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X Games Aspen welcomes vaccinated fans to compressed 2022 contest

January 21, 2022, 9:44 am
Benni Harrington practicing this week in Men’s Ski SuperPipe during X Games Aspen 2022 (Gabriel Christus / ESPN Images).

ASPEN – With vaccinated fans welcomed back to the venue, the 25th iteration of Winter X Games opens today (Friday) at Buttermilk Ski Area, the second time this action sports event has been held during the pandemic.

Pared down to its core elements of skiing and snowboarding, minus the motorized events and large outdoor concerts, 2022 X Games Aspen runs through Jan. 23 with free spectator admission.

At 10:30 a.m. Friday is the Jeep Women’s Snowboard Slopestyle on a course highly praised by Jamie Anderson, a favorite in this park and likely in the Beijing Olympics, which start in two weeks. Anderson, with 19 medals, is called the most decorated woman athlete in X Games history.

Highly anticipated on Friday is the Women’s Ski SuperPipe which begins  at 7 p.m. and features a Basalt 17-year-old, Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club product Hanna Faulhaber facing off against another accomplished teen, Kelly Sildaru of Estonia, the winner here two years ago. Meanwhile, another teenager, 2021 X Games multiple gold medalist Eileen Gu who lives in California but competes for her mother’s home country of China, will skip X Games this year.

Snowboarding is featured Saturday with men’s Slopestyle and women’s SuperPipe highlighting the competition roster.

Sunday is all about skiing and includes Men’s Slopestyle, Knuckle Huck and what is widely considered the marquee X Games event, Men’s Skier Halfpipe, which rages beginning at 6:30 p.m. Aspen native Alex Ferreira, the two-time X Games gold medalist, reigning World Champion Aaron Blunck, two-time Olympic gold medalist David Wise and 2021 winner Nico Porteous lead the eight-man field.

Photo by Madeleine Osberger

But the pipe contest’s sentimental favorite has to be Gus Kenworthy, the Telluride native and five-time X Games medalist, who now skis for Great Britain. Kenworthy, who already this season has battled a concussion and a case of the Delta variant, confirmed this week he’ll retire after the Olympics.

During a press conference this week held via Zoom, Kenworthy said, “I don’t have any gold, and it’s always, always, always been my dream to win X Games gold, so that is very much what I’m going to be fighting for this weekend and also in Beijing.”

Sunday will see adaptive skier Trevor Kennison, formerly an Eagle resident, make a run at the towering X Games Big Air jump on his monoski. Kennison will be the only adaptive athlete to attempt the trick; the event will be aired live at 1 p.m. during an ABC-TV broadcast.

Kennison, who was paralyzed in a snowboarding accident on Vail Pass, started adaptive skiing seven years ago and has qualified for slalom in the 2022 Winter Paralympics in Beijing. 

His improvement has been swift; Kennison won the Rider’s Choice award in 2019 at the Kings and Queens of Corbet’s competition in Jackson Hole and his grown his Instagram page, where he regularly nails massive jumps, to over 66,000 followers.

Kennison could not be reached for comment but in a 2019 interview with The Keene (New Hampshire) Sentinel, he enthused about his sport: “I live it, I breathe it, and I’m constantly doing it.” A documentary about Kennison’s life is scheduled for release later this year.

‘The GOAT of Action Sports Events’ (SUBHEAD)

Scotty James, the affable Aussie who next month will compete in his fourth Olympics, has been working on landing a triple cork, what he termed “a scary trick” because of the amplitude required. Snowboarding’s progression is enjoying a steep rise currently.

“It is an exciting time and I’m excited to be part of that mix,” said James, who during the Zoom presser called X Games “The GOAT of action sports events.”

Asked whether James will send one in the menacing 22-foot Aspen halfpipe, he joked that everybody should stay tuned and watch the Monster Energy Men’s Snowboard SuperPipe, which kicks off Friday night at 8:35 p.m.

“That’s the beauty of X Games,” James said.

Two of the sport’s most accomplished snowboarders, Shaun White and Chloe Kim, aren’t expected to compete at X Games this weekend. However, nearly 100 athletes, 11 of whom hail from Colorado, are anticipated, according to organizers.

While the outdoor concerts were cut this year, smaller, pricey shows by the likes of rapper Ferg, EDM artist Illenium and Louis the Child, are being held at Belly Up in downtown Aspen. 

Tim Reed, a vice president with ESPN, said the broadcaster took the approach, “First make sure we can deliver the sports,” before considering the fate of the entertainment.

In pre-COVID times, it wasn’t unusual for X Games to attract about 100,000 fans over a four-day run (the event is compressed into three days this year). That mark isn’t expected to be approached in 2022

Still, “It’s going to be awesome to have fans back watching these amazing athletes,” Reed said this week, “I know I’ve missed it.”

On-site and on-the-couch spectating (SUBHEAD)

It’s no surprise that a made-for-TV sporting event would show best on television. Viewing from your couch or easy chair is obviously the most safe and comfortable spot from which to watch the X Games.

More than 20 hours of X Games Aspen 2022 content will be available for streaming on the ESPN app and the @XGames TikTokInstagramYouTubeFacebook and Twitter . ABC and ESPN will also provide exhaustive coverage.

But there’s merit in watching the X Games spectacle live, and if prepared and patient (dress for the elements and bring snacks and water) it can be a memorable and low-cost outing. The live event schedule is available at www.xgames.com.

From Vail and points west, the trip to the Buttermilk venue can be tackled in a number of ways. First would be to drive to the Brush Creek Park and Ride (the lot on Highway 82 just outside Aspen, at the intersection to Snowmass Village). There is free transportation to the venue (which has no on-site parking) though it’s on a first-come, first serve basis. 

And that could potentially leave some riders waiting in the cold.

“Typically, on Fridays and Saturdays during X-Games, most of our buses dedicated to the venue are operating at maximum capacity with standees. This means we will usually have 55-60 passengers on board for each trip. With 100% seated capacity and no standees, that number will be reduced to the 35-39 passenger range,” said Jamie Tatsuno, communications manager for the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA).

A viable option for spectators would be to consider parking at a RFTA stop in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt and paying the bus fare to Buttermilk to be assured a seat.

X Games transportation information is available here:  https://www.rfta.com/x-games-2022-transportation-info/

Masks are required on all RFTA buses and designated X Games Aspen shuttles. 

As well, all X Games spectators aged 12 and older are required to show proof of vaccination; those under 12 must be masked and accompanied by a vaccinated adult. Wristbands are distributed after vaccinations are confirmed.

There are vaccination check points at Buttermilk, the Brush Creek parking lot and Rubey Park bus station.

Follow Madeleine Osberger on Twitter, @Madski99

X Games venue at Buttermilk (photo by Madison Osberger-Low).

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