It’s the waiting game on X Games’ future in Aspen

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Local favorite Torin Yater-Wallace went inverted over the spectators lining the Buttermilk superpipe on his way to winning the X Games men's superpipe final in 2013.
Jim Ryan/Special to The Aspen Times/file photo |

Winter X Games Timeline

1997 — First Winter X Games held in Big Bear Lake, Calif.

1998-99 — Crested Butte hosts X Games; 25,000 spectators attend in ‘98 and more than 30,000 in ‘99.

2000 — Games relocate to Mount Stowe, Vt., drawing 83,500 in 2000.

2001 — Games return to Mount Stowe.

2002 — X Games held at Buttermilk ski area in Aspen, drawing 36,300 spectators over four days; it’s the first year the Winter X Games are televised live on ABC and ESPN

2003 — A record 48,700 spectators attend event in Aspen.

2004 — X Games held in same Aspen venue for an unprecedented third straight year, drawing 66,500 attendees. ESPN and Aspen Skiing Co. announce the Games will stay in Aspen through 2007.

2005 — Aspen X Games draw 66,750 spectators.

2006 — Event draws 69,500 attendees to the Buttermilk venue, and sets a new television viewership record an average household viewership of 747,130. ESPN and Aspen Skiing Co. also agree to keep X Games in Aspen through 2010.

2007 — Sets record with 76,150 attendees.

2008 — Attendance drops to 72,500 spectators, but viewership increases to an average of 863,000 households for eight telecasts.

2009 — On-site fans total 68,100, but average viewership per telecast increases to 942,000 homes. ESPN and Skico announce that X Games will be kept in Aspen through 2012

2010 — New attendance record of 84,100 is set. It’s the highest-rated Winter X Games for the ESPN networks, drawing 43 million viewers.

2011 — Another attendance record is set, with 114,200. Overall viewership is 39.7 million.

2012 — Saturday crowd is 45,600, the single-day record, while 108,000 attend the four-day event. Later, in May, ESPN announce that the X Games game will return to Aspen in 2013 and 2014.

2013 — Record crowd of 114,500 attends the event, with the 47,200 setting the single-day record.

SOURCE: ESPN, The Aspen Times

Aspen Skiing Co. once again is in a contract year for the Winter X Games and hopes to secure the event with a multi-year contract.

The X Games will return to Buttermilk for the 13th straight season Jan. 23 through 26. A two-year contract for the event between ESPN and Skico expires after these games.

“We have bid on an extension, for certain,” said John Rigney, Skico vice president of sales and events. He is Skico’s point man in negotiations with ESPN.

Rigney said he believes Skico has a great track record as host of the event to sweeten its bid. Audiences continue to grow. Television viewership continues to grow. More people are accessing information on the Winter X Games via a growing universe of online options.

“I’ve heard nothing out there that makes me think there is a better bid than ours.”
John Rigney
Aspen Skiing Co.

Few other ski resorts have the flexibility of devoting a ski area’s base to the event, Rigney said. Skico has the flexibility because it operates four ski areas. The base of Buttermilk remains open to skiers and snowboarders during preparation work, but the focus is building the halfpipe and various courses for competition as soon as holiday crowds disperse. Some of the work starts before the holidays, and then it shifts into a feverish pace after New Year’s Day. Rigney said he is proud of Skico’s expertise in preparing for the event and the community’s ability to provide the army of volunteers needed to pull it off.

“I think we can stand pretty tall here,” he said. “I feel good about our bid.”

Rigney declined to discuss how much money Skico invests each year in hosting the X Games. He said the needs vary a bit from year to year.

ESPN hasn’t announced if other resorts have placed bids for the X Games contract or when a contract will be awarded.

“We look forward to making an announcement in the near future. Until then, we’re very excited and focused on the upcoming X Games Aspen event later this month,” ESPN spokesman Danny Chi said in an email.

That was consistent with Rigney’s information about the status of awarding a contract.

“There’s no word,” he said. “We’re focusing completely on next week.”

ESPN eliminated X Games held in other countries this year. It now is concentrating on one X Games in the winter and one in the summer, both currently in the U.S. That puts the remaining two events squarely on “center stage,” Rigney said.

Skico believes the event continues to boost the exposure of Aspen-Snowmass to skiers and snow-sports fans around the globe.

The X Games first were held at Buttermilk in 2002 after bouncing around during the first five years of their life between Big Bear Lake, Calif.; Crested Butte; and Mount Stowe, Vt.

Rigney’s records indicated Skico started with a two-year contract and then went to a three-year deal followed by a four-year deal. The last two contracts have been two years each.

A multi-year contract for the event would be most beneficial to Skico for planning and efficiency, Rigney said. He acknowledged that ESPN has to make decisions based on what it believes is best for the event.

Rigney said there is no guarantee that Aspen will retain the X Games, but it won’t be for lack of desire on Skico’s part or lack of effort to keep the event.

“I don’t think there’s a better place,” Rigney said. “I’ve heard nothing out there that makes me think there is a better bid than ours.”