The annual winter sports extravaganza known as X Games Aspen kicked off once again at the base of Buttermilk yesterday, one day after ESPN and the Aspen Skiing Company announced a five-year extension that will keep the games in town through 2024. Buttermilk is already the longest-tenured X Games venue, at 18 years, and, as Wednesday’s announcement proves, X Games Aspen shows no signs of slowing down. It also shows no signs of becoming less polarizing to the citizens of the Roaring Fork Valley as it ages.
This year, as always, detractors will bemoan the increased traffic and overcrowded buses, and they’ll claim that the young people who make up the X Games’ audience are disrespectful, don’t spend much money in town and are only concerned with image and social media. Those who love the X Games and the incredible feats of athleticism showcased therein will counter by saying that they don’t care, and they shouldn’t. The valley can deal with the hassles for four days each year in exchange for the games’ upsides.
For those who get it, the ultra-positive X Games vibe is what it’s all about. They love the way the games encourage bigger, higher and faster in a way that stadium sports never can. Football and baseball games and the like pit one city’s heroes against another’s, encouraging whole populations to project negative energy rooting against an opponent – and in many ways an entire urban area – that their team can defeat.
Competitions like the X Games are different. Nobody’s rooting against anybody the way most of the country is against the New England Patriots right now. There’s nothing territorial involved either, like there is with the Olympics. The competitors, the best in the world, may come from all over the world, but they have in common that they’re all mountain folk, and as such they’re all part of the same tribe. They’ve also come up in a culture where no one loses, making the X Games a perfect fit for the millennial mindset.
With no one to root against, the aura is notably positive, and for a competitor the point of the competitions becomes less about defeating other athletes than it does being a part of pushing the evolution of your sport. Over the years, courtesy of the X Games, Aspen has witnessed about as much of that evolution and as many seminal moments as any town anywhere. For that privilege alone we should all be thankful that the games continue to call Buttermilk home.
This year will be no different. Previously unthought of tricks will be unveiled, new heights will be reached and winners will be crowned for being the best of the best rather than just beating the rest. And stoke will be stoked – in the halfpipe, on the slopestyle course, on the snowmobile jumps, in the concert venues – for the young people who are the future of snow sports and, thus, the future of Aspen.
So this weekend – and for at least the next five years – whether you spend all of your time at Buttermilk or couldn’t be paid to go there, give the X Games their due. Beneath the image and the hype, there are world-class athletes doing ridiculous stuff and young people stoked about it. That should always be welcome around here.