X Games offer more than just competition

Michael McLaughlin
The Aspen Times
The crowd is reflected in a spectator's goggles Friday during the Winter X Games at Buttermilk.
Jim Ryan/Special to The Aspen Times |

You have to hand it to the Winter X Games organizers — they really know how to put on a sporting event that feels like a party.

Crystal-clear skies and balmy daytime temperatures, at least for the Aspen area, seem to make a perfect combination for the people coming out to enjoy the show.

“This is sick,” said Sergio Garcia, a 14-year-old from Denver attending his first X Games. “You can hang out with people while you watch all the big air. It’s awesome.”

In 2013, the X Games in Aspen set a new attendance record with 114,500, according to the official four-day count. After two days this year, the attendance totals are nearly identical to 2013, but signs point to a new record perhaps on its way.

The Intercept Lot at the base of Brush Creek Road, used as the main base to shuttle fans to and from the event, filled up by 1 p.m. on Saturday, and lines for the restrooms at the venue were long — very long.

But those inconveniences didn’t dissuade the thousands of smiling faces walking around the X Games grounds.

A group of high school foreign-exchange students representing Germany, Poland, Brazil, Italy and Spain hung out next to the jumping platforms and absorbed the scene together.

“This is pretty cool,” said Gui Fernandes, a high school student from Brazil temporarily living in Vail. “It’s such a big event, but it still feels intimate with how close you get to the athletes. My friends back in Brazil are very jealous.”

Alessandra Bartocceui is from Italy and is attending Glenwood Springs High School this year. “Overwhelming” was a word she used more than once to describe the X Games.

“It’s amazing,” she said. “I love to people watch, and it doesn’t get much better than this. The athletes here are crazy. It’s fun to watch sports in such a party atmosphere.”

Luise Wollesen is an exchange student from Germany who also attends Glenwood Springs High School.

“I can’t believe how many people are here,” she said. “I love how interactive the events are for the crowds.”

X Games organizers make sure there are many events for fans to participate in at Buttermilk, from contests to sponsor tents with giveaways. There’s also plenty of room for local and national foundations to share their messages.

Beth Slater is the executive director for the Chris Klug Foundation and was the representative at the Klug Foundation booth inside the Team ESPN tent. The Klug Foundation is dedicated to improving the quality of life for donors, donor families and organ-transplant candidates and recipients.

“This is ESPN’s philanthropic arm at the X Games,” Slater said. “This tent is another way ESPN gives back to the local community.”

As part of its participation, the Klug Foundation also was running a contest to give away a custom Weston Snowboard, but entrants must be organ donors to qualify.

The V Foundation, named in memory of former North Carolina State basketball coach Jimmy Valvano, was also in the Team ESPN tent, promoting skin cancer awareness and research. The V folks were giving away sunscreen and Chapstick as well as blue awareness wristbands.

There was also the Boarding for Breast Cancer booth, offering educational outreach while giving people a chance to talk about breast cancer concerns. The organization also set up three breast molds that simulated different kinds of breast tissue and allowed people to learn what a cancerous lump feels like.

There were also larger tents and structures for the major sponsors, like GoPro cameras, Jeep, Monster Energy drink and the Navy. All had events for the public to participate in, from simulations to giveaways, as well as a chance to take a photo with a Monster Energy model.

For the wee ones, there was an interactive snow park to get a taste of the action and ride sleds over small hills.

“Obviously the competition is what brings people to the X Games,” said Ryan McGuinness, the director of event development and marketing for Global X Games. “We also like to offer as much interactive action for all our guests to enjoy.”

Giovanni DiVenzio came to see the X Games for the first time in person from Palm Springs, Calif., after watching the games for years on television.

“What an amazing atmosphere,” he said as he took in the crowd and the competition. “This is the ultimate blend of sports and a party. To me, this also represents the mountain lifestyle these lucky people who live locally get to enjoy.”

Tyler Woolsey, 20, is a Colorado native currently attending the University of Colorado at Boulder. He made the trip to the X Games with a group of 10 friends from Boulder, a trip well worth the time, in his opinion.

“The X Games are totally dope,” Woolsey said. “We’re all stoked to be here. There are so many events, but they really feel intimate the way the athletes connect with the crowd. It’s the best of both worlds when you combine such high-level athletes with a real party atmosphere.”