On TV and in real life, X Games are a spectacle
ASPEN – The television says the X Games start Feb. 1. How then to explain the hordes of spectators and world’s greatest snowsports athletes convening at Buttermilk Mountain last week?
As far as made-for-TV events go, the X Games is king. If not for The Worldwide Leader In Sports (i.e. ESPN), you’d never see snowboarders, skiers and motocross riders on the same hill on the same day, ever. And in walking around the base of Butter – close enough to call it Aspen – milk this weekend, I realized there’s a whole lot of things you’d never see without what the X Games has become in this its sixth edition.
The Games have gone through many incarnations. Used to be, the snowlerblade slopestyle was a marquee event. Snowlerbladers were nowhere to be seen at Buttermilk this year. But there has always been a fish-out-of-water event. When the Games were at Crested Butte three years ago, the best mountain bikers in the country competed in a bikercross, a.k.a. carnagecross. This year, dirt bikes flew off a huge kicker in a moto big air thing. In fact, everywhere you looked this weekend, someone was 5 to 50 feet in the air.
And the sheer spectacle didn’t stop at aerial acrobatics. There was also an astounding amount of logistical acrobatics. The final product the world will see beginning at 3 p.m. eastern standard time Feb. 1 is the result of months of ruminating about the best way to capture the event on the small screen.
Cameras were omnipresent. There was one sliding along a tether that was about a quarter-mile long and hung 50 feet above the cross course. And when you see those inevitable shots of crowds going wild, know that they were prompted by the TV host guy saying: “Aspen, are you ready? … C’mon now, you’re gonna have to do better than that. I said Aspen ARE YOU READY!? … Hey, let these riders know you’re alive, LET ME HERE YOU!!! … ” This for about five minutes. And the result will be maybe 10 seconds on the tube of screaming halfpipe fans.
But no matter how contrived the X Games seem to be, it’s still a killer event. As it has become more established, it has attracted an increasingly higher caliber of athlete. Boardercrossers and skiercrossers know when they come to the X Games, it’ll be the toughest contest of the year. Same goes for the halfpipe skiers, who for the first time were welcome at the X Games. Now, the halfpipe snowboarders have this little thing called the Olympics (the O Games, as they will eventually be known), which are a slightly higher caliber event. And I stress slightly, because most of the men and women who will compete in the halfpipe at Salt Lake City were at Buttermilk this weekend, using the X Games as a final pre-Olympic tuneup.
So, in terms of prestige, fanfare and spectacle, the X Games are perhaps right on the heels of the Olympic Games. And in some circles, like those of the skier halfpipe, slopestyle and cross events, an X Games medal is the pinnacle of the sport. That is the great coup of ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC.
And it’s all coming to your TV in a few short days.
Jason Starr can be reached at (970) 668-3998 Ext. 231 or at email@example.com.
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