ASPEN - The Aspen Skiing Co. and ESPN announced Tuesday that the Winter X Games and their high-flying athletes will return to Buttermilk for 2013 and 2014, marking the event's 12th and 13th editions on Aspen snow.
"I'm fired up," said John Rigney, vice president of sales and events for Skico. "I think this is awesome news for our entire resort, and it's a validation of everyone's efforts over the last 11 years to create an event with ESPN that is unrivaled anywhere."
Next year's X Games in Aspen are slated for Jan. 24 through 27.
The renewal of the event comes after months of negotiating between X Games organizer ESPN and host Skico.
ESPN, which traditionally has staged the X Games in Aspen on the weekend between the NFL's conference championship games and the Super Bowl, began a bidding process in May 2011 to attract other host cities.
Among the bidding cities was Whistler, British Columbia, which didn't get the nod. In addition to Aspen, Tignes, France, another existing X Games venue, will play host to a second Winter X Games March 20 through 22 as part of ESPN's efforts to globalize the X Games brand. Summer X Games are planned for Brazil, Germany, Spain and Los Angeles.
Aspen had hosted the Winter X Games for the past 11 years, but its contract with ESPN expired after this year's games, which drew 108,000 people to the base of Buttermilk over the four days of competition, including 45,600 for the Saturday contests, a single-day record for the event. Overall attendance set a record in 2011, with 114,200 people over four days.
The Skico has regarded the X Games as a feather in its cap. But in order to keep it here, Skico had to get buy-in, literally, from local government entities and the business community.
Aspen City Council put up $125,000 to bring the X Games back, a $25,000 increase over its contribution last year. The Elected Officials Transportation Committee, made up of members of the city councils of Aspen and Snowmass Village, and the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners, ponied up $100,000 for transit service.
Likewise, Aspen Chamber Resort Association committed $150,000 to the cause, which will come from its new bed tax. These contributions, as well as Aspen lodges providing price-breaks on guest rooms, were part of the bid Skico presented to ESPN to lure back the games. The Snowmass Village town government also put up $100,000.
"A huge thanks goes out to the entire community, from the local governments to the business leaders and ACRA to the lodging community," Rigney said. "None of this happens without their support. It's truly a community event and our gratitude goes out to them."
Mayor Mick Ireland said the return of the X Games reflects Aspen's continued effort to connect with a younger demographic.
"It's more than we could ever expect, given the competition and desire for a worldwide venue," he said.
ACRA board chairman Warren Klug agreed.
"There's a PR image of Aspen that shows that Aspen is a fun, hip, cool place to be," he said.
Indeed, as recently as 2000, Aspen Mountain was closed to snowboarders, a core segment of the X Games following. That ban, while instituted on just one of the four mountains operated by Skico, helped perpetuate Aspen's exclusive image. But in 2001, Aspen Mountain opened its chairlifts to snowboarders. And in 2002, the Winter X Games, which had been held the previous two years in Mount Snow, Vt., relocated to Aspen.
Initially there were those in Aspen who thought the event wasn't a good fit. Now the event is seemingly part of Aspen's wintertime fabric. Walk into any bar or restaurant in town during the X Games, and crowds huddle around flat-screen TVs to tune into the action. Buses and vans touting energy drinks and other youth-oriented products are a common sight about town, while VIP parties, concerts and the X Games' marquee events - think men and women's superpipe finals - light up the nights.
Such names as Shaun White, Kelly Clark, Peter Olenick and Gretchen Bleiler have become synonymous with the X Games, which are broadcast on ABC, ESPN and ESPN2. This past January's games were broadcast in 121 countries, and in the United States alone, the games attracted an audience of 50 million viewers to its live events, Rigney noted. That number does not included tape-delayed broadcasts or re-runs.
"In the eyes of the viewers, the X Games have made Aspen more inclusive and accessible than perhaps it looked a dozen years ago," Rigney said, "and why is because you've got kids as young as 15 and 16 years old participating in this kind of hallowed event right here in our back yard. If something this fantastic continues to come back to Aspen-Snowmass year after year, there have to be reasons for that, and they extend beyond the on-hill amenities, and I think that piques people's curiosity.
"It's a young event, it's a fun event, it's a vibrant event."
Klug said there's no mistaking that the youth who come to town don't fill the coffers of downtown's jewelers and fur shops, among other retailers. But the long-term impact of the event pays off dearly in terms of promoting a youthful Aspen image, he said.
"Some business might say it doesn't bring in business during those days," Klug said. "But the image we want to get out worldwide is that Aspen is an exciting place for people of all ages, not just your grandparents."
Ideally, Rigney said Skico would have preferred a longer-term deal with ESPN. But he said the event's newly expanded reach created "moving parts that come with launching globally."
"With the 11 years of history here, we are definitely in it for the long haul," he said. "We would have been happier with something longer."
In a prepared statement, Scott Guglielmino, senior vice president of programming and X Games, said: "ESPN is thrilled to extend its relationship with Aspen Skiing Company, the City of Aspen, Pitkin County and Town of Snowmass Village for two more years. After 11 fantastic years of world-class competition and progression in Aspen, we're delighted to move into the new phase of X Games growth towards a global youth and lifestyle brand with one of our most long-term and valued relationships."
This is the fourth-time ESPN and Skico have renewed their X Games alliance. In January 2004 the event was given a three-year deal through 2007; in January 2006 the event was extended through 2010; and in January 2009 it was given a three-year extension through 2012.