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Andersen: Winter X Games hype falls flat

It was reported last week that the Winter X Games will direct the future of Aspen’s ski economy. That’s a frightening thought.

Mountains of manmade snow, arrays of high-powered lights glaring night and day, banks of speakers and amplifiers, hundreds of buses, a steeplechase for carbon-spewing snowmobiles — Is this the future of skiing in Aspen?

The X Games not only make light of Aspen Skiing Co.’s “Save Our Winters” campaign — they encourage carbon-based recreation at a critical time in climate history. But then, climate will never constrain commerce because business always comes first, even at a ski resort that depends on winter.



The only business growth from the X Games will be in dispensaries and liquor stores as young people invest their “college-level budgets” in an X Games buzz. Aspen police know all about this part of the X Games aura.

Even so, record-breaking crowds swarming Buttermilk have issued a firm mandate that Aspen had better get in step with the so-called “youth industry.” It would be wise to understand that industry first.



The X Games and youth industry are intertwined. Both represent and celebrate spectacle. Amid the lights and noise, the X Games use commercial hype to exploit athletic stunts for corporate profits earned by sales to youth. Hence, the youth industry.

The X Games’ chief sponsors — Monster Energy, Harley-Davidson, the U.S. Navy, Jeep and Polaris — promote values that hardly elevate Aspen. They degrade it.

The Navy, a prime X Games sponsor, uses militaristic images to tap a predictable nerve in our feckless youth. The Navy knows that many X Gamers have a natural disregard for self-preservation. It also knows they are addicted to high-risk thrills and adrenalin, especially when boosted by Monster. These traits make X Gamers perfect candidates for combat roles.

Recruiters are clever at tempting the young. However, the segue from Buttermilk to battlefields will be sobering for those who think it might be cool to don battle gear and carry a weapon. This gullible youth may become our future war veterans, our next PTSD generation. Only Ben Fountain could write this plot.

Commercial overload and seamless product endorsements provide effective brainwashing that makes the selling of the X Games easy to an audience that apes shamelessly before cameras (“Look at me! Look at me!”) while fawning over celebrity icons.

Ruled by corporate interests and spun from vacuous popular culture, the X Games set off sensory explosions, to which its audience cavorts like marionettes in the hands of Parkinson’s patients.

One pushback to any criticism of X Games rituals is athleticism; the notion that X Gamers need a place to prove themselves. How else can these aspiring athletes earn enough money to cover future medical bills resulting from fearless exploits and lifelong crippling?

The beauty of athletic achievement is tainted by “games” that push the limits of physical liability just to get a roar from the crowd and sell product lines. The only benefit of this kind of ego gratification and Roman gladiatorial punishment goes to orthopedic surgeons.

These body mechanics have job security knowing that the many youthful fans who gaze adoringly at X Gamers will one day want to sacrifice their own bones and sinews on the altar of heroic masochism and peer adoration.

And if they’re too timid to do it themselves, then video games (another X Games sponsor) provide a virtual world with enough mayhem to keep our youth titillated with violent aggression.

But if the X Games truly forecast Aspen’s future brand, why stop there? The market is hardly tapped with just one event, and we needn’t deprive visitors their entertainments or sponsors their cut of the till.

Wagner Park would be a terrific venue for monster truck rallies with mud bogs and car crushings. A jet-ski event at Hallam Lake could have crowds cheering as wake surfers slalom through trumpeter swans and Canada geese.

A dirt bike enduro in Hunter Creek would be a nice encore, followed by a decibel-drowning, techno-thumping rock fest at Maroon Lake that could be heard in Crested Butte.

The X Games should not be a model for Aspen to follow but rather the antipathy of where Aspen has the responsibility to lead. The Games are a passing fad — or at least, I hope so.

Paul Andersen’s column appears on Monday. He can be reached by email at andersen@rof.net.


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