Fight for Gender Equality Reaches X Games' Slopes

"We have that same fight, to fight for the right to equal pay, to be at the same events and on the same courses as the men"

Elena Hight boosting in Women's Snowboard SuperPipe Credit: Pete Demos/ESPN

Through a frigid night in Aspen, Colorado, 16-year-old Hailey Langland hucked herself off an 80-foot jump in attempt of something she's never done before – cab double 1080. In fact, no woman snowboarder has landed this trick in competition – until at this year's Winter X Games, when Langland sent it from the Big Air jump. It was during practice, just an hour before finals, when she found herself whipping up a cab 900 spin, but finding the momentum to twist the board around another half rotation and still put down a spotless landing. Sixty minutes later, Langland was wearing the Women's Big Air X Games gold medal around her neck for landing the trick flawlessly in competition.

Big Air has been exclusive to men since 2001. The reason that has always been given is that it's because the competing girls are generally lighter and smaller than the guys, causing them to soar further off the jump. The residual effect is drastic, when considering the design of the slope and location of the impact zone, but the construction of two separate Big Air jumps has always been deemed impractical in the overall layout of the X Games course. Even so, women competitors lobbied hard for the opportunity to use the same jump – and for good reason. With a jam session format – competitors have 25 minutes to land their best tricks and keep their top two scores – the Big Air contest tends to generate the most progression with regard to landing new tricks.

"It trickles down to everything, even here at X Games," says Spencer O'Brien, just six days after the Women's March on Washington, the women competitors push to compete in the same kinds of events as men fits a narrative that is still too familiar. "We have that same fight, to fight for the right to equal pay, to be at the same events and on the same courses as the men." X Games has offered equal prize money for men and women since 2008. The Canadian five-time Winter X Games medalist and relentless advocate for equality on the frosty slopes is adamant that no matter the field, the battle for women is always fought uphill. In this case, O'Brien's tenacity, along with pressures from her teammates, has paid off with the inclusion and resounding success of full medaled events for the women last year at X Games Oslo and this year in Aspen.

Langland's last minute cab double cork 1080 was one of a number of victories for the women of X. The San Clemente resident spoke with confidence that given the same opportunities, "Girls, no matter what, can do anything that the guys can do. I think it's amazing for women's snowboarding and it's great to see women progress in this way."

The Women's Snowboard Slopestyle also ushered in a new champion, as rookie Julia Marino scored her first X Games gold. Competing in her first ever X Games, Marino laid down trick after trick – a dominant run that included a backside 720, a frontside 540 and a cab double cork underflip that had the crowd gasping in unison. "I landed my last trick and I was like, 'Holy Crap, I did it!'" says Marino. "That was just the craziest feeling."

Marino hails from Connecticut, the "most non-snowboardy" (her words) place you could think of. Family ski trips to Beaver Creek is where she discovered her knack on the snow and by age thirteen, she was moving her way up in competition – X Games being her biggest to date. On the additional events added to the women's roster, Marino said, "It was really cool of X Games to include us in Big Air because it just shows that we can compete at this level and we can hit the same jump as the guys. We might not throw the same big tricks, but we are throwing some really big stuff."


As the sun dropped behind Buttermilk Mountain, Lisa Zimmermann fired off another first ever in competition by blasting a gnarly switch double cork 1080 in Women's Ski Big Air. Zimmerman, in her first X Games appearance, just narrowly beat out last year's Slopestyle gold medalist, teen phenom Kelly Sildaru. Taking third with an impressive showing was another rookie Giulia Tanno. That's right – the podium at Women's Ski Big Air consisted of two rookies and a 14-year-old.

As the evening's frigid air set in, thirty-two-year-old Marie Martinod landed a string of tricks in the Women's Ski Superpipe event – back-to-back 540s and back-to-back flair's before ending her run with a 900 tail grab – efforts that earned her the gold medal. Martinod chalked one up for all the moms, as she is only the second mother to ever win X Games gold.

The competitors continued to push their personal limits, and the limits of gravity, during Women's Snowboard SuperPipe Finals. It may have taken fourteen years, but the relentless Elena Hight earned her first X Games gold riding with both power and style. "Honestly, I think that this year I was less focused on the results and more focused on just riding the best I could," says Hight. After a massive method air on her first hit, Hight dissected the pipe, tossing back-to-back 720's followed by a pair of 900's before finishing with her signature alley-oop backside rodeo.

On how the games went down for the women this year, Hight responded, "I feel like it is such a great time to be a woman right now. All the snowboarding girls are pushing the sport to new levels and really starting to receive the recognition they deserve. Outside of our little snowboard world, I think the united female energy is so strong, and women are shaking things up and making some lasting, well-respected statements, which is absolutely amazing." To add to this, X Games is the only action sports event that currently provides live TV time for female athletes.

Surprising everyone, Chloe Kim, who had won the previous four X Games SuperPipe competitions, and her last eight contests, took home bronze. The defending sixteen-year-old champion Kim hit a rough patch this time around in the SuperPipe competition, as the format had changed from three runs to two, and the competition saw a technical failure – half the lights over the pipe went out – causing Kim and Arielle Gold to sit in the bitterly-cold Aspen weather for an additional fifteen minutes. When the lights came back on, Kim fell on her first trick – switch method – leaving her in dead last. Then, in what seemed strategic, Kim played it safe in her final run with enough – switch method air, back-to-back 720's and a switch backside 540 and switch backside 360 – to earn the last spot on the podium and take home a bronze medal. "That was probably the tamest run we've seen from Chloe in an X Games," said one commentator.

The final event, Ski Slopestyle, saw the most progressive freestyle skiers on the planet rip it up. It was no surprise to see Kelly Sildaru ski her way though the course with uncommon ease and take the gold. After spinning and sliding her way through the upper rail section, highlighted by a double rail switch up to 450 out, the young Estonian skier headed for the jumps, landing a right side 720 and a left side 900, before stunning the crowd with a switch left 1080. This was Sildaru's second consecutive win in the event making her the youngest competitor in the history of the annual event to win two gold medals, and a fitting end to three days of competition that saw her fellow women competitors get some long-overdue opportunity to shine bright at the X Games.