Stars align for 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen |

Stars align for 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen

Dale Strode
The Aspen Times
A panel of X-Games athletes answer questions at a press conference Wednesday.
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times |

The Winter X stars are back in Aspen.

The Winter X Games venue at Buttermilk in polished, groomed and ready. The ESPN television cameras are in place. The portable restrooms are in place.

Lights, camera, action: The 2016 Winter X Games kick off Thursday at Buttermilk.

The first spotlight of the 2016 games will shine on a pair of local Aspen skiers — Alex Ferreira and Torin Yater-Wallace. The duo, who grew up in the halfpipe at Buttermilk, will compete Thursday at 6 p.m. in the giant superpipe at Buttermilk against the best freeskiers in the world. Admission, as always, is free to the sporting events at the Winter X Games.

Ferreira is the two-time bronze medalist in the ski pipe competition. David Wise of Reno, Nevada, will be going for his fourth Winter X gold in the men’s ski superpipe. And for the first time in Winter X Games history, there will be no qualifying rounds for the men’s ski superpipe as well as many other disciplines. Just the top eight athletes in the field advance right into the finals.

“It’s different than any X Games in the past,” Wise said at the kickoff news conference Wednesday afternoon at Buttermilk. “I liked the qualifying.”

He said the qualifying rounds had their own special pressure and challenge. This year, he said, the challenge was making the final cut to receive a coveted Winter X Games invitation.

“The change is going to make things interesting for us,” said Wise, who won superpipe gold at the Sochi Olympics. “I think you’ll see people going for it more.”

With smaller fields this year, he said the competitors will have to put down their best runs immediately.

Maddy Bowman, the three-time reigning champion of the women’s ski superpipe, said the competition is always elevated at the Winter X Games in Aspen. This year will be no exception, she said.

“It seems like the women’s scene picks up here,” Bowman said, adding that the ski superpipe for women on Friday night will be a heated competition among the top skiers in the world.

Bowman kicked off the Winter X Games last year with a rousing superpipe victory before a celebratory crowd that went on to witness X Games history day after day.

Bowman, from South Lake Tahoe, California, is a five-time X medalist in Aspen. She also won gold at the Sochi Winter Olympics.

Joining Bowman on the X star list is Chloe Kim of Torrance, California, a 15-year-old phenom and the youngest medalist ever in the Winter X Games. Kim is back this year, with stylish magenta streaks in her long hair.

“The pipe is perfect, as always,” Kim said, anticipating another showdown in the Buttermilk superpipe, where she won her first gold medal at age 13.

Other stars set to take flight at Winter X 2016 include Mark McMorris of Regina, Canada, and Gus Kenworthy of Telluride. McMorris is a five-time Winter X Games gold medalist and nine-time overall X medalist. He won both the snowboard slopestyle and big-air events in 2015.

“It’s fun to be a part of the (progressions),” McMorris said of the ever-increasing array of tricks and maneuvers the riders unveil every year.

Kenworthy, who grew up skiing the bumps and steep chutes at Telluride, will take on an ambitious three-event schedule in Aspen this year. He’s set to compete in the ski slopestyle, superpipe and big air.

Snowmobile favorite Colten Moore of Krum, Texas, also is tackling a heavy schedule this year. And he can’t wait as the freestyle event makes its return.

“Freestyle is like the main competition now,” said Moore, who won the last snowmobile freestyle event at Winter X in Aspen.

Levi Lavallee has come out of retirement to compete in freestyle at Winter X this year.

“With Levi back, … I think it’s going to be an awesome time,” said Moore, whose book about his brother’s life and fatal accident at Buttermilk was recently released. “I like to come back here. … Every time I ride, I’m riding for my brother.”

Action at Buttermilk will begin at 1 p.m. Thursday with a Special Olympics event, the unified snowboarding final. The snowmobiles will roll into focus at 3:30 p.m. starting with the adaptive division. The regular snowmobile racers will take off at 4 p.m. Thursday with snocross eliminations and final.

The sporting events will warm up the crowd for a pair of opening-night concerts at the Buttermilk venue. Run the Jewels will take the stage at 8 p.m. Thursday; Nas is scheduled to perform at 9:30 p.m.