The best, most talented movie script writers couldn’t touch the reality of the 2014 X Games Aspen Snowmobile Freestyle competition on Thursday night.
One year after seeing his brother die as a result of a horrific crash at the 2013 X Games Freestyle event, and also a year after separating his own pelvis at the same exact event, Colten Moore returned to Aspen, Colorado, and claimed the gold medal in dominating fashion.
The youngest of the two Texas-based Moore brothers who started their freestyle lives on dirt bikes and ATVs, Colten wasn’t deterred by the death of his old brother Caleb Moore last year. Instead, he used it as motivation to ride for his brother, and he did it in grand fashion.
“This is the greatest moment ever, to be able to come back here and ride this for my brother – not just for him but with him, because I know he was with me all night,” Colten Moore told a national ESPN TV audience Thursday night, immediately after earning the victory. “To come out here and get gold, it’s just unbelievable.”
The Great Eight
As opposed to last year when the Snowmobile Freestyle at X Games Aspen was held during heavily falling snow, this year’s event took place under clear skies at 13 degree F. But it wasn’t just the weather that made the event more pleasant. Last year’s event was marked by horrendous carnage – obviously, the death of popular Caleb Moore was the most tragic result, but there were other serious crashes as well. In fact, only four drivers made it to the event’s second round last year.
Not tonight. In fact, out of the 16 total runs, only one resulted in a driver tasting the snowy surface, and that driver almost saved his sled before being sent to the ground. Other than that, all runs were safe and uneventful, while at the same time being acts of athletic beauty.
On a course with multiple ramps, each driver would get 75 seconds to impress the judges, who would award points based on the quality and difficulty of each run.
First up was Cory Davis of Alaska. A second-generation snowmobile racer turned freestyler, Davis has long been known for his dramatic whips, but only added backflips to his routine in the last year. He started the event with a solid but somewhat uninspiring run that earned him a score of 77.00. It was a safe start.
Next up was Kourtney Hungerford, a longtime freestyles and action video performer who is actually a rookie at the X Games. The 32-year-old from West Yellowstone, Montana, also appeared to be playing it safe on his first run, throwing out tricks like a backflip and a dead body, and gaining a score of 76.66 for his efforts.
Idaho native Willie Elam followed. The 27-year-old Cat racer did more difficult tricks than his predecessors on the track and for that he was awarded 81 points, despite not always being as smooth as the previous two. Sam Rogers, 25, was next. Competing in his fifth X Games, he had a rough landing on his first trick, but after that gained momentum and threw all sorts of backflip tricks (including a super flip and a cordova) and took the lead with a score of 85.33. The bar was clearly being raised with each athlete.
Next up was Jack Rowe, a motocross freestyle who replaced X Games wonderboy Levi LaVallee on one of LaVallee’s sleds. Like Elam, he wasn’t always smooth, but his tricks carried a high difficulty rating and that allowed him to edge into the lead with a score of 85.66. Next came Heath Frisby, 29, the winner of 8 previous snowmobiling medals at Winter X, including Best Trick gold in 2012 and silver in 2013. He threw a huge double can-can as a part of his repertoire but overall his timing seemed a bit off and he scored an 80.33.
Then came Joe Parsons, the Washington-based winner of 11 previous X Games medals, including three golds, five silvers and three bronze. He threw the signature move he debuted last year – the Gator Wrestler, which is a backflip that also has the driver pivoting around the cockpit. That move wowed the crowds again, but he had some other unstable landings and some tentative moments and scored an 85.00.
Finally, here came Colten Moore. The gold medal winner from 2012 appeared to being doing a little prayer right before his run, then he attacked the track with vigor. Superman backflips, heelclicker backflips and a cliffhanger were among his perfect-executed tricks, and the judges and the crowd ate it all up. He scored a first-round high of 91.33 and was greeted but a huge group of traveling Texans who came to cheer him on.
Round 2: Going For Gold
Each driver’s best score would be what would count, so any tentative or conservative thoughts felt in the first round would be erased in round 2. Each driver now had a score, but how would each try to improve upon it? The scoring order, after round 1, was Moore, Rowe, Rogers, Parsons, Elam, Frisby, Davis and then Hungerford.
Davis opened up round two on his Cat, and improved his score slightly with an 81.66. That slotted him into fifth place – for now. Hungerford followed with a lot of tricks that he artfully held for a long time while in the air, but he seemed to lack rhythm and didn’t go upside down until late in the run. He was given a 76.33 and locked down eighth place. Next came Elam on his No. 10 race sled: He stepped it up a little bit but stayed in sixth place with an 81.33.
Third place Rogers was next and provided the event’s only carnage. He held a backflip trick too long and didn’t get his feet back to the running boards in time. That led to an off in the landing area. Luckily, he didn’t appear to be injured, but his score from the first round would have to stand up. Second place motocrosser Rowe following, throwing backflip trick after backflip trick, kicking his legs off in all directions. He got an 85.66 – the same exact score as his Round 1 run.
Next Frisby upped his game, with a fast, aggressive round that saw him really selling his tricks, including an interesting switchfoot backflip that was somewhat gator-wrestler-esque. He had some hard landings that may have cost him a couple of points, but moved up to second with an 86.00.
The last man with a shot to knock off Moore was Parsons. The podium-earner in this event for 5 of the last 6 years put on a very good but not great display, and looked disappointed immediately after the run. Not, he didn’t get into the 90s to challenge Moore, but the judges still loved his act and moved him up to the silver medal position, with a score of 86.33. That gave Frisby the bronze.
All of this meant that Moore didn’t even have to make his second run – his first run score of 91.33 was significantly higher than anything put up by any of his competition in either of their rounds. The gold was his, but he still went out and thrilled the crowd with some tricks on an impromptu victory lap on his Rockstar Energy Drink Polaris.
“It’s been crazy – like I said, it’s what I like to do, it’s what me and Caleb grew up doing, pushing each other to go for it,” Moore said on TV after the victory. “If I tried to quit and he could, he’d just smack me!”
Asked what he’ll do with this gold medal, Moore’s answer came quickly.
“Dude, it’s going to be hung up probably with a picture of Caleb, because it’s for him.”