Look Xtra close for changes to 2003 X Games | AspenTimes.com
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Look Xtra close for changes to 2003 X Games

Tim Mutrie

Right down to the spelling on the sign out front, ButtermilX has been waylaid by operation X. Tents and towers dot the base and lower slopes, snowmobiles and snowcats traverse here and there through Everestian whales of sculpted snow and, if you listen carefully, you can hear more coming.Yes, that’s a caravan of NASCAR-style semis grandly emblazoned with Arctic Cat, Polaris and the like grinding on up from lower climes.In less than a week’s time, Aspen will become the center of the action sports universe for the seventh (oops, that’s VII) installment of the ESPN Winter X Games. The Games open next Thursday and continue pretty much nonstop during daylight hours through Sunday, Feb. 2.Admission is free, as always, and you can catch all the action with a basic turn-and-pivot job once you’ve arrived. Everything – the slopestyle, the halfpipe, the boardercross and skiercross course, or X Course, and the Moto X Big Air jump and the snowmobile snocross course – is within view from the base. (Just be sure to stand within ear-shot of the PA announcer of the event you’re hoping to follow – it’s both distraction and action central.)Last year, more than 38,000 fans turned out for the inaugural eXhibition at Buttermilk, though it’s conceivable even more will show up this year because the event is being broadcast on ESPN with little delay. Last year about two weeks separated the event and the broadcast.”The live event and the TV event are totally different, and people who came out [last year] know that. It’s not singular like it is on TV,” said Deric Gunshor, marketing and communications manager for the Winter X Games. “But Aspen’s in store for something new this year because it’s going to be broadcasted that night.”It’s as live as we’ve ever been.”New to youWhile the competitions are the same as last year, slight tweaks have been made to the venue for two courses as well as the spectator area.At the base of the halfpipe, two 700-seat grandstands are under construction.Meanwhile, the start of the slopestyle course has moved down about 200 feet, where officials hope an enormous snow hill will afford skiers and boarders more speed to get rolling.And the X Course, site of skiercross, boardercross and hillcross (for snowmoblies), now features a banking, right-hand turn at the start instead of the bland tuck-and-suck straightaway over several rollers. Otherwise, it’s the same layout for the snocross, Moto X jump, X Course, halfpipe and slopestyle course.LocalsThe locals scheduled to compete include Jason “Earz” Smith of Basalt and Christian Mosiman of Snowmass Village in men’s boardercross; Aspen native Gwen Abbott, now of Vail, in women’s skiercross; Gretchen Bleiler of Snowmass Village in women’s halfpipe; and Erin Simmons, formerly of Aspen and now of Steamboat Springs, in women’s boardercross. She was last year’s runner-up.On the notable bubble is skier slopestyler Steele Spence of Snowmass Village, along with Peter Olenick of Carbondale. Both are expected to open competition today at the Last Chance X Qualifier in Breckenridge. The top-four finishers will advance to the 20-man X Games field.


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