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Aspen Times Weekly: Winter X Games Serve As Launch Pad

by DALE STRODE
Aspen's Alex Ferreira puts in a bronze-medal performance Sunday in the Men's Ski Superpipe at the Winter X Games at Buttermilk.
Aubree Dallas/The Aspen Times |

IF YOU GO ...

Aspen Winter X Games 2016

All events at Buttermilk Mountain *

THURSDAY, JAN. 28

1 p.m. – Special Olympics Unified Snowboarding Final (slopestyle)

3:30 p.m. – Snowmobile: Snocross Adaptive Final

4 p.m. – Snowmobile: Snocross Round One and Final

6 p.m. – Ski: Men’s Superpipe Final

8 p.m. – Concert: Run the Jewels

9:30 p.m. – Concert: Nas

FRIDAY, JAN. 29

9 a.m. – Ski: Men’s Skier X (ski cross) Qualifying

9 a.m. – Ski: Women’s Skier X (ski cross) Qualifying

10 a.m. – Snowboard: Women’s Slopestyle Final

10:30 a.m. – Snowbaord: Men’s Snowboarder X Qualifying

10:30 a.m. – Snowboard: Women’s Snowboarder X Qualifying

Noon – Adaptive: Snowboarder Adaptive X Qualifing

12:30 p.m. – Ski: Women’s Slopestyle Final

2 p.m. – Ski: Mono Skier X Qualifying

5 p.m. – Snowmobile: Freestyle Final

6:30 p.m. – Ski: Women’s Superpipe Final

8:15 p.m. - Snowboard: Big Air Final

9:30 p.m. – Concert: 21 Pilots

SATURDAY, JAN. 30

11 a.m. – Ski: Mono Skier X Semis and Final

Noon – Snowboard: Men’s Slopestyle Final

2 p.m. – Ski: Men’s Skier X (ski cross) Heats, Semifinals, Finals

2 p.m. – Ski: Women’s Skier X (ski cross) Heats, Semifinals,Finals

4:30 p.m. – Concert: DJ Snake

6:15 p.m. – Snowboard: Men’s Superpipe Final

8:15 p.m. – Ski: Big Air Final

8:30 p.m. – Concert: deadmau5

SUNDAY, JAN. 31

10 a.m.- Ski: Men’s Slopestyle Final

10 am. – Snowboard: Adaptive X Semifinals, Final

Noon – Snowboard: Men’s Snowboarder X Heats, Semifinals, Final

Noon – Snowboard: Women’s Snowboarder X Heats, Semifinals, Final

1:45 p.m. – Snowboard: Women’s Superpipe Final

3:30 p.m. – Concert: Kygo

* Events, times subject to change; find the latest at http://xgames.espn.go.com/xgames/

With a history of two decades of televised sports spectacle, the ESPN-produced Winter X Games are back this week in prime time — live from Buttermilk.

The reigning Winter X stars are scheduled to compete — Kelly Clark, David Wise, Chloe Kim, Danny Davis, Mark McMorris, Maddie Bowman, Colten Moore, Alex Ferreira, Torin Yater-Wallace, among many others.

Is this their launch pad to stardom in skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling?

The once unassuming Buttermilk Ski Area that has served as the ironic home base of the Winter X Games in Aspen since 2002 is transformed annually into a gigantic outdoor sports television and concert venue.

“Buttermilk” now enjoys common usage among the Winter X athletes and, more importantly, among agents and sponsors. They heavily lobby ESPN officials for inclusion of their athletes in the Winter X Games, an invitation-only event, acknowledging the power of the product.

The rocket rise of popularity of the Winter X Games and the Winter X stars started, of course, with Shaun White.

And it continues with Shaun White, who has parlayed 15 years of Winter X exposure and stardom into an international empire and a net worth estimated at more than $40 million.

White, who made his Winter X debut as a 13-year-old in 2000 at Mount Snow, Vermont, pushed the Nielsen numbers off the charts after Winter X moved to Aspen in 2002.

He won the snowboard superpipe and snowboard slopestyle gold medals in 2003, dazzling the international television audience as well as the Buttermilk spectators, watching as always for free.

White, known from his early skateboarding days as “Future Boy,” proceeded to collect Winter X medals at a record pace over the next decade-plus, prompting several changes in his tax bracket.

His first double-gold Winter X in 2003 also generated the career-launching first gold medal for Aspen’s own Gretchen Bleiler.

Her enchanting performance in snowboard superpipe, in front of the television masses, included her own signature move, the Crippler.

A standout athlete in multiple sports as a youngster in Aspen, particularly soccer, Bleiler built a professional snowboarding career, including the Olympic Games, from that Buttermilk halfpipe.

A contemporary of Bleiler, the legendary Kelly Clark, has competed in Aspen since the 2002 move.

Her long career, fueled by X Games success, reached into the 2015 games for a dramatic superpipe showdown with the new rising star in their sport — Chloe Kim.

Similarly, Alex Ferreira of Aspen hit the Winter X Games podium last year, much to the delight of the hometown fans.

He and Torin Yater-Wallace grew up skiing together in Aspen in the Buttermilk halfpipe.

They will be launching out of the superpipe again this year, chasing a career like that of Bleiler or Clark or others, like Tanner Hall. Hall enjoyed a medal-laden career in the Winter X Games in Aspen.

For other athletes, like Aspen’s Casey Puckett, the Winter X Games provided a launch pad into a second career.

A four-time Olympian as an alpine ski racer, Puckett joined ski cross (also known as skier X) as a side-by-side ski racer.

The sport’s exposure at Winter X eventually led to inclusion in the Olympic Games.

And Puckett qualified in ski cross to represent the United States at a fifth Olympics.

The ski cross event is back at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen after a two-year hiatus.

Behind the scenes, the Winter X Games also provide a launch pad for sports management students at Colorado Mesa University in

Grand Junction.

Dr. Richard Bell, head of the department, said the phenomenon of the Winter X Games is featured in sports management courses at Colorado Mesa.

“It’s such a huge deal on television,” Bell said in an interview with The Aspen Times. “My students are all glued to the X Games when they’re on TV.”

He said students in the program travel to Aspen every year to experience the Winter X Games as a sporting event.

“We look at their management plan. The students can go up there and look at the template of the X Games,” Bell said. “It’s a big-time event and they can get a feel for it.”

He said his classes at Colorado Mesa also benefit from several Aspen High School graduates who are in the CMU sports management program.

“They … can explain the X Games from that viewpoint,” Bell said of the Aspen students who grew up with ESPN’s Winter X Games.

dstrode@aspentimes.com


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