X Games Aspen 2023 medal designer went to extreme lengths for awards
Year after year, X Games athletes push beyond their limits, progressing the sport beyond the bounds of what athletes and spectators previously thought was possible.
This year, many left Buttermilk Ski Area having made historic breakthroughs — from 14-year-old Gaon Choi becoming the youngest person to win an X Games gold medal to Megan Oldham being the first woman to land a triple cork.
Pushing boundaries and extreme sports simply go hand in hand. This sentiment ruminated through the artistry seen in this year’s glossy, translucent X Games Aspen medals designed and fabricated by Colorado artist Lisa Issenberg.
She has been creating the X Games medals for the past four years. She is the owner and founder of a Ridgway studio, Kiitella, named after a Finnish word that translates to “thank, applaud, or praise.”
Anonymously creating awards for people who have just achieved a milestone in their life is something that Issenberg is passionate about, she said.
She has a seasoned track record of creating awards for major events, from making the American Alpine Award granted to Sally Jewell, secretary of state during the Obama administration, to creating the awards for the Birds of Prey World Cup ski races in Beaver Creek.
“The awards are so satisfying,” she said. “There’s a unique connection between you and these people doing amazing work. That feels good.”
This year, Brian Kerr — ESPN’s associate director of competitions who is in charge of the X Games medal design — challenged Issenberg, who specializes in metal materials, to create awards with a “cold and snowy” theme.
With this, X Games medals looked a little different this year, embodying cool-toned winter elements.
To achieve this aesthetic, she pushed the boundaries of her work by incorporating locally-sourced, upcycled glass, aluminum, and metal materials.
Digging for Gold
Issenberg knew she wanted to use either upcycled or recycled materials to create this year’s medals, as she’s done in the past. Last year, the X Games medals were created with sustainably harvested aspen trees.
She could have taken an easier route by sourcing recycled glass from a manufacturer. However, she wanted the materials she used this year to be even more environmentally-friendly than recycled materials.
With this, she decided on upcycling materials — or taking something that hasn’t been recycled yet and giving it a new life. To accomplish this, Issenberg took to dumpster-diving to find glass bottles and aluminum signage.
“I’ve always been concerned with where my materials come from,” she said. “The steel that I use, the sources have told me it’s 90% to 100% recycled, so I felt good about that. But I wanted to take this further.”
After sourcing used bottles from a dumpster, she went to Cimarron Art Glass in Ridgway, where glass artist Munro Deforeest helped her with testing the fusing of the glass. After several tests with unsatisfactory results, Issenberg was back to square one with sourcing her materials.
Upcycling still lingered in her mind, though. So she began to hunt for discarded window panes.
In a dumpster of a window-installation company in Ouray, she struck gold.
“I drove around to different glass installers,” she said. “The third one, one guy said, ‘Oh, I’m about to take out these giant old windows up in Cedaredge.’ And the next one said, ‘Hey, I’ve got some glass, I’m just about to throw them in the dumpster.'”
“I go out back,” Issenberg said, “and there’s a giant, thick, three-sixteenths-inch pane of glass. And I’m like ‘That’s perfect. I’ll take it.'”
From here, the glass was then cut, drilled, notched, kiln fired, sandblasted, and hand painted, she said.
“It’s something you can’t even put words to,” she said, when describing how it felt when it all came together.
The Final Design
Issenberg used various handcraft and industrial processes to create the final X Games Aspen awards. With her work, she tries to embody wabi sabi, a Japanese sentiment of finding beauty in imperfection.
While she could have just used industrial processes, for her, leaving a human touch on her art is what makes her work special.
“You can see the human touch in each one,” she said. “I feel like that’s what people deserve to know: That the piece they are receiving was made with love, sweat, blood, tears.”
The medals became streamlined with a bold gold, silver or bronze “X” rising above an abstraction of the Maroon Bells, she said. The Knuckle Huck Ring also incorporates the same materials and a design, inspired by Aspen’s iconic mountain range.
She said the front of the medal showcases a a clean, polished, riveted, and painted piece of art, and, on the backside, recipients get a “window into what the material was.”
“I’m happy to have this as the thing that is now given to these athletes who have worked hard all their lives,” said Issenberg. “I don’t know, if when they hold it, they know what goes into it — but maybe in a small way they do.”
To reach Kristen Mohammadi, call 304-650-2404 or email email@example.com.