The 'X' factor: What to expect at the 2023 Winter X Games in Aspen
In the week leading up to Buttermilk’s biggest event of the season, most of the ski runs were quiet, but the base was bustling with workers preparing for some of the world’s best extreme athletes and a sea of spectators to arrive for the Winter X Games.
More than 90 extreme skiers and snowboarders representing 19 countries will participate across 14 different competitions at the X Games, including ski and snowboard iterations of the “knuckle huck,” “big air,” “superpipe” and “slopestyle” disciplines.
X Games organizers are expecting tens of thousands of attendees over three days, with more spectators than there have been in recent years, according to an email from Heather Krug, who helps coordinate PR for the event.
So just how many people does it take to make Buttermilk ready for the X Games?
Aspen Skiing Company’s senior vice president John Rigney and Buttermilk Mountain Manager Buck Erickson can hazard an educated guess.
“I'll probably get the actual answer when I see the labor reports, but I'm guessing probably 100 to 150,” Rigney said in an interview at the base of Buttermilk on Jan. 23.
“And if you count in all the contractors, the tent builders, you know, the electricians and everyone, we're in the hundreds, definitely,” Erickson added.
Rigney and Erickson both have decades of experience with the Winter X Games, now entering year 22 at Buttermilk.
Even with all that lived experience though, Rigney says it’s hard to predict exactly what the turnout will look like after two years of COVID-19 pandemic limitations.
“We've been through two totally crazy years, right?” Rigney said. “And I believe the event, which has always been a hallmark event, it's evolving once again … We're cautiously optimistic that there's going to be great energy as there always is, and I think there's going to be a lot of curious folks to see what's new and different.”
The “new and different” includes new ownership: Last fall, ESPN sold the games to MSP Sports Capital, a group that invests in sports leagues, teams and businesses.
ESPN and ABC will still broadcast the games, but there will also be coverage on Twitch, an app commonly used for video game live streaming.
Then again, “different” this year might also look more like the “same” of the past.
The 2021 games didn’t allow any spectators due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fans got to return last year, but it still wasn’t full steam ahead: vaccination and indoor mask requirements were in play, and the crowded concerts of yore remained on hiatus.
Now, the concerts are back — no tickets required — along with a bigger “X Fest” that includes new activities like a snow skatepark, obstacle course and kid-oriented strider bike course.
Valerie Ryan is the director of partnerships, event marketing and VIP experiences at the X Games.
She says “X Fest” aims to create a welcoming environment for a new and growing X Games fan base.
“It just shows us that we're more committed to the community than ever before, and to creating and fostering an opportunity for everyone to come and experience the event,” Ryan said of the free programming. “So no matter what your age is, what your likes or dislikes are, male, female, … that doesn't matter. It's like breaking down boundaries so everyone can come on site and have a good time.”
If you want to watch local athletes at the X Games, keep an eye out for Hanna Faulhaber, on the roster for the women’s ski superpipe Saturday at 5 p.m., and Alex Ferreira, on tap for the men’s ski superpipe on Sunday at 6:30 p.m.
And, if you’re planning on attending in person, Rigney from Skico says one thing definitely hasn’t changed in 2023.
“I think the most critical message is the same one it's been for 22 years: Please take the bus,” Rigney said.
There will be buses running to Buttermilk from the Brush Creek Park and Ride near Snowmass Village and from downtown Aspen.
If you’re heading up from further downvalley, you can take any RFTA bus bound for Aspen and hop off at the Buttermilk stop.