned to competition after a six-year hiatus to give a toast to Sarah Burke and her hometown crowd.
Here's how it all went down in Tignes:
Swiss rider Iouri "I-Pod" Podladtchikov made history Thursday, landing the first Cab double cork 1440 in competition during the Men's Snowboard SuperPipe finals. He's calling it the YOLO Flip, after the unstoppably viral teen meme: You Only Live Once.
After landing the trick -- essentially a switch double flip with four rotations -- in his third and final run, Podladtchikov nearly took the YOLO thing literally, crashing hard on his next hit, a frontside double cork 1080 mute grab.
After his run, he tossed his gloves, helmet, goggles and snowboard into the crowd in celebration.
"It felt rock and roll, baby," he exclaimed, breathless after his momentous run. He says he has attempted the trick only three times in total, including once during practice at X Games Aspen 2013 in January. He'd been hyping the trick up on social media since then, but as far as Podladtchikov is concerned, a trick doesn't really count until it has been landed in competition in front of a crowd. "This is the first time I've done it," he said.
The YOLO Flip is a huge step in progression for Podladtchikov, who also brought the first double McTwist 1260s to superpipe competition a year ago. He has said he felt undue pressure to try the double McTwist at X Games Aspen 2012, with that event being promoted as an I-Pod versus Shaun White showdown; this year, with White out of the mix and the pressure off, he came determined to land his newest trick, foreshadowing what could shape up to be one of the biggest rivalries in snowboarding heading into an Olympic year with the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, on the horizon.
Torin Yater-Wallace won his second consecutive X Games Tignes gold medal in the Men's Ski SuperPipe competition Friday. The youngest rider in the men's ski competition, 17-year-old Yater-Wallace has made the podium in every X Games event he has entered, since his first in 2011, with six medals total from Tignes and Aspen.
"It was just such a high-level competition," Yater-Wallace said. "I was so surprised: I couldn't believe I won again."
Yater-Wallace, X Games Aspen 2013 gold medalist David Wise and local favorite Kevin Rolland duked it out for podium positions all night, taking turns knocking each other off the top spot and turning the Tignes superpipe into a king-of-the-mountain battle. Wise finished second, and Rolland followed in third.
"Torin and I have had this amazing rivalry going on all year," Wise said. "I know I always have to bring my A-game when he's around. It's going to be a blast skiing against him next year at the Olympics."
Ski halfpipe will make its Olympic debut in Sochi next year, and the French halfpipe team, led by Rolland, and the U.S. halfpipe team, led by Yater-Wallace and Wise, will be favorites for the podium.
Kelly Clark won her third consecutive X Games Tignes gold in Women's SuperPipe during a snowstorm Wednesday night, following up on her third consecutive X Games Aspen gold in January.
"It's always good to come out and land your first run because, potentially, it just keeps snowing and it gets slower and more difficult," she said.
Heavy snow during the finals prevented her from unveiling the Cab 1080 and other new tricks she has been working on, but her first-run score of 87.66 was enough to hold off Elena Hight and Arielle Gold for a repeat of Aspen's podium.
"It's never easy. There are always challenges," said Clark when asked what it means to win her 62nd pipe title. "I've historically been very poor in riding in snow conditions. My mechanics are really slow. So for me to try to do a trick as big as I normally do, it is a nightmare."
The heavy snow, which came down strongly in the latter half of the competition, was on everyone's mind.
"The conditions made the halfpipe really slow, which is [not the scenario] we need to do better and bigger tricks," said Gold. "But I think, under the circumstances, it was still a good contest. I'm sure we would have all appreciated better conditions."
French skiers Marie Martinod-Routin and Anais Caradeux made the final event a special salute to the local crowd, taking the top two spots ahead of American Maddie Bowman, the X Games Aspen 2013 gold medalist.
"It's probably the first time I've had so many friends at the bottom and all my family, and everything I can say is that I heard you guys," Martinod-Routin said, celebrating with her daughter from the bottom of the pipe after the competition. "I heard you screaming and shouting so loud, it just gave me so much power."
Martinod-Routin's win stands as the X Games comeback story of the year: The 28-year-old athlete retired from pro competition after winning X Games bronze in 2006, leaving the sport to raise her daughter and open a bar in La Plagne, France. She came back this season with an eye to the 2014 Olympic debut of ski superpipe and as a tribute to her fallen friend Sarah Burke, finishing in fourth place at the FIS World Cup event at the future Olympic venue in Sochi in February, then winning big in front of the French crowd Friday.
"One night ... Sarah Burke passed by and said 'Marie, you have to be back, there's going to be Olympics: You never did that before. You have to come,'" she said, explaining her return and new motivation. "And that's it. It's the beginning."
Sebastien Toutant beat out defending X Games Aspen gold medalist and friend Mark McMorris for his first X Games medal since winning silver at X Games Tignes 2011. It was an upset over McMorris, who has been a dominant force in men's slopestyle competition since he and Toutant showed up to X Games Aspen 2011 as rookies and took silver and gold, respectively.
"Mark's been killing it this year. I've known him since I was little and you know he proved himself a lot," Toutant said, after the competition, trading high fives with McMorris.
"I was stoked for Seb already and he absolutely killed it," McMorris said. "It was my last slopestyle run of the year contest-wise, and to end it like that I'm happy. That's the way I wanted to ride and whatever happened happened."
Torstein Horgmo, the top qualifier from Thursday's elimination round, fell in his second run after sending a triple cork attempt deep into the landing zone. He injured his right ankle and withdrew from the competition, leaving Peetu Piiroinen securely in bronze-medal position and letting Toutant and McMorris to battle it out for gold.
"My foot is not stoked right now," Horgmo said, icing his ankle from the top of the course.
Horgmo's triple cork attempt was so big that it looked like he could have possibly brought it around a fourth time, leading to speculation that quad corks might be on the horizon for slopestyle in the future.
"We don't really want our sport going in that direction," said Toutant, when asked about the quad. "We want to keep it mellow and how it used to be, which wasn't a sport, it was having fun with your buddies. We want to keep the style in [contests] and leave the quad corks for the skiers."
Louie Vito celebrated his birthday this week with a win, throwing four back-to-back double corks to edge Arthur Longo on the final run of the competition.
"I tried to go as big as possible into it so if I didn't get the first flip good enough I could still put it to my feet somehow," Vito said.
Longo, a French rider from nearby Les Deux Alps and the clear crowd favorite, took an early lead and held on to it for nearly the entire competition. It is his first X Games medal and his first major podium finish this season, but he has been establishing himself as an all-around rider through video parts such as the opening section of Pirate Films' 2012 video "Unique 8."
"Les Arcs is a big mountain where we have big peaks and backcountry access, but we've always had a pipe, so I always had a pipe at home," Longo said of his transition from freeriding to halfpipe. "So I've always done a bit of everything. [Movies were] something I was focused on, but with the Olympics I decided to focus on halfpipe."
Longo's opening run featured massive airs, including a Cab 1080 Indy grab, frontside 900, backside 720 tail grab, alley-oop backside rodeo 1080 frontside grab and alley-oop backside rodeo 540, posting a score of 92.0, just shy of Vito's 92.66.
Canadian skier Kaya Turski won her fourth consecutive X Games Tignes gold medal. She also won a bit of redemption, beating out Norwegian skier Tiril Sjåstad Christiansen, the 17-year-old X Games Aspen 2013 gold medalist who disrupted her long reign of dominance in January; Turski had previously won three consecutive gold medals in Aspen.
"Sitting in a place where silver was the worst-case scenario wasn't so bad," Turski said after the competition. "It's a great feeling to come out on top again."
Christiansen, the youngest athlete in the field, bumped into second place with her third and final run, partly thanks to a huge 900 tail grab on the second jump, putting her ahead of Canadian skier Dara Howell, who finished third.
"The conditions were definitely not great yesterday," said Howell. "We thought the comp might go on, so we were prepared for it to happen. We took advantage of the training time we had. I really think it helped us pull off today. The course was running good today. Everything was quick and primed."
Norwegian rider Silje Norendal disrupted X Games Aspen 2013 gold medalist Jamie Anderson's attempt at a Tignes Women's Snowboard Slopestyle three-peat.
"I couldn't be happier," Norendal said after the event. "[This] is such a good event for girls to progress and show what we really can do."
It was a big day for progression in women's slopestyle, with Aimee Fuller landing a double backflip and a Cab underflip tail grab and Sina Candrian attempting 1080s.
"We saw a 10 today and so much progression it's just sick," Norendal said. "It's the whole atmosphere, everybody coming out here watching, really nice weather and a great course ... it's just a good combination of everything."
If Anderson had won, she would have tied Shaun White's record of five X Games slopestyle gold medals, but she said she was just happy to see everybody throwing down with new tricks.
"I'm stoked everyone is riding so good," Anderson said. "It's the best contest of the year."
McRae Williams won gold in the Men's Ski Slopestyle, his first X Games medal after failing to qualify for the finals in January at X Games Aspen 2013.
"I woke up with butterflies this morning," Williams said after the competition. "I had trouble getting breakfast down, but it all worked out. It's a beautiful day, and I was super confident going into it after a few good days of practice ... It feels amazing: first-ever X Games finals and a gold medal. I can't believe it."
Williams, from Park City, Utah, is one of a handful of athletes who arrived in Tignes without his gear after the airline misplaced his luggage. He was able to get skis sent overnight to France in time to make the top-eight cut in Wednesday's elimination round. The final was left wide-open with plenty of room for surprises after X Games Aspen 2013 medalists Nick Goepper, Henrik Harlaut and James Woods all failed to advance from the elimination round.
"I ended up having skis sent overnight on Tuesday night, so they came in time for the qualifying on Wednesday," Williams said. "Then just yesterday my bag ended up showing up, so it all worked out. It was definitely a stressful beginning of the week but somehow everything worked out and I couldn't be happier now."