Charismatic Jack Mitrani back for fourth round as X Games Aspen host
Entering his fourth season as the host of X Games Aspen, former pro snowboarder Jack Mitrani promises he is just as nervous as he was when he took over as the face of ESPN’s iconic winter sports competition.
“Nothing has changed. I still come in here the same way I did four years ago. I research as much as I can and then just fly on the seat of my pants,” Mitrani said. “I just prepare as much as I can and when I get here it’s just one thing at a time. I’m definitely not more comfortable or less nervous or anything — maybe more grateful every year. I’m still pinching myself that I get to call this my job.”
Mitrani sat down with The Aspen Times on Tuesday at Buttermilk Ski Area to discuss this year’s event, which officially kicks off Thursday. X Games Aspen 2020 will be notable for who is not here as much as anything, as well as the changes in competition format — and new competitions as a whole — that will be apparent across the board.
Here’s some of what Mitrani had to say:
NEW WAYS TO SHRED
There are three new events at X Games this winter: a snowboard superpipe session, a rail jam and ski knuckle huck, which follows on the footsteps of snowboard knuckle huck, which made its debut in 2019. Not only that, some of the main competitions, notably those in the superpipe, will move toward a continuous jam session format this week.
“What it comes down to is people just want action. They don’t want to wait for scores and wait around; they want to turn on the TV and see run after run after run,” Mitrani said. “We will also see a lot more diversity within the runs. It’s not going to be the same run every time. Every time they are going to try and mix it up, because it’s overall impression. So it’s going to be more entertaining to watch.”
Mitrani said both snowboarding and freeskiing are shifting in some ways, where bigger, scarier tricks are no longer preferred. Instead, it’s about events like knuckle huck where style and creativity is awarded over simply getting massive hang time.
“The superpipe session is like a tribute to where superpipe came from, more about style and creativity and just innovating in a different way. You might see a triple cork, you may see a hand plant to a double cork, a slash — it’s just going to be fun,” Mitrani said. “It’s an expression session. I think that’s where the new direction of all action sports is going, which we learned last year with knuckle huck. It was one of the most popular events, and the least gnarly, should you say? It was just fun and I think people are gravitating more toward fun.”
The men’s snowboard superpipe contest will be 8 p.m. Thursday, the first night of competition. The new snowboard superpipe session will be 9:30 p.m. Friday, with both contests featuring some of the best athletes in the world, such as Scotty James, Yuto Totsuka and the ever-popular Danny Davis, one of Mitrani’s close friends.
The rail jam is 1:30 p.m. Sunday. Athletes will take to the rails on the slopestyle course without having to deal with the jumps in a throwback to some of snowboarding’s roots.
“With only having attention on the rails, the level is just going to sky rocket,” Mitrani said. “I’m so excited. It’s just been way too long for a rail jam. It’ll be nice because during slopestyle, when all these guys hit the rail, they have to focus on the jumps. They don’t want to fall on the rails. Now they just solely focus on the rails.”
Mitrani came to Aspen earlier in the season to film a small segment with Alex Ferreira, the Aspen native who won his first X Games gold medal last winter in halfpipe skiing.
“It’s just cool to see him in his element. He’s such a good kid and deserves all the success that he’s built,” Mitrani said. “There is nothing better than to come to Aspen and have pretty much the mayor, Alex Ferreira, take you around Ajax, show you all the secret spots, have his mom cook you a delicious breakfast. We were pretty spoiled that day. It was fun. Felt like royalty.”
What are Ferreira’s chances of repeating as champion Sunday night when the men’s ski superpipe contest goes down? Pretty good, Mitrani says.
“I got my money on Alex,” he said. “I’ve heard he’s working on some new tricks, too. I think he’s going to rise to the occasion.”
There have been some significant names to retire in recent years, notably halfpipe legends Kelly Clark and Maddie Bowman, the latter of whom only announced her retirement Monday. No worries, says Mitrani, as the young talent coming up is truly special, with Estonian teen Kelly Sildaru, a seven-time X Games medalist, being the first on Mitrani’s tongue.
“Athletes with such strong legacies finally get to that point where they pass on the torch to the youth. It’s a beautiful thing to witness. I had to do it myself at one point,” Mitrani said.
FEELING THE PRESSURE
Mitrani isn’t just here to talk shop. As he’s done in the past, Mitrani will be one of the professionals to take part in Thursday morning’s Special Olympics Unified snowboard and ski races. He said he’s been partnered with athlete Henry Meece, himself a legend in the event with multiple wins.
Aspen’s Chris Klug, who won Olympic bronze as an alpine snowboarder, has often been paired with Meece in the past.
“The pressure is really on,” Mitrani said. “I actually hit up Chris on Instagram and I was like, ‘Hey, do you know any places in town to get my board tuned up?’ No response. True competitor.”
Mitrani, who lives in Vermont with his fiancée, recently became a father. His daughter, Willa Rose Mitrani, was born in November and will make her X Games debut this week.
“It was definitely a life changer,” Mitrani said. “About two and a half months in. Probably one of the most rewarding things that’s ever happened to me.”
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Those opting for the spring, like Aspen and Basalt, will begin football practice Feb. 25 and start playing games March 11.