X Games postmortem: Aspen pressing its luck
ESPN’s Winter X Games Nine, roundly praised as a success, was not without its problems, especially when the crowds moved from Buttermilk to town for two nights of concerts in Wagner Park.The event’s producers, including ESPN and the Aspen Skiing Co., along with local agencies, need to do a better job next year, police, parking, parks and transportation officials all agree. Officials from the various agencies conducted a postmortem on the games for the City Council’s benefit on Tuesday.”The X Games were great, but …” might sum up the discussion.Safety issues associated with the crowds need to be addressed in advance of next year’s return of the games, several officials urged.For example: Parked cars on Aspen and Juan streets could have made fire truck access to the neighborhood impossible. Three vehicles were towed, but 20 others probably should have been, said Lee Gettman, field supervisor for the city Parking Department. Crowds departing the X Games on Saturday night faced a lengthy wait for a bus ride into town for the concert, so they hit the road, literally, in the dark. “A lot of them walked. Unfortunately, they walked on Highway 82,” said John Hocker, director of operations for the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority. Without any way to check the concert crowd in the park, there was no way to keep revelers from carrying in open containers of alcohol – including glass bottles that wound up in broken shards on the ground.”We’re not really satisfied with how the arrangements worked out with the crowds,” said Police Chief Loren Ryerson. “There was really no way to control open containers or glass being taken into the park.”The Buttermilk venue is fenced, and bags are checked at the gate, Ryerson noted. He recommended the same approach at the concert site for next year’s games.Broken glass in the park was a serious problem from a safety standpoint, said Jeff Woods, head of the city’s Parks Department.”You could have had very serious injuries,” he said. “I don’t think that was something any of us foresaw, but it was a serious consequence with that crowd.”Police estimates put the crowd at the park at anywhere from around 8,000 people to close to 12,000 on Saturday night (Jan. 29), Ryerson said.RFTA has recommended the concerts next year take place while events at Buttermilk are in progress, forcing fans to choose one or the other and hopefully preventing the crush of people all wanting a ride to Aspen at once, Hocker said.”That was an issue and we brought that up to the X Games people,” he said. “They seemed to be pretty receptive to that.”RFTA carried an average of 37,800 people on its system per day during the five-day X Games, as opposed to 14,500 to 16,000 passengers on a typical January day. For the busy weekend, buses from Vail, Snowmass and Rocky Mountain National Park were pressed into service rather late in the game, according to John Krueger, of the city’s Transportation Department.”This is kind of the third year in a row it’s been last-minute,” he said.”It’s a great event, it’s extreme, but we don’t need extreme transit problems to go along with it,” he said. “We’ve been lucky – I don’t think we can count on continuing to be lucky.”Saturday night after the games concluded, there was a line out of virtually every bar in Aspen, Ryerson noted.”As a town, I don’t think we were prepared for the eight- to twelve-thousand people who showed up Saturday night,” he said. “We want to do the planning for next year right now.”He got no argument from council members.”Obviously, this needs to be planned better and further in advance,” said Mayor Helen Klanderud. “I agree with you – some of these things can’t wait. It’s like an accident waiting to happen.”Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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