Aspen locals and X Games haters: Chill out, check yourself
January 22, 2019
Are we locals so jaded that we cannot look beyond the alleged inconveniences surrounding the X Games for one weekend to welcome the world's best winter athletes and artists to our town?
This is a paraphrased line from a column that I wrote at this time last year in defense of the X Games.
I share this view knowing full well that it is an unpopular one, as it seems hating on the X Games is the cool or popular take if you are from or live in Aspen.
Haters gonna hate, but if offering an alternate perspective of the event and reminding locals of its significance for our town enables even one reader to reconsider his or her attitude toward the X Games, I consider it worth my time.
Complaints I hear each year about the X Games include: The visitors are "trashy," downtown is "too crowded" or "busy," there are more thefts and bar fights, etc.
Full disclosure: I understand, and in many cases sympathize with, my fellow Aspenites' qualms with the event, and in particular, the masses that it attracts.
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That said, I think people tend to over-exaggerate these issues, and perhaps more importantly, are considering themselves more than they are the greater good of our resort economy.
When the most talented freestyle athletes on the planet descend upon our little ski town to compete on an international stage, the world is watching.
And whether you love the musical lineup or think it is trash, there is no denying that the artists also are among the biggest names in their industry.
Exposure and economic aspects aside, curious on the validity of the aforementioned claims, last year I looked at three recurring complaints that could be reviewed with data from the past five years.
As we enter the games this week, I decided to re-share these results; along with discovering a mixed bag, I found that if the Aspen Police Department can embrace the event, so too can you.
As Aspen Assistant Police Chief Bill Linn said going into the 2018 X Games: "Although we are busy, it's fun when town is full and there's a lot going on, so it feels good."
With that, here is the reality of those issues and the numbers behind them.
too much traffic
The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority ramps up its services during the X Games like with no other event in Aspen, RFTA CEO Dan Blankenship said January 2018.
But with all RFTA buses and drivers on deck and no parking allowed at Buttermilk, the demand from X Games-goers, commuters and locals exceeds the transit authority's inventory.
For this reason, Aspen Skiing Co. contracts a shuttle service as well as a private charter group.
"There really isn't anything (similar)" to RFTA's services during the X Games, Blankenship said.
A comparable incident, he said, is when RFTA added transit services during the Grand Avenue Bridge closure, though even this failed to stack up to X Games' ridership.
"We have no other time of the year where we transport as many passengers over four days as we do over the X Games," Blankenship said.
One of those days last year set a RFTA record.
Saturday is typically the busiest day of the X Games, Blankenship said, and last year 59,000 passengers from Aspen to Rifle rode RFTA on that Saturday.
To put this into perspective, New Year's Eve — another one of RFTA's most popular days of the year — typically sees between 23,000 and 24,000 riders.
From 2013 to 2018, the Aspen Police Department reported a total of 34 thefts and six assaults during the X Games, according to APD records.
Police officials said last year numbers are not highly unusual and reflect the volume of people in town more than the event itself.
Linn, who's experienced many X Games with more than 24 years at the department, said the numbers "aren't astronomical, they are a reflection of just how much busier town is at this time."
Aspen Police Department records specialist Cathleen Treacy, who compiled the reports over the past five years, wrote via email in January 2018: "Assaults and thefts are not generally greater during X Games for (the Aspen Police Department) than Fourth of July or Labor Day or Presidents Day, etc."
"We are busier (with theft and assault calls) than we are during normal weekends," Linn said. "From a statistical standpoint, the difference between 5 and 8 might look like a percentage increase, but is still a pretty small sample."
Town is too crowded
With occupancy averaging in the mid-90 percent range during the X Games from 2013 to 2018, Aspen and Snowmass Village have nearly maxed out.
The total combined occupancy for both resorts also varies little each year, with a mere 3 percent margin, Bill Tomcich, formerly of Stay Aspen Snowmass, told the Times last January.
Occupancy traditionally peaks Friday or Saturday (like RFTA) throughout the four-day event.
Between Aspen and Snowmass, only a "handful" of hotels had a limited number of rooms still available on the Thursday of X Games 2018, Tomcich said.
While there is not an association like Stay Aspen Snowmass that tracks occupancy down valley, conversations that same Thursday with properties in Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs indicated some, but not a lot, of availability, Tomcich had said.
Hotels and inns were not the only forms of lodging experiencing a surge in guests over X Games weekend, either.
Airbnb, in a statement released last January, said the Thursday of X Games weekend would be "the biggest night ever for Airbnb in Aspen."
The company projected a 65 percent increase over the week prior, with more than 700 users in Aspen Jan. 25 to 28, 2018.