Aspen to host Freeski and Snowboard World Championships this winter at Buttermilk

Austin Colbert
The Aspen Times
Aspen halfpipe skier Alex Ferreira competes at the 2019 world championships in Park City, Utah.
Photo by Tanzi Propst / Park Record

ASPEN — Aspen is set to host two of the world’s premier skiing and snowboarding competitions next month at Buttermilk Ski Area.

The 2021 Freeski and Snowboard World Championships will come to town March 10-16, barely a month after Buttermilk hosted some of the same athletes at Winter X Games.

Worlds will include slopestyle, halfpipe and big air contests for men’s and women’s skiing and snowboarding. An official announcement is expected in the coming days from U.S. Ski & Snowboard.

“It’s really important to these athletes, and we are psyched we can give them another chance to get back to Aspen and show off their talents to the world,” Aspen Skiing Co. Senior Vice President John Rigney said Tuesday. “In a tough year, you have to play a lot of defense. But you also have to play offense occasionally, and doing an event like this and sharing the Aspen story to millions via the coverage that comes with the event is a good thing. It reminds people we are open for business, and we are looking forward to their return.”

The World Championships, held every other year, originally were scheduled for Feb. 18-28 outside Beijing, which is still scheduled to host the 2022 Winter Olympics a year from now. But the International Ski Federation canceled all Olympic test events, including worlds, in China this season because of the pandemic.

For a brief time, it looked as if Calgary, in Alberta, Canada, which hosted the 1988 Winter Olympics, would step in, but the city ultimately backed out late last month.

Rigney said hosting the X Games without any issues helped them look at the idea of hosting these events.

“It wasn’t as much we were chasing this, but when the opportunity came up, we made it clear we wanted to focus on two things,” Rigney said. “One, pulling off a successful X Games, and two was seeing the community come out of (level) red (restrictions). And once we got through those two critical mile markers, we reopened the dialogue, and it came together pretty quickly.”

X Games, which went from Jan. 29-31 at Buttermilk, was hosted in a “bubble” without fans and with daily COVID-19 testing for anyone cleared to compete or work at the event. Only 500 people were cleared to be inside the X Games venue.

A similar situation could be in play for the World Championships in March.

“We’ve got the knowledge and capacity to pull this off in a safe manner,” Rigney said. “Knowing that, and working in cooperation with our partners at the county, we decided to go for it. Right now, we are in a full-on sprint to figure out what it’s going to take to pull this off. But we have a great template to work off of. We wouldn’t have signed on if we didn’t think we could do it right.”

Aspen being named the World Championship host makes it two in a row in the United States for the event after Park City, Utah, hosted in 2019.

Halfpipe skier Alex Ferreira is likely the only Aspen resident who would compete in worlds this year. He finished eighth in his only world championship appearance in 2019. Crested Butte’s Aaron Blunck is the two-time reigning world champion in men’s halfpipe skiing. Summit County’s Chris Corning is the reigning world champion in men’s snowboard slopestyle.

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Crested Butte’s Aaron Blunck competes at the 2019 world championships in Park City, Utah.
Photo by Tanzi Probst / Park Record

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