The best way to experience any major event is to go VIP, which I have been fortunate enough to do at the Winter X Games for the past decade. I’ve also had the privilege of covering the games as a journalist, so the press pass has gotten me some access as well.
But each year, I’ve also mingled with the masses, which is where the real action is. It’s a chance to taste the flavor of the event, see the athletes in rare form and take home some serious schwag.
I was entrenched in the games in the early and mid 2000s, when my nephew was a young teenager and I was a correspondent for a newspaper I own in Santa Monica, Calif. My nephew and his father have traveled from Minnesota to Aspen every year the X Games have been at Buttermilk.
I have spent more days and nights there than I can remember, except for those unforgettable freezing-your-butt-off experiences. While the weather forecast for the next several days suggests that it will be quite balmy compared to past years, I would still recommend bringing hand and feet warmers if you plan to venture to the venue at night. Long underwear also is a must, because once you are out there, you are out there, and there are not too many places to go get warm.
While the SuperPipe, Slopestyle and Big Air competitions are awesome to watch, you will be missing out if you don’t go over to the eastern side of the venue to check out the snowmobile freestyle and best trick events.
What these gearheads do will take your breath away, and the entire time you will be thinking that they are going to crash and die. But they have such amazing skill and cojones that they pull it off to the crowd’s surprise.
Last year, Texan brothers Colten and Caleb Moore shared the snowmobile freestyle podium at Winter X Games 2012, with Colten taking gold and Caleb taking bronze.
Colten had a fantastic wreck, which was fantastic primarily because he came out unscathed. He let go of a double grab in midair and came crashing into the landing away from his sled, ducking his head and flipping onto his back just in time to prevent serious injury.
That was awesome to watch.
What’s also good about taking in the snowmobile events is that there is a good viewing vantage point from just about every location around the course. It’s not crowded, you don’t have to fight for a view and the smell of gasoline fills the air.
I’ve watched the event grow over the years, which is good for ESPN and Aspen/Snowmass, but it makes getting out of there a bit more of a cluster. The only thing I can say is bring your patience and expect long lines for the bus, at least leaving the venue after the big events at night.
I don’t like lines and rarely stand in them for anything. So a few years back, I decided to walk the bike path along Highway 82 and catch the Maroon/Castle Creek bus that stops at the kiss-and-ride near the roundabout. It’s now my regular commute to Aspen from Buttermilk.
I can guarantee that the time it takes to walk there from the event — about 15 minutes — is less than waiting for the bus and standing there feeling like you’re part of the cattle herd.