X Games Aspen 2021: The top storylines to watch from home as the show goes on
X Games Aspen 2021 may lack spectators and live music, but it doesn’t come up short for storylines. Between the return of a pair of snowboarding legends and a local skier going for three-peat glory, the next few days at Buttermilk Ski Area shouldn’t disappoint.
Competition gets underway midday Friday with the women’s snowboard slopestyle finals and goes through Sunday night with a trio of events to close out the show, including the men’s snowboard superpipe contest in primetime.
With that, here’s a quick list of notable plotlines to follow as you watch from home.
Nothing to see here
This, obviously, is the main story of X Games Aspen 2021, and of most sporting events since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. While Buttermilk will remain open for general skiing and snowboarding during the day, there will be a very strict no spectating rule during the competitions. There will be 13.5 hours of live coverage on the ESPN/ABC networks, plus more coverage on the X Games social media channels, so there’s no reason to miss out.
The Big 2-0
Happy anniversary, X Games Aspen! Yes, this is the 20th straight year the competition has been held at Buttermilk. The first Winter X Games was held in 1997 at Snow Summit Mountain Resort in California. After a couple years in Crested Butte and a couple more at Mount Snow, Vermont, Winter X Games was moved to Aspen in 2002 and has been here ever since. The most recent deal has Buttermilk continuing to host X Games for at least another three years after the 2021 event.
Back-to-back … to back?
Aspen’s own Alex Ferreira is a big deal these days. That’s what happens when you win back-to-back X Games titles in men’s halfpipe skiing. Friday night, the reigning Olympic silver medalist will go for his third straight X Games gold medal, a feat few X Games athletes have ever accomplished. The 2020 event was beyond epic, with Ferreira edging Crested Butte’s Aaron Blunck in one of the best halfpipe contests in recent memory.
We’re talking about Shaun White, of course. Yes, that Shaun White. You know, the three-time Olympic champion with more X Games medals to his name than some other athletes have years on this planet. How this goes down Sunday night in the men’s snowboard halfpipe contest is anyone’s guess. White is 34 and hasn’t competed at Winter X Games since a forgettable showing in 2017, and hasn’t landed on the Aspen podium since winning in 2013. But, it’s Shaun White. Enough said.
We’re talking about Chloe Kim, of course. Yes, that Chloe Kim. You know, the reigning Olympic champion who already has five X Games gold medals in women’s halfpipe snowboarding despite not yet being 21 years old. Kim took the entire 2019-20 winter season off from competitive snowboarding to work on her Princeton education and looks ready for her grand return to Buttermilk on Saturday night. She’s won here in 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019 (her other 2016 win was in Norway) and will be a heavy favorite for the 2021 title.
He’s not back
Who isn’t back is always just as interesting, and the most notable name missing this week is Mark McMorris. The Canadian snowboarding superstar announced earlier this week he tested positive for COVID-19 and withdrew. McMorris has 20 Winter X Games medals, the most all-time, having surpassed Shaun White’s 18 Winter X Games medals only last season. He hasn’t missed a contest here at Buttermilk since his first in 2011 and will certainly be missed. Hopefully no others are forced to withdraw this weekend because of a positive COVID-19 test, but it’s very possible.
Shhh! Not so loud!
X Games Aspen 2021 is going to be creepily quiet. No screaming spectators. No lively concerts. No snowmobiles or snowbikes to electrify the chilly air. Just the scrape of skis and snowboards on snow and maybe the faint whisper of one of ESPN’s on-air talents talking to the television audience. Weird. It’s going to be weird.
Big air? Little air? Something in between?
In order to minimize the X Games “footprint” at Buttermilk this year, the big air contests will be held on the final jump of the slopestyle course, and not its standalone launcher to the other side of the superpipe. Nobody really knows how this will impact the competition. It might be cool. It might not. Will they get as much air? Until we see the competition in real time, it’s hard to tell.
X Games is not an Olympic qualifier, but some believe it could end up having more of a say than usual on who makes various Olympic teams for the upcoming 2022 Games in China. This is in large part because the first U.S. Olympic team qualifier, the Mammoth Grand Prix, has been canceled for later this season because of the pandemic. It’s unknown if they can reschedule. If the qualifying system falls to the wayside and coaches have to make choices based off feeling alone, a big result at X Games could go a long way.
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