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Why we cover the X Games

Ryan Slabaugh
Summit Daily News

ASPEN ” This might come as a surprise: More than 677,000 households tuned in to last year’s live coverage of the Winter X Games, making it the highest-visibility on-snow sport in the world. More people watched these mostly teenage athletes than Austrians watched Kitzbuehel ” which is known as the Super Bowl of skiing in Europe.

Still, the X Games have a long way to go to catch our Super Bowl’s 40 million viewers per year. And, for that matter, the M*A*S*H* special in 1983 is still the highest rated show of all time; so, while popular, Shaun White and Gretchen Bleiler still rank somewhere below the Rolling Stones Halftime Special and Alan Alda.

While Mick and Alan are well into mainstream television, on-snow sports are just entering. In addition to all those 677,000 channel surfers who watched X Games Nine, more than 55,000 folks ” mostly families ” walked through the security gates to get into the spacious, easygoing venue at Buttermilk. These are numbers to pay attention to if we want to understand how this relates to our mountain communities.

These are eyes on our resorts, which ARE being broadcast to the entire world. These are eyes on our local athletes, who represent our towns, our schools and our mountains. And, believe it or not, these are eyes on our community newspapers (we pull in a few thousand visitors as well to our online section).

Mainly, it means people find our lifestyle interesting. According to the Nielsen roundup, 66 million viewers tuned in to coverage of the U.S. men’s clean sweep of the OLYMPIC halfpipe-snowboard final in 2002, a landmark year for winter sports.

The X Games will continue to grow. In fact, the numbers from this year’s X Games could rival 1 million viewers, if the prime-time events (i.e. snowboard finals) grow at the 33-percent rate they have the past two years.

From an insider’s point of view, the reason for the popularity is obvious. These kids are performing unbelievable feats on snow ” imagine launching yourself 20 feet in the air, spinning three times and landing on a 70-degree superpipe face ” but for those who have never been on skis, it’s harder to cling to what this really means. This is why the Olympics and the Super Bowl attract so many more viewers ” they provide relevance to everyday life through stories of underdogs, overachievers and national pride.

Two years ago on opening day in the Winter X press tent, a Montreal-based photographer working for AOL walked over to the Vail Daily’s photo editor, Bret Hartman, and asked what slopestyle was.

Now, it’s not a dumb question. Yet, it’s funny to find a guy from Canada (who was still cleaning the Iraqi sand from his camera) wandering clueless through an “alternative” sports venue. He exemplified the “outsider.”

This soon changed. By the end, after six days of crowds, excitement and hours spent on the side of a motorcross course, he came back in with a photo package everyone drooled over. He had captured a complete sequence of a dramatic bone-breaking crash, and then, he understood what he had just done.

He had contributed to the culture. And he was as excited as anyone.

Ryan Slabaugh can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 13600, or e-mail rslabaugh@summitdaily.com. Log onto http://www.summitdaily.com/xgames for continued coverage from Buttermilk.

Aspen, Colorado


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