ASPEN - Local athletes have joined other Winter X Games competitors in voicing disappointment at ESPN's decision to drop skiercross and boardercross events from the 2013 Winter X Games in Aspen.
Mono skiercross also has been eliminated from the games, which return to Buttermilk on Jan. 24 through 27.
Meanwhile, two snowmobile events that were dropped from the 2012 games, snocross and speed and style, will return to the 2013 lineup, according to ESPN. Snocross had been featured for 14 straight years before it was omitted from last winter's competition.
"These decisions are never easy, obviously," said Tim Reed, senior director of content strategy for the X Games, in an ESPN.com report. "We understand the ramifications these things bring. We come up with what we believe are the best events to showcase to our fans on site and obviously the networks, too."
"It's disappointing, for sure," said Basalt's Casey Puckett, a retired U.S. alpine skier who competed in nearly a decade's worth of Winter X skiercross contests - called Skier X by ESPN - winning gold twice and bronze twice. He also competed in the Olympic skiercross debut in Vancouver in 2010.
"I think it's one of the more exciting events in the X Games. Hopefully, they'll bring it back," he said. "I think people are going to miss it.
"The feedback I got is that it's one of the most exciting ski events you see on TV."
The events pit groups of racers in both men's and women's competitions on a course of massive jumps and big, banked turns, sometimes resulting in spectacular pileups. A series of heats narrows the field to a final grouping for the medal-round race. Unlike other X Games events, however, most of the competition takes place out of sight of the spectating area at the base of Buttermilk. The "cross" competitions are best watched on a big screen at the ski-area base or at home on television.
Aspen's Sam Ferguson captured the bronze medal in the games' first mono skiercross competition, which featured disabled athletes competing on sit skis. He later won silver in the event.
Mono skiercross at the X Games has helped propel the sport of adaptive skiing, he said.
"As an accountant, I understand budget concerns, cash flow. If it can't happen, it can't happen," Ferguson said. "It certainly was disappointing, but it's understandable."
He suspects the cost of building the course and the camera work necessary to capture the action were factors in the decision.
Said ESPN's Reed: "There wasn't one single factor that led to this decision. It just comes down to filling the schedule with how much we believe we need to make the event enjoyable to the fans and deliver on what we need from a product standpoint."
Both Ferguson and Puckett consider themselves retired from competition and weren't planning to participate in the 2013 Winter X Games, but other athletes reeled from the news.
Chris Del Bosco, an Eagle-Vail resident and Canadian citizen as well as a two-time skiercross gold medalist at Winter X (most recently in 2012), told the Summit Daily News that he was going through something akin to the five stages of grief.
"It's frustrating because that's the best course. They do the best job with the camera work and putting the sport out there for people to see. It's received well, it's good for sponsors, it's an integral part of our sport, and now we don't have it," he told the newspaper.
Steamboat Springs snowboarder Mick Dierdorff labeled elimination of boardercross "a very large bummer," according to SteamboatToday.com.
Six-time boardercross gold medalist Nate Holland called the move "a devastating blow" in the ESPN.com report.
"I have sponsors that put a value on X Games and the exposure I get there," he told ESPN. "Basically, my stock went down as soon as that news came out."
Boardercross, which ESPN called Snowboarder X, was one of three events that had taken place every year since the Winter X Games began in 1997, along with snowboard superpipe and slopestyle. Skiercross had been staged in 15 of those 16 years, starting in 1998, according to ESPN.com. Mono skiercross was added five years ago.
The Winter X Games have taken place at Buttermilk since 2002, after two years at Mount Snow, Vt. Aspen Skiing Co. and ESPN announced in May that they had reached an agreement to bring the Winter X Games to Buttermilk for two more years, in 2013 and 2014. The events that take place at the games are up to ESPN, said Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle.