It’s one thing to watch the Winter X Games on TV, as the world does every year, tuning to ESPN and ABC for the ultimate action sports showcase. It’s another thing to attend in Aspen.

“It’s definitely mind-blowing on TV, but then seeing the setup in person is so much grander,” says Grace Coryell, communications manager with ESPN. “Seeing what a superpipe looks like standing next to it, being by the walls and seeing what these athletes drop into, it makes it feel that much more real.”

Maybe you’ve seen the aerial acrobatics on screen — men and women on skis, boards and snowmobiles soaring into the air, twisting and turning and flashing tricks midflight. But maybe you’ve never craned your neck to behold that, huddled with thousands of others, far more mesmerized than cold. Maybe you’ve never felt the hype, fueled by music and lights.

No, no, organizers insist to Coloradans. The couch is no place to be with the party so near.

The four-day event again will take over Aspen, drawing 125 athletes and an expected 100,000 free-of-charge spectators this weekend to the base of Buttermilk Mountain.

“A lot of the people definitely are snow sport enthusiasts, and they want to come up and see that,” says Tucker Vest Burton for the resort. “But I think even more so, it’s just a really fun thing to do, and people just want to be a part of it.”

Maybe outside viewers see the X Games as a mere competition. No doubt, it is a hot contest, the medals in slopestyle, superpipe and big air prized more than Olympic glory for some. But insiders know the weekend as much more.

“A festival more than anything,” Vest Burton says.

“A festival experience on the side of a mountain,” Coryell says.

Look no farther than X Fest, an interactive village that sprawls across Buttermilk’s base. Raise the stoke with the short films showing, or chat it up with athletes available for autographs. Get your snowskate legs under you — yes, you read that right, “snowskate” — or test your strength and agility at the Ninja Warrior-looking obstacle course making its debut. That’s all free, too.

Then there’s the music stage. Lil Wayne will take it Friday night, DJ duo The Chainsmokers the next night, and Kygo is set to close Sunday with electronic music pulsing a generation. The college-age crowd is a fixture, much to the delight of the resort, which again sold out of the pass that grants youngsters access to the ski slopes and concerts.

Aspen has been home to the X Games since 2002, Buttermilk serving as the ideal venue. The geography lends itself to the environment any festival seeks. All activities are in walking distance — no need to board a chairlift, ski or ride anywhere.

“It’s just all really accessible and keeps all that energy in one spot,” Coryell says. “Which is really cool.”

Seth is a features writer at The Gazette, covering the outdoors and the people and places that make Colorado colorful.

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