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Winter X Games will see changes in lineup, layout for January event at Buttermilk

Spectators cheer for a skier at the base of the SuperPipe at Buttermilk Mountain during the 2023 Winter X Games on January 29, 2023. For the 2024 iteration of the event, people will have to pay to access the corrals at the bottom of the course; a separate, free area will be set further back from the action.
Kaya Williams
Aspen Public Radio
Spectators cheer for a skier at the base of the SuperPipe at Buttermilk Mountain during the Winter X Games in Aspen on January 29, 2023. For the 2024 iteration of the event, people will have to pay to access the corrals at the bottom of the course; a separate, free area will be set further back from the action.

This winter will be one of historic firsts for the X Games in Aspen — and not just because athletes are landing new tricks at Buttermilk Mountain.

The lineup for Jan. 26-28 includes the debut of a women’s “knuckle huck,” alongside the men’s event, offered for both skiers and snowboarders on the “knuckle” or rollover of a larger jump. It’s a milestone in gender and discipline parity at the Winter X Games, where both male and female athletes will also compete in the usual slopestyle, “big air,” and “SuperPipe” events.

“This is the first year it is exactly one to one,” said Valerie Ryan, the vice president of fan experience and hospitality for the X Games.

But to get close to the action, people will need to pony up. The spectator corrals at the base of the courses will require tickets, ranging from about $25 to $70 for a single daypart. (Rates are higher for nighttime events than they are for daytime ones, and access to the base of the SuperPipe costs more than access to the base of the big air and slopestyle courses.)

Those areas were previously free — and jam-packed. The decision to charge for access was partly spurred by a desire for crowd control, Ryan said.

“The big driving factor for that is fans used to have to wait in long lines and hope that they could get into the crowds,” Ryan said in a Zoom interview earlier this month. “Now they'll actually be able to guarantee a spot to get into the corral.”

Ryan said there will still be a free viewing area, but it will be set further back from the course. An X Games map submitted to Pitkin County as part of the special event permit process indicates that those free areas may have some obstructed view of the big air, knuckle huck and slopestyle courses, and sightlines will be extremely limited for the SuperPipe.

Paid access to the spectator corrals is separate from existing “SuperFan” tickets to stand on the side of the SuperPipe; those seeking a more luxury experience will have “XIP” and “VIP Chalet” options.

Other changes to the X Games lineup and layout will impact extracurricular offerings at the event. There will be no live slopeside concerts at Buttermilk, but there will be DJs playing music throughout the day. Ryan said organizers wanted the focus to be on the competition instead.

And the Special Olympics races that have become a Winter X Games tradition over the past decade will not be part of the event this coming year. Ryan said that was due to timing and planning constraints.

“We weren't able to make it happen in the amount of time that we had, once we kind of greenlit what we were doing for Aspen,” Ryan said. “But hopefully, we'll bring them back again.”

Other community programs are in effect, however, including a partnership with the Buddy Program to welcome local youth the night before the X Games officially begin, Ryan said. According to the special event permit paperwork filed with Pitkin County, organizers also plan to offer discounts to local students and valley residents who wish to purchase a corral ticket.

This January will mark the 23rd consecutive Winter X Games in Aspen, but the future of the event at Buttermilk Mountain is still unclear.

ESPN sold a majority stake in the event to a private equity firm, MSP Sports Capital, last year. And a contract with the Aspen Skiing Company to host the Winter X Games here ends in 2024.

Ryan said officials are still talking about what happens next.

“We're still in conversations to try to plan our future locations, and whether that's in Aspen or whether that goes someplace else, we're still figuring that out,” Ryan said. “But I will say that Aspen is, and has been, the best location we've ever worked with for an X Games event.”

In the near-term, Pitkin County Commissioners will get an update on the lineup and layout for this winter’s X Games Tuesday, as part of the special event permitting process.

The X Games permit application indicates other elements, like parking, transportation and security, are largely the same as previous years. There will be no spectator parking at Buttermilk, but there will be spaces at the Brush Creek Park and Ride, as well as frequent shuttle service. And a security agency, hired by the X Games, will work hand in hand with local law enforcement to ensure safety at the event.

The athlete lineups will likely look familiar as well. Organizers have invited athletes like Aspen freeskier Alex Ferreira, a six-time X Games medalist, and Basalt freeskier Hanna Faulhaber, who won bronze in her debut X Games two years ago. X Games has not announced which athletes have accepted their invitations yet, however. The final athlete list could be confirmed in early January, Ryan said.

This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Hanna Faulhaber's name, and to add clarity to a photo caption.

Kaya Williams is the Edlis Neeson Arts and Culture Reporter at Aspen Public Radio, covering the vibrant creative and cultural scene in Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley. She studied journalism and history at Boston University, where she also worked for WBUR, WGBH, The Boston Globe and her beloved college newspaper, The Daily Free Press. Williams joins the team after a stint at The Aspen Times, where she reported on Snowmass Village, education, mental health, food, the ski industry, arts and culture and other general assignment stories.