Every four years, the public gets a glimpse into the elite atmosphere of the snow sports world during the Winter Olympics. As magical as the two-week extravaganza is, it offers viewers only a passing glimpse of what it takes to compete at this level. But every January, winter snow enthusiasts have the chance to see the best of the best on snow in action at Buttermilk in Aspen during the Winter X Games, when more than 200 world-class action sports athletes hit the slopes to compete for medals and prize money, and also to make a name for themselves.
Locals generally have two opinions on the event: Some are proud to showcase the many reasons why they live in a ski town; the same time, there's also some irritation over the massive influx of people who flood Aspen to watch the event.
But no matter how the locals might gripe, they all head out to Buttermilk time and again to be a part of the Aspen. X Games The venue, which is located around the base of Buttermilk, offers an environment that's more like a festival experience than a sporting event. Despite an occasional reputation as an exclusive sport in an exclusive town, all the competitions and amenities are free and open to the public (music shows require tickets, which run from $35 and up). The pop-up village below the slopes is filled with product demos, samples, giveaways, athlete appearances, poster signings, and more.
While there's little doubt that the most comfortable view might be from the couch in your warm and cozy living room, nothing equals witnessing the X Games live. Until you’ve been there, it’s impossible to comprehend the feats that take place at Buttermilk, from the amplitude in the SuperPipe to the progression of Big Air. With that, here's your handy insider's guide to spectating the Aspen X Games.
How to Get There, What To Wear
There is no parking at the venue, so be prepared to take a shuttle from the Intercept Lot of downtown, which leave every 20 minutes. For a truly adventurous way to experience the event without the hassle of public transit, you can also cross country ski or snowshoe to Buttermilk .
And remember to dress warmer than you would for skiing, as you’ll be standing still in some chilly freezing temperatures. Hand and toe warmers are your best friends for the night events, too.
What To Watch
Gates and specific competition venues will close when capacity is reached, so it’s definitely recommended to arrive well in advance to snag your space. Planning ahead will also ensure you can minimize your time battling the crowds for a good viewing spot. Also keep in mind that music events require a ticket , which start at $35.
Here, a few suggested highlights of the 2016 lineup for the Aspen X Games.
Thursday, 9:30 pm: Nas on the Main Stage
In 2015, X Games decided to build an additional music venue at the base of Buttermilk and featured four concerts. This year X Games Aspen has increased the music offerings to six artists, with shows from the likes of deadmau5, DJ SNAKE, KYGO, Nas, Run The Jewels, and Twenty One Pilots. In addition to the shows at the X Games venue, fans can enjoy more intimate shows at Aspen's 450-person capacity Belly Up in downtown.
The styles of these artists run the gamut, but the show by famed rapper Nas to kick off the event is one not to miss. Not only will the crowds not be as hectic as they will be by the weekend, it's a rare chance to catch a master live under the stars. Run the Jewels will also perform in the opening event.
Friday, 2 pm: Mono Skier X Qualifier
Practice and qualifying rounds can be just as exciting to watch as the main competition, with far fewer spectators to bump elbows with. All of the cross events (skiercross, boardercross, adaptive boarder cross) promise a close race with possible carnage, but the mono skier events have an added level of difficulty considering the fact that the competitors are in sit skis. To watch this event, head up the slopes and find a vantage along the winding course near a jump. You're sure to be amazed by the athletic ability across the board in this qualifier.
Saturday is the biggest day of the Aspen X Games extravaganza, so we recommend hitting two back-to-back events that you can watch from the same vantage point: at the top of the SuperPipe.
Saturday, 6:15 pm: Men’s Snowboard SuperPipe Final
In the SuperPipe Eliminations, on both the ski and snowboard and men’s and women’s side of the event, 16 invited athletes faced off in a best-of-two-runs format, with the top eight finishers advancing to the final to be held this weekend.
Insider tip: Hike to the top of the pipe for the best viewing opportunities. Boarders are judged on amplitude and arc out of the pipe, flying up to 20 feet over your head. The real key to savoring this event, though is to dress warm and start early to secure a spot near the top, far from the maddening crowds.
Saturday 8:15 pm, Big Air Ski Final
Without moving from your coveted spot at the top of the pipe, you'll have views of the Big Air event, located just the next zone over in the venue. Big Air is known for its unprecedented and innovative moves. This event is a favorite among athletes and spectators, with tricks and the craziest aerial maneuvers one could ever imagine. Tricks are honed and polished all year just to be unveiled on this jump; what happens here helps push the innovation of the sport.
Aspen X Games 2013 saw as one of the most exciting nights in skiing history when Sweden’s Henrik Harlaut landed the first-ever nose butter triple cork 1620, winning X Games gold and sending the crowd of more than 47,000 spectators into an uproar. Rumor around town is that Harlaut has been perfecting a secret trick all season that he plans to debut at the Aspen X Games this year, so this event is one not to miss.
Sunday, 10 am: Men’s Skier Slopestyle
Slopestyle is your chance to be on the slopes with the actual athletes, and the aerial views from the chairlift are pretty good as well. Start out at the base, and catch the chair during the event. The chairlift tracks right above the course, giving you a bird's eye view of the progressive rails and jumps. After offloading at the top, ski down along the course stopping in front of different feature along the way, catching athletes working through the sequences they have been practicing for three days. This is a perfect event to wrap up your Aspen X Games experience: putting yourself on the snow near the larger-than-life structures with few crowds on a Sunday morning.
After you have had your fill, hit the slopes for a few freeride runs, as the runs are generally deserted during the event.