X Games is Buttermilk’s time to shine

by Curtis Wackerle, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer

For all the hype about Winter X Games taking over Buttermilk to stage the nation’s signature annual winter sports competition, the ski area located at the entrance to Aspen remains 89 percent open during the set-up process for the games, and during the event itself.

“We try to minimize our impact as much as we can,” said Anthony Dittmann, director of venue operations for ESPN, who oversees the X Games venue build.

Sure, the lift cable for the Panda Peak lift, serving a beginner area at the bottom, is removed to make room for the snowmobile events. But the staff at Buttermilk is resourceful, and can move the first-timer-friendly terrain to the top of the Summit Express chair, which can be used for downloading.

Forgive us for spilling the beans on this local’s secret, but even during the X Games, people can still drive up and park in the West Buttermilk and Tiehack lots, jump on the lifts, and get a unique perspective on the games. Parking at main Buttermilk is closed to the public after Jan. 20.

Uphilling at Buttermilk is still allowed on the Tiehack and West Buttermilk sides leading up to and during the X Games, but is closed on the Main Buttermilk route for safety reasons.

In one logistical change this year, the public can ski up to the side of the slopestyle course and get a close-up view of the action. Previously, this wasn’t allowed because of complications getting people around the skier/boarder cross course.

“It’s like a backstage pass,” said Buttermilk Mountain Ski School director Georgie Bremner, who added that the views of the superpipe and snowmobile course are great from the Summit Express chair.

 Chris Council/Aspen Daily News
A skier at Buttermilk glides past a closed area that is currently under construction for the upcoming X Games. Mountain personnel emphasize that the majority of the mountain will remain open to the public during the event, with the ski school offering special pricing on lesson packages. With the elimination of skiercross at this year’s games, a new layout will give skiers the option to get close to the action for the slopestyle events and view them from a different perspective than spectators at the base.

When the X Games are in town, those who choose to ski Buttermilk basically get the mountain all to themselves, although mountain manager Susan Cross is hoping more people realize the potential of skiing there during the X Games. It’s really only two runs at the bottom of the mountain that are used for the X Games courses, and those runs, with their massive airborne-inducing features, are not appropriate for a vast majority of the guests at Buttermilk, Cross noted. Beginner and intermediate terrain parks are still available to the public during the X Games as well.

Employees at Buttermilk — which has the second biggest ski school among the four Aspen Skiing Co. mountains with about 250 instructors — still have jobs to do, but tend to revel in the surreal X Games atmosphere, Cross said.

“There are 1,500 ants running around,” Cross said, referring to the amount of people who work in conjunction with X Games. “The rest of us are kinda in the mix, doing our jobs.”

Foreign seasonal workers at Buttermilk, in particular, are drawn to the mountain because of the X Games, Cross said.

Bremner, a former ski racer from New Zealand, said X Games is the only winter sports event in the states that compares to what one would experience at signature World Cup races in Europe.

“It’s such a cool thing for America,” she said. “It puts us on the map.”

To keep Buttermilk instructors busy while the mountain hosts the X Games, the ski school has cut its rates on all-day private lesson from $680 to $349. Up to five people can be a part of the lesson, which includes a lift ticket, rentals, and 50 percent off lunch for one person. The deal, known as “Buttermilk Deluxe,” is only available at the Buttermilk ski school through Feb. 2.

With five children in a six-hour lesson, Bremner noted that there isn’t a better babysitting deal in town.