How Aspen Snowmass hosted six major contests in a season when resorts worldwide canceled events |

How Aspen Snowmass hosted six major contests in a season when resorts worldwide canceled events

Thousands of athletes, coaches and event staff had given up on the 2020-21 competitive ski season when Aspen Skiing Co. called them to the Roaring Fork Valley and “saved our sports.”

Jason Blevins
The Colorado Sun
Alpine skier Lila Lapanja takes the first place podium as second and third place skiers Storm Klomhaus, center, and Tricia Mangan congratulate each other on the win from Women’s Giant Slalom National Championships at the base of Aspen Highlands on Thursday, April 15, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

When just about every other resort in the world nixed contests for the 2020-21 winter, Aspen Snowmass hosted its busiest competition season ever.

“It was monumental,” said Eric Webster, the director of events for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, or USSA.

Going into the 2020-21 season, USSA had no events on the calendar in Aspen. By the end of this month, the association will have hosted 1,000 athletes from 37 countries plus another 1,000 coaches, officials, event staff and television production workers at four major events.

Add in the Winter X Games in January and the NASTAR National Championship this month, and Aspen Skiing Co.’s four Roaring Fork Valley ski areas packed six high-profile events into a three-month window in the middle of a once-a-century pandemic.

As cancellations mounted, Aspen Skiing and ESPN leaned into their 20th Winter X Games at the operator’s Buttermilk ski area. Crews sculpted the halfpipe and slopestyle course with plans for an athlete-and-coaches only event.

“We knew there would be others looking to engage because the competition landscape was basically zero,” Aspen Skiing’s operations boss John Rigney said. “Most people were just hanging on for dear life and just playing defense.”

That added a layer of extra pressure to pull off a successful X Games. Without the crowds and festival vibe, X Games was different this year. Still, the venues were top-notch and the competition was as compelling as any other in the 20 years of X Games throwdowns at Buttermilk.

“Failure was not an option,” said Rigney, describing intense testing protocols and rigid rules limiting even athletes from congregating. “We could not mess it up.”

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