ESPN might pull Winter X Games out of Aspen

BRIAN GOMEZ Updated: January 29, 2012 at 12:00 am • Published: January 29, 2012

ASPEN – So long, Shaun White. Happy trails, Kelly Clark. Goodbye, Lindsey Jacobellis. Shut off the halfpipe lights. Pack up the slopestyle course. Tear down the big air ramp.

The Winter X Games are over. And they might not come back to Buttermilk Mountain.

A contract to hold Winter X in Aspen has expired, and as ESPN, the event’s owner, and the Aspen Skiing Co. continue negotiations for a renewal, talk mounts that Winter X will return to its roots, possibly going to California, Vermont or somewhere else in Colorado.

With 200-plus athletes in skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling, Winter X has been in Aspen for the past 11 years, growing into one of the marquee competitions on the action-sports calendar. The rate of progression has improved so rapidly, tricks are on the edge of becoming unsafe, and the level of exposure – across 16 hours on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC – has made Winter X a hit for the profitable demographic of teenagers and young adults.

“Aspen and the X Games belong together,” said Aspen snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler, a 2006 Olympic silver medalist. She added, “Aspen needs the X Games, and the X Games need Aspen. It would be so awkward anywhere else. There have been so many memories, and there’s this crazy hype. … Any other place just wouldn’t do this event justice.”

Only 35 percent of respondents in a 2010 Turnkey Sports & Entertainment poll wanted Winter X to stay on Buttermilk, where a record 114,200 fans came through the gates last year – a 30,100-person jump from 2010. Plus, ESPN has an undeniable desire to expand the X Games, with nine finalists named Thursday for three global stops to debut in 2013, joining Winter X, Summer X in Los Angeles and the European edition in Tignes, France.

Some have speculated that ESPN, which spends a bundle on lodging in Aspen and nearby Snowmass, likes the idea of relocating Winter X to an urban destination. Winter X started in Big Bear Lake, Calif., in 1997, and it was held in Crested Butte in 1998 and 1999 and in Somerset, Vt., in 2000 and 2001 – long before ESPN began generating a reported $120 million in annual gains off the X Games brand; accumulated a load of corporate sponsors, including Jeep and Red Bull; and sold out of its halfpipe suites and filled its VIP room.

But why change what’s working? ESPN had 39.7 million Americans watch its 15 Winter X broadcasts last year, and this year, Winter X reached 232 million homes in 192 nations. It’s far more followed – and attractive from an advertising standpoint – than the suddenly popular Winter Dew Tour, and the Aspen Skiing Co. always breaks out the red carpet for ESPN, allowing the network to take over compact Buttermilk for a made-for-TV affair.

Of course, Aspen also has benefited from hosting Winter X, which pumps an estimated $3.37 million into the economy each year, largely as a result of visitors who inhabit fancy shops, pay for high-priced lodges and condominiums and flood bars and restaurants. For Aspen, the weekend of Winter X is usually busier than even Christmas, and on Saturday, Aspen hotels were a record 97 percent occupied, according to Stay Aspen Snowmass.

A two-time Olympic gold medalist in snowboarding, White called Aspen “definitely one of the more exciting ski towns. You have the fun nightlife, and there’s so much going on. … I like that old feeling of coming back somewhere, that similar vibe and welcoming.” If Winter X leaves Aspen, White has told ESPN, “Wherever you guys are going, I’m there.”

ESPN has “had interest, as we do, from time to time” from other U.S. cities about Winter X but hasn’t requested proposals, said Scott Guglielmino, an ESPN senior vice president in charge of programming and the X Games. The goal is to keep discussing with Aspen Skiing Co. in hopes of getting “something buttoned up sooner rather than later,” he said. “And we’re working hard on it. … Every year, we’re looking for the bar to go higher.”

Contact Brian Gomez: 719-636-0256 or brian.gomez@gazette.com. Facebook: Brian Gomez. Twitter: @gazettehockey. Google+: Brian Gomez.

Comment Policy
Colorado Springs Gazette has disabled the comments for this article.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
APR
15
APR
16
APR
17
APR
18
APR
19
APR
20
APR
21
APR
22
APR
23
APR
24
APR
25
APR
26
APR
27
APR
28
Advertisement

Latest Obits view all

Powered by Legacy.com ©