Judge Not, Lest Ye Be Judged: 2004 Winter X Games

BY CHRIS DENISON, PHOTOS BY GARTH MILAN

Most sports tend to take place within their own elements. For example, you’ll never see a surfer in a wetsuit hitching a ride up a ski lift. Likewise, it’s unlikely that you’d find a guy on a snowboard paddling into a tidal wave. And I think it’s safe to say that nobody will ever blitz through the whoops at Anaheim on a set of Rollerblades. With this in mind, I was a little puzzled the first time I saw Mike Metzger do a 90-foot backflip on snow. But the good folks at ESPN realize the marketability of bringing FMX into an “alternative” atmosphere. Thanks to them, an order of McNasty Flip on the rocks is becoming a little more ordinary.

SALMON OF CAPISTRANO

Winter X Games VIII once again took place in the dandified mountain town of Aspen. With live television coverage and free admission to the public, this year’s event was going to be huge. For the Moto-X portion of the games, a dozen of the best dirt-scooter jumpers on Earth would be battling for the gold. I had hoped to be one of these riders, but I was out of action due to three very untimely knee surgeries (only 34 more to go and I’ll be tied with Pastrana!).

I had planned on spending the weekend in front of the PlayStation, but ESPN asked if I wanted to help judge the event. I knew it would probably entail being booed by the fans, yelled at by the riders, and maybe losing a limb or two to frostbite. But what the hell, how often does a free weekend in Aspen come up? Besides, I’m no stranger to cold weather. I was born and raised in the Colorado mountains, and before my motocross career got started I was actually a decent ice racer. I grabbed my parka and hit the road.

JUDGE JUDY

One road-rage filled drive later I arrived at Buttermilk Mountain. After grabbing my credentials, I headed straight to the judges’ meeting. This year, the judging panel consisted of old school free rider Brian Manley, FMX ninja Dustin Miller, comedian Tyler King, snowboarder Don Szabo (who I remembered as one of the cops in Fresno Smooth!), and myself. We would all be working under head judge and former Supercross rider, Regis “Andy” Harrington. Since King, Miller, and I are all current riders, I think we brought a lot to the table. Not only could we differentiate the various tricks we would be seeing, but we had done most of them ourselves. This point of view would make it easier for us to determine which tricks were most technical. Manley and Szabo are both well-qualified judges as well, since they have been doing it from the start. Miller and I were the rookies, so Regis went over everything pretty well. We talked about basic scoring guidelines, how certain tricks should be scored, and also how to block punches. After a few hours of everyone trying to talk at once, we retreated to our $800-a-night hotel for some sleep.

SLIP AND SLIDE

The next morning, the sun was shining and the fragrant smell of two-stroke exhaust filled the air. I met up with the other judges and we went to watch practice. The Moto-X jumps were gynormous, and at this point I really wished I were riding. Track builder Dane Herron had once again outdone himself. The crew had built three hits: a 45-footer, a 75-footer, and a big 90-foot kicker, all pointed at a massive ice cube of a landing. Considering that the course was covered in a thick layer of ice, each bike was outfitted with a set of burly tires studded with Cold-Cutter ice racing screws.

The first rider out on the course was Metzger. His first hit was a prelude to what the day would hold. The Godfather warmed up his bike and ripped a perfect 90-foot flip, first jump. I was rather impressed. We sat back and watched each rider come out and take his turn on the ice. While watching practice, I learned a couple of important things. First, there were only four riders that weren’t doing backflips. Second, when eight riders are practicing backflips, y see a lot of backflips. And third, it is harder than hell to walk around on ice with crutches. Anytime I wanted to go anywhere, I fell on my ass a minimum of five times, and I always made sure that there were at least a few cute girls around to laugh at me. After one extremely punishing derriere slam, I slid over to the rider’s tent and screwed some Cold-Cutters into the bottom of my sticks. Problem solved!

BACKFLIP MANIA

The prelims started right after practice. Since the event was running on live TV, everything had to be right on schedule. I settled down next to the other judges on top of a sketchy, three-story tower with a folding table at the top for us. After waiting for the “okay” from the television guys, Twitch started off the first round with a big, smooth backflip. The next rider out was Dave Demangos, who threw down a great flip as well. Then came Ox and Ronnie Faisst, both with stylish flips of their own. This was starting to look more like a game of horse than an FMX contest. The crowd began to lose some excitement, and I was starting to wonder how in the world I would judge the same trick done a dozen times. But flips are like snowflakes: if you look close enough, you can tell that no two are exactly alike, and I think that we judged accordingly.

Finally, Ronnie Renner came out and busted the first non-flip trick of the day: a clean saran-wrap to double grab. When his score came through, he ended up in first place. This caused some commotion later on, but I think that Renner’s trick was clean and original. Granted, backflips are pretty difficult, but so is going from the far front of the bike to the very back. I know from experience how technical Ronnie’s trick was. Beau Bamburg then wrecked shop with a well-executed Supercan to Hart attack, followed by Doug Parsons with an old school whip. Caleb Wyatt came through as the first rider to flip the 90-footer, and although it was sketchy, he pulled it.

Next up was Dayne Kinnaird with a delicious turntable-sidewinder-heelclicker medley. The turntable is a super-tech trick that I have yet to get down. You can count the number of riders pulling it on one hand, and here was this Australian kid throwing it in with two other tricks! We then saw Nate Adams pull a perfect heelclicker-flip off of the 90, which moved him into the lead.

RIDER DOWN

Then came Brian Deegan. The Mulisha general hadn’t thrown a single trick in practice, and I could tell he had something on his mind, as he looked to be in his own zone. When given the signal to go, Deegan took off like he was holeshotting a National. As soon as he left the 90-footer, he began to crank his CR250R around in a huge flatspin. About halfway through, his rotation stopped and he hit the eject button. It was at this point that my heart dropped. After going through a big crash a few weeks earlier, it was tough to watch a fellow FMXer throw it away that hard.

Brian fell over 30 feet to the rock-hard ice below, and the whole crowd went silent. I’m not sure if Deegs didn’t pull hard enough off the lip, or if the snow simply slowed down his rotation. Either way, it was one of the gnarliest things I have ever seen. A broken femur and two broken wrists were the result, but if there’s anyone who’s tough enough to come back from such a catastrophic injury, it’s Brian. Get well soon, Deegan, we already miss you!

Last up was Metz, who got the stoke going again with a backflip nac-nac off the 90. Doing a trick of such magnitude after just seeing Deegan slam so hard was courageous, to say the least. Mike scored the top spot going into the finals, followed by Adams, Kinnaird, Wyatt, Renner and Twitch. With the stage set for the finals, everyone took off for the warm hotel. I went looking for my frozen toes. 

WHITE WASHED

We woke up the next day to blizzard-like conditions. After a quick riders’ meeting, Twitch, Nate, and Metz agreed to go test out the course. The snow was blowing its way over the ruts on the face of the jump, making things quite sketchy. The looks on the faces of Nate and Mike after a few jumps told everything. They were trying to tie a granny knot with a loop, and it just wasn’t happening. Twitch, on the other hand, was ready to moto.

After another meeting, ESPN decided to call the event off until the next day. Everyone then either hit the slopes, the bar, or got on the horn to the airport to change their tickets. I slid my way back to the hotel and crawled back into my expensive bed.

JUDGEMENT DAY

A huge, cloudless sky and booger-freezing temperatures greeted everyone the morning of the finals. After downing about a gallon of hot chocolate, Miller and I meandered up to the judge’s tower for the finals. While looking over the rider list, I realized that virtually anything could happen today. There were a number of rumors about new tricks floating around, and I was interested to see what would pan out. The finals were a two-round format, taking each rider’s best score from either round. I grabbed a seat on the tower and waited for the madness to start.

The finals didn’t begin with anything too new, but the level of riding was awesome nonetheless. After a few combos, and of course, backflips, Caleb Wyatt was on deck. He busted the 90-footer and threw a huge no-handed backy, followed by a no-footer for good measure. He nailed his landing and rode away pumped! I was pretty impressed with Caleb’s trick, since it was original, extended, and fluid. I think the other judges were stoked too, as he squarely took the lead.

Wyatt was followed by Metz and Nate, each of them pitching out stylish can-can backflips. Renner got the crowd going in the second round with a huge…saran wrap? He then proceeded to celebrate by cutting the rug on top of the landing for a few minutes. This guy definitely marches to his own beat.

Next came Twitch, who snapped a respectable backflip, sans dancing. After Kinnaird busted another neat combo, Wyatt was up again, still comfortably in the lead. He came straight out with a brand-new trick, the 90-foot almost-flip. Caleb must’ve been thinking about lunch while coming off the lip, because he barely rotated enough to land on his front tire. After a horrendous endo and a few minutes of making snow angels on the landing, he got up and wandered off the track. The guy is made of bricks.

With Wyatt’s first round score still reigning, the track was left to Adams and Metzger and the pressure was on. By this time, the sun was directly in the riders’ eyes, and tremendous shadows were stretching down the approach. Adams had something up his sleeve, but only managed a stock flip, thanks to the sun. He was visibly disappointed, and could do nothing but watch as Metzger came out with a colossal backflip nac-nac. Metz throws a lot of style into his tricks, and this one was no exception. After all our scores were tallied, it was Nate with the bronze, Metzger with second, and the brick man himself, Caleb “my back hurts” Wyatt, narrowly edging out the Godfather for the top spot and the fat gold medallion.

TAKE UP THY BACKFLIP AND WALK

From where I was sitting in the food tent, I could hear the awards ceremony going on outside. By this time, everyone was cold, hungry, and had funny little raccoon sunburns on their faces. After gorging on free grub for about an hour, I started the long crutch walk back to the truck. Halfway there, I ran into TWMX photog Garth, who was on his way to see the freestyle snowmobile demo. I decided to tag along, and made the long trek back up the hill to the demo area. After standing in the cold for a hateful twenty minutes, some kid finally took to the ramps on his sled. After a few passes, he committed to one of the steeper ramps, leaned back, and jerked his 700-pound sled into a graceful backflip. How original. Before he even touched thed to go test out the course. The snow was blowing its way over the ruts on the face of the jump, making things quite sketchy. The looks on the faces of Nate and Mike after a few jumps told everything. They were trying to tie a granny knot with a loop, and it just wasn’t happening. Twitch, on the other hand, was ready to moto.

After another meeting, ESPN decided to call the event off until the next day. Everyone then either hit the slopes, the bar, or got on the horn to the airport to change their tickets. I slid my way back to the hotel and crawled back into my expensive bed.

JUDGEMENT DAY

A huge, cloudless sky and booger-freezing temperatures greeted everyone the morning of the finals. After downing about a gallon of hot chocolate, Miller and I meandered up to the judge’s tower for the finals. While looking over the rider list, I realized that virtually anything could happen today. There were a number of rumors about new tricks floating around, and I was interested to see what would pan out. The finals were a two-round format, taking each rider’s best score from either round. I grabbed a seat on the tower and waited for the madness to start.

The finals didn’t begin with anything too new, but the level of riding was awesome nonetheless. After a few combos, and of course, backflips, Caleb Wyatt was on deck. He busted the 90-footer and threw a huge no-handed backy, followed by a no-footer for good measure. He nailed his landing and rode away pumped! I was pretty impressed with Caleb’s trick, since it was original, extended, and fluid. I think the other judges were stoked too, as he squarely took the lead.

Wyatt was followed by Metz and Nate, each of them pitching out stylish can-can backflips. Renner got the crowd going in the second round with a huge…saran wrap? He then proceeded to celebrate by cutting the rug on top of the landing for a few minutes. This guy definitely marches to his own beat.

Next came Twitch, who snapped a respectable backflip, sans dancing. After Kinnaird busted another neat combo, Wyatt was up again, still comfortably in the lead. He came straight out with a brand-new trick, the 90-foot almost-flip. Caleb must’ve been thinking about lunch while coming off the lip, because he barely rotated enough to land on his front tire. After a horrendous endo and a few minutes of making snow angels on the landing, he got up and wandered off the track. The guy is made of bricks.

With Wyatt’s first round score still reigning, the track was left to Adams and Metzger and the pressure was on. By this time, the sun was directly in the riders’ eyes, and tremendous shadows were stretching down the approach. Adams had something up his sleeve, but only managed a stock flip, thanks to the sun. He was visibly disappointed, and could do nothing but watch as Metzger came out with a colossal backflip nac-nac. Metz throws a lot of style into his tricks, and this one was no exception. After all our scores were tallied, it was Nate with the bronze, Metzger with second, and the brick man himself, Caleb “my back hurts” Wyatt, narrowly edging out the Godfather for the top spot and the fat gold medallion.

TAKE UP THY BACKFLIP AND WALK

From where I was sitting in the food tent, I could hear the awards ceremony going on outside. By this time, everyone was cold, hungry, and had funny little raccoon sunburns on their faces. After gorging on free grub for about an hour, I started the long crutch walk back to the truck. Halfway there, I ran into TWMX photog Garth, who was on his way to see the freestyle snowmobile demo. I decided to tag along, and made the long trek back up the hill to the demo area. After standing in the cold for a hateful twenty minutes, some kid finally took to the ramps on his sled. After a few passes, he committed to one of the steeper ramps, leaned back, and jerked his 700-pound sled into a graceful backflip. How original. Before he even touched the ground, I had started crutching back to the truck, keys in hand.

STEPPIN’ IT UP

Although we may never see Tony Hawk do a 900 over a supercross triple, and I doubt that half-pipe boxing will ever make it to the X Games, it was cool to see some things go down in a different domain. Despite the fact that the event was a bit of a one-trick parade, the level of riding has definitely increased and all the riders are looking quite dialed. As for me, it was fun seeing the event from a judge’s perspective, but I am now in an even bigger hurry to heal up and get back on two wheels. After all, I’ve still gotta’ get that dang backflip down before Winter X 2005!

Final results:
1.Caleb Wyatt 92.8
2.Mike Metzger 91.2
3.Nate Adams 91.2
4.Dayne Kinnaird 88.0
5.Jeremy Stenberg 86.2
6.Ronnie Renner 84.2

d the ground, I had started crutching back to the truck, keys in hand.

STEPPIN’ IT UP

Although we may never see Tony Hawk do a 900 over a supercross triple, and I doubt that half-pipe boxing will ever make it to the X Games, it was cool to see some things go down in a different domain. Despite the fact that the event was a bit of a one-trick parade, the level of riding has definitely increased and all the riders are looking quite dialed. As for me, it was fun seeing the event from a judge’s perspective, but I am now in an even bigger hurry to heal up and get back on two wheels. After all, I’ve still gotta’ get that dang backflip down before Winter X 2005!

Final results:
1.Caleb Wyatt 92.8
2.Mike Metzger 91.2
3.Nate Adams 91.2
4.Dayne Kinnaird 88.0
5.Jeremy Stenberg 86.2
6.Ronnie Renner 84.2