Peter Shelton

Grip This

Posted in Ski evolution, Watch columns by pshelton on February 4, 2011

The X in X Games stands for Extreme, not X-rated. But you might think otherwise the way everyone in Aspen (and the greater blogosphere) was talking about Shaun White’s pants.

I am, of course, referring to the tight black “gripper” pants and black leather jacket White wore in both the slopestyle and snowboard superpipe competitions last weekend. The shock of it, in a world so completely mesmerized for so long by baggy gansta gear, was akin, you would have thought, to Jim Morrison exposing himself onstage.

Winter X15 (the last 10 have been staged on Aspen’s Buttermilk Mountain) will go down in the books as the biggest (114,200 total attendance), the most high-tech, the most-expensive production ever. Though I haven’t seen ESPN’s expenses (and probably won’t) the sheer number of light banks and diamond screens, of camera cranes and follow-cams on wires, the number of superb skiers with steady cams strapped to their waists shadowing every competitor with a chance at a medal must have added up to a fortune, even by Aspen standards.

At one point as we watched slopestyle practice, Jimmy P noticed that the image on the big screens at the base was live: the man with the steady cam so expertly racing alongside the snowboarder spinning through the air was beaming his signal wirelessly straight to the screens for us to watch, even as performer and recorder appeared together over the final jump. “We’re living in the future,” Jimmy said.

For Telluriders, these Games will also be remembered for local product Gus Kenworthy’s having been invited and scoring a spectacular second-place run in slopestyle eliminations. Sadly, in the finals he fell on all three runs, his father Peter told me on Monday. “He was throwing a new trick he’d only landed for the first time in practice the day before,” Peter said. “He was as bummed out as he’d ever been. But by Sunday he was feeling great, already looking ahead again.”

Gus (skis) and Shaun (snowboard) compete in different events. Turned out White didn’t even make it through to the finals in his slopestyle eliminations. We caught one of his runs on Friday. We happened to be skiing down beside the course and stopped to watch at a spot between the third gap jump the final “money booter.” There came a guy twisting through space above us wearing tight pants. Nobody with a snowboard on his or her feet wears tight pants (unless it’s a World Cup giant slalom racer; they’re way old school and a tiny, tiny subculture). We’d heard about White’s sartorial throwdown and confirmed that it was indeed The Flying Tomato as he was being interviewed at the base, auburn tresses flowing.

Later, online, I listened to announcer Sal Masekela say (of White’s halfpipe qualification): “Only one guy can run that kit in the pipe!”

On-line bloggers debated White’s fashion statement almost as vociferously as his “selling out” after winning his second Olympic halfpipe gold medal in Whistler last year. (Video ads for BF Goodrich Tires, starring a goofing White in a race-car-driver suit, dominated the official WX15 website.) One comment asked, “What are gripper pants?” To which the answer came: “Ass gripping, fool.”

Opinion seemed split. On one side, White was committing serious heresy – outright treason against the purity of snowboarding’s alternative culture. On the other, White’s defenders said the man had earned the right to do and wear whatever he damn well pleased, metrosexual or otherwise. At 25, he had won, besides the two Olympic golds, 10 X Games gold medals, including the last three in a row in the superpipe.

On Sunday night he did it again, took the four-peat, by pushing his amplitude 20 feet above the lip, nailing his Double McTwist 1260 (three and a half times around) and making it all look easy, skinny legs and all.

Warren Miller, in his columns for SKI magazine, used to bemoan the new baggy look of skiing and snowboarding. His complaint was mostly nostalgia for his own youth, when Bogners were new and the invention of stretch fabrics showed off the female form especially to wonderful advantage.

When I got home I told Ellen about Shaun White’s fashion choice and the resistance to it from his peers. Unbelievable, I said, in a world of supposed rebels, what it takes to break the mold.

Just wait, she replied. Next year everybody will be wearing them.


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