Even though it’s a Summer Olympics year, winter athletes have plenty to keep them busy in 2016. When the 20th edition of X Games Aspen—ESPN’s annual winter action sports competition—kicked off last Thursday, the world’s biggest snowboard, ski, and snowmobile stars took to the slopes to compete for a place on the podium.
Along with years of training and innate talent, pro athletes rely on top gear to help them pull off their awe-inspiring tricks and runs on Buttermilk Mountain. We talked to seven of this year’s X Games competitors, from rookies to former gold medalists, to find out which gear they’re taking to the slopes, how they prepare (physically and mentally), and more competition-day musts.
Fair warning: Reading this might make you want to get to the nearest mountain for your own snow adventures.
O’Brien, 27, is a dominant slopestyle rider who is a five-time X Games medalist. The British Columbia native was the first woman to land a backside 900 at last year’s competition and stood atop the podium this year when she beat out a competitive field to win gold in snowboard slopestyle.
Essential piece of gear: “A good pair of goggles with extra lenses. Vision is so important in snowboarding. If you can’t see where you’re going, then you’re probably going to fall. The second you put in a fresh lens, [the difference] is night and day. You can see every bump and groove in the snow. I wear the Nike Vision Fade Goggles and always have both a Dark Smoke lens for sunny conditions, and a Pink Ion lens for snow days when the light isn’t optimal.”
Competition day routine: “I wake up and write in my journal [about] how I want to compete that day. Then I’ll make myself breakfast, which is usually steel cut oats with yogurt, hemp seeds, and berries. I foam roll and go through a series of mobility and dynamic warm-ups to wake up my body while listening to some music to pump me up. It’s usually Rihanna and Nicki Minaj, but it varies depending on my mood.”
Pre-race mantra: “Right before I drop, I visualize my run once more, give my team manager a hug, take a deep breath, adjust my helmet, crack my neck, and clap my hands. It’s become quite a long process. If I’m really feeling the pressure, I do talk to myself, telling myself, ‘Let’s do this.’ Snowboarding is so mental, so mind over matter is pretty important.”
Lucky charm: “I usually pick out two pairs of socks for the season that end up being my semi-finals day sock and my finals day sock. It’s dumb, but just another superstition.”
Snowboarder Ben Ferguson is the 21-year-old who won silver at his third X Games this year and is one of 33 athletes on the 2016 U.S. Snowboarding Team.
Essential piece of gear: “Clean socks are key. There’s nothing worse than crispy socks.”
Competition day routine: “I’m not a routine kinda guy. I don’t like being dependent on any set situation. If something in the routine doesn’t work out, then you’re tweaking before the contest. I just like going with the flow.”
Pre-race mantra: “I try to use the nervous energy and channel it into explosiveness and speed. I just tell myself to send it. And to try to have fun.”
Lucky charm: “As long as I’ve got good tunes and everything to snowboard, I’m stoked. Having good homies around always helps with the nerves and keeps things fun as well.”
Norwegian Norendal, 22, is a two-time gold medalist in snowboard slopestyle. She was also a competitor at the Sochi Olympics.
Essential piece of gear: “My music and headphones. I never go riding without those two things. I use [music] to make me calmer when I compete and to get me excited when I’m a little scared of trying new tricks.”
Pump-up song: “At the moment, it’s ‘Whip-It’ by LunchMoney Lewis.”
Pre-race mantra: “I put on my music right before the pressure escalates, and I always put on a big smile and take a big, deep breath before dropping into big competitions.”
Howell, 21, scored a gold in ski slopestyle at the event’s Olympic debut during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Essential piece of gear: “I can’t live without the new neck warmers from Roxy. They teamed up with Biotherm to introduce Enjoy & Care. The neck warmers are designed to protect your skin from the cold and snow. They have moisturizer to keep your skin soft, which is absolutely amazing, and ever since they came out with it I can’t get enough. My skin takes a harsh beating being out in the cold all the time and [having] this product protects me from those cold days.”
Competition day routine: “My competition days consist of getting up nice and early so I don’t have to rush and eating as much breakfast as I can. If I can eat one egg, a bowl of hot cereal, and a banana, that’s ideal. Then I do a few warm-up exercises just to get the blood flowing and head to the mountain nice and early.”
Pre-race mantra: “Stay calm and trust in the work [you’ve] done leading up to the competition.”
Lucky charm: “I try not to be superstitious these days, but I think I’ll always put my right ski on before my left.”
Langland, 15, won bronze in Women’s Snowboard Slopestyle at her first X Games this year. She’s a member of the U.S. Pro Slopestyle Team and was nominated to compete in the 2016 Winter Youth Olympics in Lillehammer.
Essential piece of gear: “I have this Burton flannel that I wear all the time on warm, sunny days. It’s really loose and keeps me feeling not too stiff when I ride.”
Pre-race mantra: “Have fun. If you’re having fun, you’re doing it right.”
Lucky charm: “I have a greenstone necklace from New Zealand that I haven’t taken off since I got it.”
You’ve probably heard Anderson’s name before. The 25-year-old earned a gold in snowboard slopestyle at the 2014 Winter Olympics and is an 11-time X Games medalist (four golds among them).
Essential pieces of gear: “I love my GNU Ladies Choice signature board, my Oakley goggles [Anderson wears her Jamie Anderson Signature Series Crowbar style] to protect my eyes on the mountain, and my Oakley outerwear to stay cozy. And of course, a GoPro Hero4 Session Camera. I can’t go on the mountain without it!”
Lucky Charm: “I love my crystals. I usually have a pocket rock or crystal necklace on to keep me connected to the earth and grounded.”
Bowman won gold in Ski SuperPipe at this year’s competition, making her a six-time X Games medalist. The now 22-year-old ski star also won gold in halfpipe at the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Essential piece of gear: “I can’t live without my North Face Women’s Half Dome Hoodie. I wear a baby blue one when I compete and a grey or black one the rest of the time. It’s fleece, and I can wear it all year as a layer piece when it’s cold out and can just wear it alone when it’s warmer out. It’s so free feeling.”
Pre-race mantra: “I remind myself that I love skiing and that I’m just out there to have fun. That’s where it all started and that’s what got me my success.”
Pump-up songs: “I’m a big Taylor Swift fan and I also really like metal. I’m into ‘Painkiller’ by Judas Priest right now. If they did a song together, that would be magical.”
Lucky Charm: “I have a couple of pairs of lucky underwear!”
To find out more about the 2016 X Games in Aspen, head here.