X Games returns to Aspen this week with new medals, new snowboarding event

The 2019 X Games Aspen medals, designed by Portland-based artist Spencer Keeton Cunningham.
Courtesy/ESPN X Games

In the past, X Games medals have been created in house. The group from ESPN would get together to “throw up some ideas on the white board and see what shakes out,” according to Brian Kerr, the associate director of competition for X Games.

This winter, beginning with X Games Aspen 2019, they opted to see what others in the neighborhood could do instead.

“For the first time, we decided to collaborate with this amazing Portland-based artist. His name is Spencer Keeton Cunningham,” Kerr told The Aspen Times on Monday. “X Games being the convergence of action sports, art and music, we chose one of his pieces and incorporated it into our medal design.”

Each X Games event has its own medals. In Aspen, which is set to host X Games this week for the 18th consecutive year, the medals have been inspired by the Maroon Bells, the Silver Queen Gondola and Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo’s badge, among other things.

This year, Cunningham’s medals have gone back to Colorado’s mountainous roots. With an eagle spreading its wings at the top, the medals depict Colorado’s natural beauty and wildlife, with some subtle questions hidden within.

“It’s like a puzzle piece,” Cunningham said in a video piece released by X Games earlier this winter. “The full answer isn’t there, but I’m kind of asking you to look at, why is that tree cut in half? There is some type of meaning in there.”

There are 20 disciplines at X Games Aspen this winter, with most receiving the traditional gold, silver and bronze awards. And like each of the previous competitions, the podium finishers will receive a one-of-a-kind medal to take home.

“With any art piece, it makes you think,” Kerr said. “These are the best action-sports athletes in the world. They get these medals put over their heads. They take their pictures and they put them up on the mantlepiece, essentially forever. They are not going anywhere.”

However, there is one competition this week that won’t receive one of Cunningham’s nature-inspired medals, and that is snowboard knuckle huck. New to X Games, athletes will go off the “knuckle” of the big air jump, looking to impress the judges. The winner — and only the winner — will receive a special “knuckle ring” and chain, exclusive to the event.

Knuckle huck, which is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Saturday, just before the men’s ski big air final and the women’s snowboard superpipe final, will feature an all-star field. Athletes include reigning Olympic slopestyle gold medalist Red Gerard, seven-time X Games gold medalist Mark McMorris and the return of 2014 Olympic slopestyle gold medalist Sage Kotsenburg, among others.

“It’s going to be cool. It’s going to be fun. It’s something different,” Kerr said. “They drop in off that big air start and they come cruising down. They can either go left or right around our big air takeoff and just do a little trick over the knuckle.”

As is usual, X Games Aspen will get underway Thursday with the Special Olympics unified snowboarding competition at 11 a.m. Spectating for the general public is free at the base of Buttermilk throughout the four-day event.