Aspen officials demand crowd control for X Games, or else
Pitkin County correspondent
ASPEN ” Unless the Aspen Skiing Co. can do a better job of handling Winter X Games crowds next year, it appears it won’t be getting any additional funding to transport spectators at the event from upper-valley governments.
And County Commissioner Mick Ireland vowed Thursday to oppose a permit for the games next year unless a satisfactory plan for crowd control is in place.
But no one expects it to come to that.
The Skico went before elected officials from Aspen, Snowmass Village and Pitkin County on Thursday to ask for a boost in transportation funding for ESPN’s Winter X Games at Buttermilk ” $50,000 in each of the next two years.
The Elected Officials Transportation Committee, made up of the elected officials from the three jurisdictions, has allocated $20,000 to the cause in each of the last two years.
Both the Aspen and Snowmass Village councils supported the request unanimously, contingent upon a satisfactory plan for managing the growing crowd that converges at Buttermilk for the games. But Ireland argued that plan should come before the funds are granted and urged the EOTC to withhold the money until it’s satisfied with the arrangements for Winter X Games Ten next January.
Ultimately, county commissioners voted 3-2 against the expenditure, effectively killing it, since a majority vote is required from each of the individual jurisdictions that make up EOTC membership.
John Rigney, managing director of event marketing for the Skico, said he’ll be back to the EOTC in August with a transportation management plan that he hopes allays everyone’s concerns.
Ireland was adamant that the experience of last winter not be repeated. Buses couldn’t quickly handle the crush of people all wanting to return to Aspen for two nights of free weekend concerts after the competition ended. Long waits for a ride resulted in some attendees walking along Highway 82 in the dark.
This winter, however, the separate pedestrian bridge over the Maroon Creek gorge will be gone ” removed to make way for construction of a new highway bridge. Though a pedestrian lane will be created on the north side of the existing highway bridge for the duration of the new bridge’s construction, Ireland said he doesn’t want the crowds using that span after dark.
I’m not going to be the one responsible for some wiped-out kid on Ecstasy going over the railing,” he said.
“I want to know, most of all, if RFTA has the capacity to deal with those crowds in a hurry,” Ireland added. “And if not, it might take more money.”
The Skico and ESPN learned a lesson from last year’s experience and are already making plans to avoid a repeat, Rigney said.
“We’ve learned a lot and we’re committed to safety,” he said.
The Skico will boost bus service and better manage the event whether the EOTC contributes to the rising transportation costs or not, he said.
On a separate note, Ireland also suggested spectators be charged a fee to park at the city’s Cozy Point Ranch, from which they’re bused to the X Games.
“I think this event needs to start paying its own way,” he said. “We’re putting a lot of money and public resources into this as it is.”
The resort is also recouping a great deal, in terms of exposure and sales tax revenue, other EOTC members pointed out.
While most members stressed their support for the event and boosting the EOTC’s funding for buses, Commissioner Jack Hatfield argued the tax revenues controlled by the group weren’t intended to be spent on special events.
The sales tax is dedicated to transit and the Skico’s request is for transit funding, his colleagues countered.
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