X Games draw record crowd | AspenTimes.com

X Games draw record crowd

Chad Abraham
Watching the action at the superpipe, Ian, 3, mom Tara Diffendaffer, and daughter Josie, 5 months, try to keep warm after temperatures plummeted into the low teens Tuesday evening. Aspen Times photo/Paul Conrad.

The X factor multiplied again this year.ESPN’s Winter X Games drew nearly 70,000 people during its five-day run, according to figures calculated by the network and the Aspen Skiing Co.The companies, which have teamed up to produce the event at Buttermilk for four years, consult officials at the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority and other bus services serving the event to arrive at the attendance figure.Additionally, the number of people carried by taxis and shuttles is figured in, said Jeff Hanle, Skico spokesman.

“I don’t know if [calculating attendance] is an art or a science, but we check with a lot of people who have been doing it for a lot of years,” he said. He said the final attendance figure is vetted by the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office before it’s released.Last weekend’s X Games drew a total of 69,750 spectators, including 25,500 on Saturday and 17,500 on Sunday. The total is 3,250 more than last year, which is a much more modest increase than the event has seen previously.The event drew 36,000 fans in its first year here, in 2002. Some 12,000 more fans attended in 2003, followed by another huge leap last year when 66,500 attended, an increase of 18,500 fans.Nevertheless, Skico and ESPN officials are thrilled with this year’s increase, Hanle said. “We’re very happy with the attendance and with the way things turned out. It was great,” he said. “That article you guys ran [in Tuesday’s Times] about all the restaurants in town running out of food and booze shows what it does for the town.”

Saturday’s massive swell of fans caught even X Games organizers off-guard, Hanle said.”In the past, some people have trickled out before that last event is over,” he said. “[This year] it seemed as if everybody waited right until the end, which is great. But when they all descended onto the buses at the same time, boy, that’s a lot of people.”John Hocker, RFTA’s director of operations, agreed that Saturday was quite hectic.”We ran everything we own. I mean everything: We had nothing left at facilities [headquarters] and we were still packing every bus from front window to back window,” Hocker said. “That’s an indication that everything was full tilt.”Hanle said staff was added to deal with the crush, and ropes were set up to help guide people and inform them of how long the wait was.

“We had all buses moving at all times, so we just got them out of there as best we could,” he said.At any large-scale event, waits for everything from buses to portable toilets can be lengthy. It looks like the X Games are now on that scale.”If you walked outside after the Super Bowl and everybody left at once, you’re going to have a big line,” Hanle said.Chad Abraham’s e-mail address is chad@aspentimes.com

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