From alcohol to Anthrax, X Games incident command team prepared to deal with anything in Aspen
The agencies responsible for public safety at the Winter X Games are prepared for everything from alcohol abuse to Anthrax, and from frigid temperatures to overheated tempers.
As the X Games have gotten bigger over the years, the preparations have become more sophisticated out of necessity. The once low-key event now sets single-day attendance records nearing 50,000 visitors. The public agencies are overseeing a small city at the base of Buttermilk that dwarfs Aspen’s year-round population.
The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office is responsible for providing the law enforcement for the event, but it draws heavily on help from sister organizations from the Roaring Fork Valley. Police officers from Snowmass Village and Basalt supplement the deputy sheriffs as does the Colorado State Patrol. The fire departments of Aspen, Snowmass Village and Basalt provide medical and fire personnel, and the Aspen Ambulance District has a vital presence.
A highly trained unit from the National Guard Civil Support Team is on hand to defend against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats, according to Sgt. 1st Class Chris Gonzales of Buckley Air Force Base in Colorado.
Officials requested discretion in disclosing the National Guard tactics so it wouldn’t compromise their effectiveness. In general, troops discreetly monitor the venue while Gonzales and Lt. Corey Hicks monitor operations from a command center near the base of Buttermilk; they are prepared to use a lab to assess any potential threats that are discovered, Gonzales said.
Other agencies have K9 units sniffing the venue for explosives.
Frigid temps pose biggest threat
When the incident command team, comprised by representatives of various emergency response agencies, met at 12:30 p.m. Friday, the prospect of underage drinking and marijuana use by spectators wasn’t top on their minds.
Instead, they talked about how the bitter cold temperatures expected Friday night and again today was likely to keep them busy.
“It’s going to get very, very cold,” one official told about 30 law enforcement officers, medical personnel and firefighters assembled before the X Games kicked into high gear. The temperature was forecast to plummet to -7 Friday night. Nevertheless, huge crowds were expected for three marquee events at the base of Buttermilk — men’s ski superpipe final at 8:30 p.m., a concert at 9:45 p.m. and men’s snowboard big air final at 10 p.m.
A capacity crowd of 7,000 was expected for the concert alone. The free ski and snowboard events on Friday’s schedule are among the most popular of the Games, so a mammoth-sized crowd was expected.
Inevitably, some of those people won’t be dressed warm enough, said Mike Tracey, a patrol sergeant for Aspen Police Department and operations supervisor at the incident command center for the X Games. He said that last year there were three cases of hyperthermia when a blizzard blew in and a traffic accident between Aspen and Buttermilk temporarily prevented buses from transporting chilled spectators.
Officers at the venue will have to keep an eye on spectators this weekend to make sure they aren’t running into health issues because of the cold.
“We’re not just out here to do law enforcement,” Tracey said.
Amnesty drug barrel
That said, the common infractions are illegal drinking at the Games and underage drinking at the concert venue, where beer will be sold. And, of course, possession of marijuana and other drugs, which aren’t allowed at the venue. An “amnesty barrel” for drugs was placed outside the entrance gate, where spectators were thoroughly frisked by members of the private security firm enlisted by ESPN, the presenter of the X Games.
An impressive stash was collected in the barrel Thursday night, even with a thin crowd.
Tracey said the X Games crowd is probably stereotyped into “not behaving,” but he doesn’t think the number of infractions are out of line with any group gathering for a good time.
“I can’t say they’re worse than any other group,” he said.
The number of law enforcement officers patrolling the venue varies based on the time of day and turnout. It will swell to about 20 officers, with another 17 in the special operations group ready to jump into action in case of an incident. Sgt. Aaron Munch of Basalt Police Department is special operations supervisor. He said the team overall is about as well as prepared as can be, though an actual incident is always different than drills.
“The good thing is the majority of people have been here before,” Munch said.
Tracey has been working the X Games since it relocated to Buttermilk in 2002. Pitkin County Deputy Sheriff Alex Burchetta has worked the Games for the eight years he’s been with the department. “It’s a break from the routine of driving around in your (patrol) car,” he said.
His records indicated law enforcement and medical personnel logged 4,188 hours during the four days of the X Games last year.
Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo said he appreciates the willingness of his deputies and other departments’ officers to work the event, particularly since it means putting up with the cold. The Sheriff’s Office couldn’t manage it alone, he said.
CDOT is trying to fill six snowplow driver positions in the Roaring Fork Valley and is using cold, hard cash to sweeten the pot.