Organizers of the X Games need to learn from the death of Caleb Moore and try to put on an event that doesn’t risk the lives of competitors, Pitkin County Commissioner Michael Owsley said Thursday.
He said he “always had concerns about ESPN and X Games using youthful exuberance and energies to promote” the event. Moore’s death Thursday from injuries sustained in his Jan. 24 accident at Buttermilk was the first in the X Games’ 18-year history.
Other officials, though, said they don’t expect the tragedy to impact their decision to push for the X Games to return to the upper valley after 2014, when the current contract expires. The Aspen Skiing Co. is expected to lobby ESPN to again keep the event here — its location for the past 12 years — amid mounting competition from other communities trying to woo the event.
Mike Kaplan, SkiCo CEO, said in a prepared statement that the company was deeply saddened by Moore’s death, and called him an inspirational athlete and “a shining light in the community of action sports.”
Katie Moses-Swope, a spokeswoman for ESPN, which produces the annual event, said in an email that officials will “conduct a thorough review of this discipline and adopt any appropriate changes to future X Games.
“For 18 years we have worked closely on safety issues with athletes, course designers and other experts,” Moses-Swope said. “Still, when the world’s best compete at the highest level in any sport, risks remain. Caleb was a four-time X Games medalist attempting a move he has landed several times previously.”
Kaplan said that while the event has an excellent long-term track record of safety, the sports involved have inherent risks.
“The X Games participants are elite athletes who are aware of the risks and undergo rigorous training and preparation to mitigate those risks, but they cannot be totally eliminated,” he said.
ESPN employs the top course designers in their field and works closely with the athletes and other experts, Kaplan said.
Chris Council/Aspen Daily News
Caleb Moore passed away on Thursday morning after suffering complications from injuries following a crash last week at the X Games snowmobile freestyle final competition, becoming the first competitor to die in the X Games’ 18-year history. In this photo Moore does a flip just prior to the accident.
“We always look to enhance safety, and will certainly be working with ESPN to learn what we can from this accident and continue to make adjustments for future events,” he said.
But Owsley said X Games and ESPN officials should “seriously examine whether or not they can have an X Games without putting people at risk.”
Asked if that is possible given the “extreme” aspect inherent in the event’s title, he said there are plenty of extreme activities that are not accompanied by lifelong injuries.
“They’re going to have to think about that,” Owsley said. “It’s just overwhelming to have something like this occur.”
The Elected Officials Transportation Committee (EOTC), which includes the county, contributed to a financial subsidy, as did the city of Aspen, town of Snowmass Village and the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, that exceeded $500,000 for this year’s event.
Commissioner George Newman called Moore’s death a “really unfortunate accident” and gave his condolences to his family. But he said that the county’s funding of the event was done through the EOTC and went toward the massive transportation effort involved in the X Games.
He said the tragedy wouldn’t make him question whether to fund that aspect of the event in the future, though he allowed that organizers may have to rethink whether to put on certain sports.
Adam Frisch, an Aspen city councilman, also said the X Games athletes are competing in sports with inherent risks.
“I don’t think there was any malice or incompetency,” he said. “Everybody was doing what they should have been doing.”
Frisch said he would leave it up to organizers to decide what is best for athletes and that there is something to be said for the variety of events in the X Games.
“It seems what they do is crazy, but I’m unsure, statistically, if it’s worse than anything else that goes on in” other sports, he said. “This is just a sad day for the sport of snowmobiling, the community and the X Games.”