Only vaccinated fans, athletes are to be allowed at next month’s X Games Aspen

Skiers on Buttermilk Ski Area stop on the other side of the boundary fence to watch the slopestyle finals during the 2021 X Games at Buttermilk on Sunday, Jan. 31, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Live fans will be back at next month’s Winter X Games in Aspen, though concerts and motor sports will remain on pause because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

That was the word Tuesday from an ESPN representative who briefed Pitkin County commissioners on the Jan. 21-23 event that has been held at Buttermilk Ski Area for the past 20 years. Fans were not allowed at last year’s event because of COVID-19 transmission concerns.

“I’m really glad you’re having some crowd this year,” Commissioner Steve Child said. “There’s nothing more exciting than to be up on the halfpipe somewhere and have, just a few feet away from you, people doing these amazing things. It’s a whole different element than watching it on television.”

To accommodate fans in the COVID era, the 2022 Winter X Games event area will have a hard fence line separating it from the larger Buttermilk Ski Area for the first time ever. Only vaccinated spectators will be allowed inside the event area, and a vaccination card and government identification will be necessary to receive an entrance wristband, said Vanessa Anthes, associate director for ESPN’s global X Games events.

Staff, athletes and vendors also must be vaccinated to participate in X Games next month. While testing will not be part of the games like it was last year because of the vaccination requirement, anyone suspected of having COVID-19 will go through protocols that include testing, quarantine and contact tracing, Anthes said.

Feedback from Winter X Games last year — when spectators were not allowed because of the pandemic — indicated that athletes and Aspen locals missed the crowd energy and being able to see local favorites perform, Anthes said.

Event capacity will be based on whatever the final fenced-in area turns out to be and capacity maximums determined by fire code. ESPN is not worried about accommodating crowds who show up, though there will not be a reservation system for event tickets, said Anthes and Danny Chi, ESPN senior director of communications.

“It’s great to have spectators back,” Chi said.

No parking will be available on site at Buttermilk, with Roaring Fork Transportation Authority buses running shuttle service to the venue.

Child cheered the lack of motor sports events at this season’s games, an element also missing last year when just skiing and snowboard competitions were held.

“To me, the noise is annoying when you go in person,” he said.

Commissioner Francie Jacober, however, took issue with Child’s brush-off.

“I know lots of people who are wild about the snowmobile events,” she said. “So I don’t necessarily agree with you on that.”

Climate change was on the mind of two commissioners, who suggested ESPN do more to offset the X Games’ carbon footprint.

Commissioner Greg Poschman asked if the network could offset the carbon footprint for people who drive or fly in to attend the event, while board Chair Kelly McNicholas Kury wondered if ESPN might be able to make X Games a carbon-neutral event.

“Make X Games the first carbon-neutral big games sporting event for other sporting events to look up to,” McNicholas Kury said. “It would support our community goals.”

Anthes said the network would be happy to participate in future planning for X Games.

Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo praised ESPN as a reliable and responsive partner during the past two decades of Winter X Games.

“This is our 21st year together,” he said. “It’s always been raising the bar every year. I think they are probably the gold standard for events that we should hold other events to. I trust them implicitly.”


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