PARK CITY, Utah — Weather stole the show on the final day of the 2019 FIS Snowboard, Freestyle, Freeski World Championships. Literally.
High winds canceled the final two events of the championship — men’s and women’s slopestyle snowboarding. But all was not lost. American Chris Corning was crowned world champion based on qualification results. He scored 93.25 on his second of two runs in yesterday’s qualifier.
“I was really looking forward to today to ride,” Corning said after he received his gold medal. “For it to not happen kind of sucks. But I’ll take it because I landed my run yesterday pretty solid. It did end up being a good run. But it sucks to have a world championship run with a 900 in it.”
In qualification — where weather was also a factor, with snow falling — Corning’s three airs on the slopestyle course were a cab 900 (two and a half spins), a front 1080 (three spins) and a back triple flip 1440 (four spins). In the final today, he had planned to add another spin to each air.
“I was real happy when I landed it,” he said. “It was really hard to see (in the snow), and it was probably one of the scariest contest runs I’ve had to do in a long time because it was so difficult to see.”
Corning — 19, from Silverthorne, Colorado — now has world championship medals in every color. At the 2017 world championships, he won a silver in big air and a bronze in slopestyle.
“Gold means world champion, which is really cool,” he said, looking down at his medal. “I wouldn't change it. I’m really happy with it.”
Mark McMorris from Canada claimed the silver medal with a 93.00 on his second qualifying run. The Canadian is the reigning X Games champion and 2018 Olympic bronze medalist in slopestyle.
American Judd Henkes was the surprise bronze medalist. He scored 90.50 on his first qualifying run. It’s the 17-year-old snowboarder’s first major international podium finish. Coming to 2019 world championships, his best finish in a senior competition was two fourth-place finishes at slopestyle world cups (one in February 207, the other last month).
“Yesterday, I was riding up the lift in the morning before practice started and my coach Mike told me we might have to go off qualifications, so it might be good to step up your runs,” said Henkes. “So I just put down a run and ended up like this, so it’s cool.”
With snow in the forecast, officials informed the competitors that today’s final might be canceled (due to high wind). If it was canceled, results would instead be based on the qualification round.
Corning has been on fire since he finished just off the podium in big air at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 (and 17th in slopestyle).
This season, he has been on the podium in four of five slopestyle and big air world cups, winning the most recent slopestyle world cup in mid-January. He currently sits second in the overall world cup park and pipe standings, behind Japanese rider Takeru Otsuka, and leads the world cup slopestyle standings. Corning was also second at the Dew Tour slopestyle in December.
And Corning continues to progress the sport. On his 19th birthday in September, he landed a quadruple cork 1800 (five revolutions) at a big air world cup in New Zealand. It’s the same trick he tried on his final big air jump at the 2018 PyeongChang Games — but didn’t quite land.
He wanted to pull out the trick at the 2019 world championships. But snow canceled the big air qualification and final on Tuesday night. Also, the jumps at the 2019 world championships were not quite big enough.
“I haven’t been able to land it in a contest again since (September),” he said, of the 1800. “I tried at X Games, got a little hurt, so decided to take it off so we could come out here and be healthy. I tried on scaffolding jumps, but those jumps are so small it’s really difficult to get it around. Usually I can get it around but can’t hold it. It will happen someday. I just have to keep trying, I guess.”
In addition to that massive jump, Corning has added a few more technical rail tricks and grabs to his run. He has also tried “to be more consistent and more fluid and look more relaxed when riding.”
As for Henkes, according to his X Games bio, “The 17-year-old ripper grew up surfing and skating in La Jolla, SoCal from age 2, and took up snowboarding at age 4 on a family trip to Mammoth Mountain to hone his skills. Initially a halfpipe competitor, he switched to slopestyle in 2017 and has been coming up fast.”
Both Corning and Henkes are junior world championship medalists in slopestyle snowboarding. Corning claimed the junior world slopestyle titles in 2016 and 2017 and the big air crown in 2016. Henkes was right behind him with a silver in slopestyle in 2017.
Of note, slopestyle snowboarding Olympic gold medalist Red Gerard did not qualify for the final and ended up 11th.
From here, the snowboarders will compete in the U.S. Open in Vail, Colorado, then another U.S. Grand Prix in Mammoth Mountain, California, where hopefully the weather will cooperate.
But given that nature was the fiercest competitor at the 2019 world championships, both Corning and Henkes were happy with the end result.
“Obviously, I would have liked to ride in the finals and do that,” said Henkes. “But yeah, I’m stoked how it turned out.”
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered five Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.