When more than a 100 of the world's best athletes get on their skis, boards and snowmobiles for three days of breathtaking stunts in front of a 40,000-strong crowd in one of the hottest ski resorts in the Alps, it must be the X Games in Tignes: a competition for six-figure prize money and the rise to freestyle stardom.
The X Games was launched as a summer event for action sports by US broadcaster ESPN in Rhode Island in 1995. The Winter X Games were introduced in 1997, and in 2010 Tignes became the first European resort to host the event. Beginning in 2013, the organisers established a six-event calendar with winter games in Aspen and Tignes and summer games in Foz do Iguaçu in Brazil, Barcelona, Munich, and Los Angeles.
The French town of Tignes, based at 2,100m in the middle of the enormous Espace Killy ski resort, is a place made for events like the X Games, having pioneered in new and alternative sports for decades. As of 2013, the resort has hosted 27 freestyle ski World Cups and the freestyle skiing competitions of the 1992 Olympics.
From March 20th to 22nd, 2013 the best freestylers on the planet will meet at the Tignes's superpipe and slope course in the fourth European X Games. Freeskier James 'Woodsy' Woods will be the only British skier in the competition. The Sheffield native earned his first invite to the X Games in 2012. OnTheSnow got hold of the now 21-year old in the middle of an incredible roll: he won Bronze at the X Games in Aspen in January 2013, ranking first in the Slopestyle World Cup. We talked to him about the X Games, the greatest moments of his career, and his aspirations for the Olympics.
OTS: Why are you on such a roll lately? What's the secret?
Woodsy: I’m just loving what I do, I always have. And I've always had the big dreams. Also the people behind me are brilliant, I'm incredibly lucky to say that my family, friends, and the people I work with are all amazing and help me so much. It's really just an accumulation of a lot of hard work, great people and support, and enjoying every step of the way in what I do.
OTS: What's your preparation for the Winter X Games in Tignes?
Woodsy: It's really tough but as much as possible I've tried to stick to my schedule we drew out at the beginning of the season and I'm trying to compete and ski whenever I can – staying fit and healthy. I have been really focussed on the Aspen and Tignes X Games this year and also on qualifying for the Olympics, so I'm really happy everything is going smoothly at the moment and I'm excited to be heading there with having already medalled in Aspen and qualified for Sochi next year. It's funny to say, but I'm really feeling in a great place at the moment.
OTS: What are your aims and expectations for the Winter X Games in Tignes?
Woodsy: I have always aimed high and every time I compete I give it everything. The results are marvellous when they come but truthfully just putting down my best run possible in the conditions is always my biggest goal. However I've never managed it so far (laughs). I am really stoked to be the number 1 ranked slopestyle skier in the world right now, so I know that if I have a good week I can do a lot. But there are a lot of other brilliant freeskiers out there who I am just really privileged to be able to compete with. The challenges will be the same for everyone so I just want to stay fit and do the best I can and enjoy the week.
OTS: What is special about competing in the X Games?
Woodsy: Everything! It's the dream! X Games is action sport, yet so many other aspects come into it all, but it's just the business in every sense. You can feel the atmosphere build and the crowds get bigger as the week goes on and it just feels awesome to be a part of it. I love all the events of course but the X Games is like our Olympics. It's competitive action sport heritage I suppose, so it just has that little bit of extra spice to it. And when the world's best are there and hungry you know it's going off.
OTS: And what do you think is special about Tignes?
Woodsy: I have a soft spot for Tignes as it is where I won my first major medal and I always love coming back here. It's also great as some of my friends from home make it out and I get to catch up with all the diehard British seasonaires who just can’t believe I'm from Sheffield! I love Breckenridge, of course, as my second home now and where I train, but Tignes is so close to home, I love all the support I keep getting here. The fans love their skiing and it feels great being a part of it all.
OTS: Looking at the last couple of years: what was the greatest moment of your career so far?
Woodsy: I hope there are many more to come. But so far competing in this year's X Games in Aspen was a massive dream come true and I was even more proud of myself for bringing in a medal at my first go. I'm also now ranked number 1 in the world in slopestyle on both the AFP and FIS world ranking systems, so that's feeling pretty wicked. I'm still buzzing from the whole lot!
OTS: What comes next for you after Tignes?
Woodsy: I have a lot of shooting to do with my sponsors and then back to practising for the Olympics next year, I suppose, so I'll have some time back in Breckenridge and then right now the plan is to go to New Zealand for a few weeks to continue skiing down there in the southern hemisphere's winter months.
OTS: And when will you start preparing for Sochi?
Woodsy: Ah man, it's always going on! I think the best preparation I'm going to do this summer for the Sochi Winter Olympic Games, is . . . go surfing! (laughs). Some time off, real relaxing and simply getting mega-hungry again is the best way for me to get into the right mind set.