Column: The learning experience of the Aspen Winter X Games

Dale Strode
The Aspen Times
Aspen Times Sports Editor Dale Strode
Nick Massaro Jr. / Special to The Aspen Times |

Now that the dust has settled from the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, what did we learn this year?

Youth is served

When Aspen (and ESPN) wanted to skew younger with a creative marketing adventure called the Winter X Games, little did anyone imagine that the X Games would be curving to quite this age.

This year, the Winter X Games crowned the youngest gold medalist in history — 13-year-old Kelly Sildaru of Estonia. She won the “women’s” ski slopestyle, defeating one woman who was more than 20 years her elder.

Another youthful phenom, 15-year-old Chloe Kim of Torrance, California, won her second gold medal in women’s snowboard superpipe this year. She’s the first X Gamer to win two golds before age 16.

Yes, two Winter X gold medals in Aspen.

But no driver’s license.

The youth-star phenomenon started back with teenager Shaun White and continued with the launch of fellow snowboarder Jamie Anderson, who won her first gold medal in Aspen at age 16.

Sildaru is the latest international sensation; she made bulletin-type headline news back home in Estonia when she won gold in Aspen last week.

Writers and photographers from Estonia covered Sildaru’s every move in Aspen.

Her gold medal pushed the digital news limits in a country that is the most “connected” country in the Baltic region.

Sildaru, according to the Estonian media, is trained and coached by her father. Mom works. And younger brother Henry, 8, might be the best skier in the family (see for yourself on YouTube). He could be the first preteen ever invited to compete in the ESPN Winter X Games in Aspen.

Injuries: More than talk

“Injuries are really hard,” said superpipe skier extraordinaire Maddie Bowman of South Lake Tahoe, California, who won her third consecutive Winter X gold medal after recovering from knee surgery.

“It’s so amazing to be back in Aspen … after missing two years with injury,” said ski slopestyle silver medalist Tiril Sjastad Christiansen of Norway. “This is one of the best days I’ve had skiing so far. Taking silver was like a gold medal for me.”

“This was amazing. It’s been a really long year for me,” adaptive superstar Mike Schultz said. “My ankle injury (from the last Winter X Games) put me out for about six or seven months. I’m not quite 100 percent but plenty good to get on the snow machine and win gold here.” Schultz is one of the foremost prosthetic designers in the world. He designed his own competition prosthetics.

“Ooooooh. Ouch,” said the Winter X Games crowd in Aspen when David Wise of Reno, Nevada, fell in the superpipe — on an already painfully separated left shoulder. No medals this year for Wise.

“Owww,” said two-time reigning men’s snowboard superpipe ace Danny Davis of Michigan. A sprained ankle suffered in practice prevented Davis from challenging for a third consecutive gold medal.

“Unfortunately, I won’t be able to complete,” said snowmobile veteran Levi LaVallee, who suffered an injury in snowmobile snocross and watched the snowmobile freestyle from the broadcast booth.