Skico, ESPN announce new five-year deal to keep X Games at Buttermilk
After 18 years together, Aspen Skiing Co. and ESPN know they have a good thing going. They also know X Games and Buttermilk Ski Area are so good for each other, there is no reason to go separate ways.
With this in mind, ESPN announced it has agreed to a new five-year deal to keep its signature winter action-sports event in the Roaring Fork Valley.
“The reality is there aren’t many places in the world like Aspen,” X Games Vice President Tim Reed told The Aspen Times. “The community is awesome. All of the local support we get and our partners with ASC, they are the best and we love working with them. We are thrilled to obviously add on five more years to the plan.”
The extension will keep X Games Aspen around through at least the 2024 event, which will allow it to surpass the two-decade mark at Buttermilk. The official announcement was made during Wednesday’s annual pre-X Games press conference. The 18th annual winter sports spectacle gets underway Thursday and runs through Sunday.
“I’m super psyched that the relationship will continue. It’s been an incredible addition to the programming in our valley, which is impressive in its own right,” said John Rigney, Skico’s senior vice president. “We’ve been together a long time and this is one of those relationships that really benefits both parties. I’m still continually impressed by the business it brings to town, by the caliber of broadcast and by the coverage that these amazing athletes and Aspen-Snowmass gets on a global stage. It’s a great formula and there was really no reason to mess with it.”
The athletes who attended Wednesday’s press conference agreed. For the younger ones, such as 18-year-old Olympic gold medalist Chloe Kim, the winter’s signature event for snowboarders and freestyle skiers has been held only in Aspen during their lifetimes.
“It means a lot,” said California’s Kim, who has won Aspen gold three times in the women’s snowboard superpipe. “My first X Games was five years ago, when I was 13. It’s crazy. Pretty stoked it’s going to stick around here in Aspen for five more years. I love it here.”
Those feelings are even stronger for a local such as halfpipe skier Alex Ferreira, who only lives about five minutes away from Buttermilk. The 2018 Olympic silver medalist recently recalled his favorite early memory of X Games, where as a middle schooler he decided to skip class and catch a bus to Buttermilk to watch some of the athletes train.
“It’s so inspirational,” Ferreira said of X Games. “The fact it gets to continue on in Aspen and kids continue to skip out of school, like me, I think that’s phenomenal.”
The last time contract negotiations were going on, back in 2014, Aspen had a bit of competition as Utah’s Park City, California’s Lake Tahoe resorts and Quebec City in Canada were all bidding to become the next Winter X Games host. This time around, ESPN seems to have kept the door shut on outside bidders, its desire to keep the event in Aspen not something the company has shied away from.
“I don’t think I’ve met too many people who don’t love coming to Aspen,” Reed said. “I’ve been here all 18 years and I think for a lot of us, if not all of us, every time we got on a plane to come to Aspen, whether it’s for meetings or to actually produce the events, it’s always a special feeling.”
Neither ESPN nor Skico releases information on the economic impact of X Games Aspen, but it’s believed to be in the millions of dollars. According to ESPN, the 2018 event had a total on-site attendance of 115,000 people over four days, the second highest in X Games Aspen history.
While some, such at Pitkin County Commissioner Greg Poschman, have questioned the county having to pay for any of it — such as the overtime for sheriff’s deputies — the high occupancy rate in town and general upbeat vibe makes those fees worth it to others.
“It has proved to be an anchor as far as occupancy in January,” Rigney said. “It’s a great messaging tool for the resort. It brings a ton of people to town, but it also brings a ton of vitality and excitement and a little youth. I think that’s not only good in the short term, but it’s about feeding the pipeline over the long term.”
Winter X Games made its debut in 1997 at Snow Mountain Resort in Big Bear Lake, California. It then spent two years in Crested Butte before moving to Mount Snow, Vermont, for another two. Aspen has been the home of Winter X Games since 2002.
And here it will stay, at least for another five years.
“This is a great spot for it. Everybody knows what it is and it’s pretty cool that they are not really going to change it up too much,” said snowboarder Chris Corning, who briefly called Aspen home while training with the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club. “It’s always kind of fun to go somewhere else, but we go somewhere else all the time, so it’s nice to be able to come back here every year and know what it’s going to be like.”
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In a Q&A interview, Aspen Skiing Co. President and CEO Mike Kaplan addresses loss of revenues, affects on capital improvements and what passholders can expect.