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X Games Aspen 2023 medal designer went to extreme lengths for awards

Year after year, X Games athletes push beyond their limits, progressing the sport beyond the bounds of what athletes and spectators previously thought was possible.

This year, many left Buttermilk Ski Area having made historic breakthroughs — from 14-year-old Gaon Choi becoming the youngest person to win an X Games gold medal to Megan Oldham being the first woman to land a triple cork.

Pushing boundaries and extreme sports simply go hand in hand. This sentiment ruminated through the artistry seen in this year’s glossy, translucent X Games Aspen medals designed and fabricated by Colorado artist Lisa Issenberg.

She has been creating the X Games medals for the past four years. She is the owner and founder of a Ridgway studio, Kiitella, named after a Finnish word that translates to “thank, applaud, or praise.”

Anonymously creating awards for people who have just achieved a milestone in their life is something that Issenberg is passionate about, she said.

She has a seasoned track record of creating awards for major events, from making the American Alpine Award granted to Sally Jewell, secretary of state during the Obama administration, to creating the awards for the Birds of Prey World Cup ski races in Beaver Creek.

“The awards are so satisfying,” she said. “There’s a unique connection between you and these people doing amazing work. That feels good.”

This year, Brian Kerr — ESPN’s associate director of competitions who is in charge of the X Games medal design — challenged Issenberg, who specializes in metal materials, to create awards with a “cold and snowy” theme.

With this, X Games medals looked a little different this year, embodying cool-toned winter elements.

To achieve this aesthetic, she pushed the boundaries of her work by incorporating locally-sourced, upcycled glass, aluminum, and metal materials.

Digging for Gold

Issenberg knew she wanted to use either upcycled or recycled materials to create this year’s medals, as she’s done in the past. Last year, the X Games medals were created with sustainably harvested aspen trees.

She could have taken an easier route by sourcing recycled glass from a manufacturer. However, she wanted the materials she used this year to be even more environmentally-friendly than recycled materials.

With this, she decided on upcycling materials — or taking something that hasn’t been recycled yet and giving it a new life. To accomplish this, Issenberg took to dumpster-diving to find glass bottles and aluminum signage.

Lisa Issenberg dumpster dives for materials to upcycle to create X Games Aspen 2023 medals.
Courtesy photo

“I’ve always been concerned with where my materials come from,” she said. “The steel that I use, the sources have told me it’s 90% to 100% recycled, so I felt good about that. But I wanted to take this further.”

After sourcing used bottles from a dumpster, she went to Cimarron Art Glass in Ridgway, where glass artist Munro Deforeest helped her with testing the fusing of the glass. After several tests with unsatisfactory results, Issenberg was back to square one with sourcing her materials.

Upcycling still lingered in her mind, though. So she began to hunt for discarded window panes.

In a dumpster of a window-installation company in Ouray, she struck gold.

“I drove around to different glass installers,” she said. “The third one, one guy said, ‘Oh, I’m about to take out these giant old windows up in Cedaredge.’ And the next one said, ‘Hey, I’ve got some glass, I’m just about to throw them in the dumpster.'”

“I go out back,” Issenberg said, “and there’s a giant, thick, three-sixteenths-inch pane of glass. And I’m like ‘That’s perfect. I’ll take it.'”

From here, the glass was then cut, drilled, notched, kiln fired, sandblasted, and hand painted, she said.

“It’s something you can’t even put words to,” she said, when describing how it felt when it all came together.

The Final Design

Issenberg used various handcraft and industrial processes to create the final X Games Aspen awards. With her work, she tries to embody wabi sabi, a Japanese sentiment of finding beauty in imperfection.

While she could have just used industrial processes, for her, leaving a human touch on her art is what makes her work special.

“You can see the human touch in each one,” she said. “I feel like that’s what people deserve to know: That the piece they are receiving was made with love, sweat, blood, tears.”

The medals became streamlined with a bold gold, silver or bronze “X” rising above an abstraction of the Maroon Bells, she said. The Knuckle Huck Ring also incorporates the same materials and a design, inspired by Aspen’s iconic mountain range.

She said the front of the medal showcases a a clean, polished, riveted, and painted piece of art, and, on the backside, recipients get a “window into what the material was.”

“I’m happy to have this as the thing that is now given to these athletes who have worked hard all their lives,” said Issenberg. “I don’t know, if when they hold it, they know what goes into it — but maybe in a small way they do.”

X Games Aspen 2023: Day 3 Results

X Games is officially on. We’ll be updating as soon as the final results are in.

 Women’s Ski Slopestyle

Megan Oldham: Gold

Mathilde Gremaud: Silver

Kirsty Muir: Bronze

Men’s Snowboard Slopestyle

Mark McMorris: Gold

Marcus Kleveland: Silver

Mons Røisland: Bronze

Men’s Ski Big Air

Mac Forehand: Gold

Teal Harle: Silver

Birk Ruud: Bronze

Men’s Ski SuperPipe

David Wise: Gold

Birk Irving: Silver

Jon Sallinen: Bronze

Tweet All About It: X Games Aspen 2023

Each week, we pick out our favorite and not-so-favorite tweets (at least, those that are printable) about Aspen and display them (usually) on Sunday. 

The Aspen Times is available on Twitter, as well. Simply type in “TheAspenTimes on Twitter” (No spaces, please), and get daily updates on what’s happening in the Roaring Fork Valley.






Megan Oldham makes history at X Games Aspen with first triple cork for woman

Canada’s Megan Oldham earned her first X Games gold medal on Aspen turf, winning Friday’s women’s ski big air final at Buttermilk Ski Area.

The 21-year-old made history as the first woman to land a triple cork, accomplishing three off-axis flips. The trick earned her a perfect score, or a 50 out of 50. She finished the competition with a 91 — the final score a combination of each athlete’s top two tricks — for the win.

“It felt amazing to make history here in Aspen,” she said. “It’s always the best course every single year. To come here and be able to push myself to my limits and kind of scare myself — and push women’s progression — it’s just an amazing feeling.”

Oldham felt shock and relief after landing the historic triple cork, she said. But, this wasn’t her first trailblazing trick landed here in Aspen. Last year, she was the first woman to land back-to-back doubles in a slopestyle competition.

She took home a gold medal in the ski big air discipline at X Games Norway in 2020. Last year, she took home a silver medal in ski big air and bronze medal in ski slopestyle at X Games Aspen. She’s only been participating in X Games since 2020.

“I really felt like I couldn’t leave Aspen without doing that trick,” she said on landing the triple cork. “So, I just feel amazing.”

France’s Tess Ledeux won silver with a 90, and Scotland’s Kirsty Muir won bronze with an 85.

Last year, Ledeux made history as the first woman to win both big air and slopestlye gold at X Games Aspen.

“Megan skied so well tonight,” she said. “It was amazing.”

Switzerland’s Mathilde Gremaud competes in the women’s ski big air final at X Games Aspen on Friday. (Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times)
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times
France’s Tess Ledeux crashes hard during the women’s ski big air final. She was able to walk away. (Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times)
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Ski knuckle huck brings risk, rewards; Sweden’s Jesper Tjader wins X Games gold

A new X Games winner was crowned Friday night in ski knuckle huck, as 28-year-old Jesper Tjader of Sweden won the event since its debut in 2020.

Under the lights and in a snowstorm, he took gold after creating the best overall impression of the eight skiers in the 20-minute jam format. 

In doing so, he held off two former champions and an 18-year-old from Austria.

He said it was consistency that led to the gold medal.

“I landed all my tricks,” Tjader said.

But it was his maneuver in the third round when he pushed the limits of what can be performed off the “knuckle” of the big air jump. Landing a double front flip with 180 switch “was my highlight,” he said. “That was my scariest one.”

The judges’ criteria is based on originality, creativity, and style, as well as difficulty and trajectory during the session.

Austrian Matej Svancer, 18, and the youngest in the field, won silver. Colby Stevenson of Park City was the top American, finishing with the bronze medal. He won the first ski knuckle huck in 2020.

“I feel like I skied my absolute best in the knuckle huck,” he said. “I had a great time with all the homies and got to watch some insane skiing.”

His own highlight was his nose butter dub 12.

“I was scared to do it. I went absolutely to the bottom” of the slope to land it,” Stevenson said, adding, “In order to get enough air time, you had to go to the bottom. It was pretty high risk.”

Friday’s field also included 2021 winner Henrik Harlaut and last year’s gold medalist, Quinn Wolferman.

According to Aspen native Torin Yater-Wallace, the knuckle huck is all about what you throw in the moment and how unique your trick can be. He himself has eight X Games medals but was not competing in this event.

He is best known as a halfpipe athlete, having competed in knuckle huck in 2020. His entry into that competition was stunning, as he had broken both heels in a serious crash one year prior that necessitated him learning to walk again.

Yater-Wallace, who is currently in Minnesota working on a street-skiing segment for his fourth Deviate Films project, spoke Thursday about what it’s like to compete in knuckle huck.

“You’re talking about a blank canvas, and you’re kind of painting it the way you see,” he said, “which has been said a million times, but there’s no way that’s more true than knuckle huck because it’s literally just a roll of snow.

“It’s kind of subjective as to what wins. It can be a nose butter, double flip, and can be some sort of big spin. It can be some sort of unique hand drag. I think that’s why it’s a super awesome event to watch.”

X Games snowboard athletes are scheduled to get their turn at the knuckle huck on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. Snowboard knuckle huck debuted in 2019, one year before the skiing version of the event became an X Games regular.

Henrik Harlaut reacts during the X Games Aspen ski knuckle huck final on Friday at Buttermilk Ski Area in Aspen. (Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times)
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times
Jesper Tjader reacts during the X Games Aspen ski knuckle huck final on Friday. (Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times)
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times
Alex Hall watches during the X Games Aspen ski knuckle huck final. (Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times)
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times
Colby Stevenson reacts during the X Games Aspen ski knuckle huck final at Buttermilk Ski Area in Aspen. (Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times)
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Sadowski-Synnott defends X Games slopestyle gold, edges Coady on final run

Tess Coady knew the drill.

Leading the women’s snowboard slopestyle final at X Games Aspen with only one rider to go on Friday, it seemed inevitable she would finish second, considering that the final rider was Zoi Sadowski-Synnott.

“When she was dropping in for that last run — I think the last two events before this she did the same thing,” Coady said. “She is such a savage in the comp, so you can always count on her to win for sure.”

Sure enough, New Zealand’s Sadowski-Synnott owned her final run, finishing with a flourish to jump her ahead of Coady at the buzzer. It was her fourth gold medal in Aspen and third in slopestyle — a list that includes both big air and slopestyle gold in 2022.

Since winning her first X Games medal in 2019 — slopestyle gold — the now 21-year-old Kiwi has become the most dominant force in the discipline.

“I never expected to reach that at X Games again,” Sadowski-Synnott said. “To be able to push through and put down a run I’m stoked on and defend my gold medal is a dream come true.”

The last-second defeat was hardly a downer for Coady. With her silver medal, the 22-year-old Australian became the first woman from her country to earn an X Games medal in slopestyle snowboarding.

“Zoe is one of my best friends, so it’s sick to be able to shred with her,” she said. “We get so hyped for each other. There is no one else I would rather have beat me than Zoe.”

It was the first competition of this year’s X Games, back at Buttermilk Ski Area in Aspen for the 22nd consecutive winter, albeit under new ownership. Tahoe’s Jamie Anderson, the most decorated athlete in women’s snowboard slopestyle history, did not compete due to her pregnancy.

Still, Sadowski-Synnott and Coady had plenty of competition, including two-time reigning Olympic big air gold medalist Anna Gasser. The Austrian star wasn’t able to crack the podium, which was filled out by Japan’s Kokomo Murase, who won a slopestyle medal in Aspen for only the second time (bronze, 2020).

Australia’s Tess Coady enjoys the moment on the podium of the X Games women’s snowboard slopestyle final Friday at Buttermilk Ski Area in Aspen. (Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times)
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

The athletes competed with a continuous running clock and continually updated leaderboard with no actual scores awarded.

There was light snow falling for much of Friday’s midday competition, although Sadowski-Synnott said it got better as the event went on. It did, however, cause enough pause that the riders didn’t necessarily send their biggest tricks.

“It was pretty tough conditions out there,” she said. “I think a lot of us girls would have liked to see bigger runs, for sure. I would have honestly liked to do a bigger run and put down my switch back 12, but I’m so hyped to show the variety I did in my run.”

She, Coady, and Murase — along with Gasser — will be back for the women’s snowboard big air final at 6:15 p.m. on Saturday.


New Zealand’s Zoi Sadowski-Synnott, center, celebrates after winning the X Games women’s snowboard slopestyle final alongside runner-up Tess Coady, left, and bronze medalist Kokomo Murase at Buttermilk Ski Area in Aspen. (Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times)
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times
Australia’s Tess Coady finished second in the X Games women’s snowboard slopestyle final Friday. (Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times)
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times
Australia’s Tess Coady looks for her result during the X Games women’s snowboard slopestyle final. (Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times)
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times
Austria’s Anna Gasser talks to her support after the women’s snowboard slopestyle final at X Games Aspen at Buttermilk Ski Area. (Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times)
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times
New Zealand’s Zoi Sadowski-Synnott reaches the bottom of the course during the X Games women’s snowboard slopestyle final. She was victorious Friday. (Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times)
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times