Inside X Games

Anna Stonehouse
The Aspen Times
Aspen X Games 2018.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times |

Driving by the beaming X Games superpipe at night, I’m drawn to it like a moth to a flame — and I’m almost as distracted as if I were texting while driving. The energy of the X Games is undeniable. Athletes have pushed action sports to new levels every year, and being among the hype and success is almost indescribable.

X Games was always something I enjoyed from the comforts of home while living in Minnesota and watching it on television. Even sitting at home, I could feel the energy and excitement from the Aspen event. From home it appeared to be one of the most alluring events I could ever have dreamed up.

About five years ago I was given the opportunity to photograph X Games for Snowboard CO Magazine, an offer I couldn’t deny! I arrived on the scene of X Games and was completely overwhelmed. TV didn’t give this event justice; it was bigger than I could’ve imagined.

My friends and relatives think that my covering X Games as a photographer is the most glamorous job I could ever have.

I love X Games and always will, but it truly is the most exhausting week of the year for me. There are so many factors people don’t see. First off, sled privileges — my gosh, is that a privilege. As soon as I discovered what sled privileges entailed, I had never coveted a sticker of a snowmobile so much.

Without that little snowmobile sticker on your credential, you are hiking up and down the mountain to obtain your shots. Top access to the start gates could be easily accessible via snowboarding down from the lifts, but for some reason you need a special little doodad on your credential for that access, as well. The X Games, I didn’t realize, is prioritized for television by ESPN. I soon found out that I was a second-class citizen compared to anyone working for ESPN, meaning you get booted from any possible nice photo-taking spot during competitions.

The so-called media corrals are over-stuffed with media, creating a cutthroat situation to “get the shot,” and they’re also placed behind several other corrals, creating a “please let the sea of heads in front of me part so I can get the shot” situation. I confronted the media representative about these issues and they said, “Well, just get your shots during practice” (when media is allowed more access). I rebutted, “Well, we would like to run photos from the actual competition,” and they said that’s just too bad. It turns into a game of cat and mouse outsmarting the security to try and get a decent photo during competitions.

Another unglamorous aspect of the event is being exposed to all of the elements in nature. Don’t get me wrong: Being outside for work is great, but when an ESPN college basketball game delays a superpipe competition in negative temperatures for almost an hour, and you’re holding down your spot among several other elbows on the side of the pipe, the fun factor significantly diminishes. The extreme puffy eyes from tiredness, sun exposure and winds really knock your self-esteem down as a female when walking by the Monster girls glamored to the max.

That being said, X Games is one of my favorite events to shoot. Each year it is essentially the same event, so it pushes you to get creative each year to keep it interesting as an artist. I’ll never forget photographing Shaun White above me for the first time; to this day it still seems surreal having these incredible athletes soar above me while I try not to forget to take photos. I will make a promise to up-and-coming fellow photographers, though: I will always share my advice with you regarding X Games and won’t push you out of my way, even if it’s a tight squeeze. We’ve all got a job to do.