ASPEN, Colo. — When the Olympics start in Vancouver in two weeks, there will be about 120 athletes competing in the sports of skiercross, boardercross and snowboard halfpipe. Sixty-five of those athletes are getting set to compete over the next four days at Winter X Games 14 here at Buttermilk Mountain.
In 2010, the X Games are in the unusual position of not being the biggest winter sports show on earth. And while the Olympics haven’t always been what shredheads would identify as an action sports brand, some of the most anticipated events in Vancouver this year include the snowboard halfpipe, men’s and women’s boardercross and men’s skiercross.
Executives with the cable network ESPN, which puts on the X Games, said they were proud of the fact that more than half of the available Olympians who could compete in Aspen are doing so. It speaks to the influence of the Winter X Games, now in their 14th year. Such is the influence this year with all the Olympic hype that the press tent, where Wednesday’s opening press conference was held, is now two stories for the first time, in order to accommodate the 300-plus media members who are expected, up from the usual 250.
The opening presser was attended by eight of the X Games’ top athletes: Snowboarders Louie Vito, Gretchen Bleiler, Kelly Clark, Lindsey Jacboellis and Nate Holland, snowmobile racing champion Tucker Hibbert and last year’s Winter X gold medalist in the ski superpipe Xavier Bertoni. Of that group, all but Hibbert and Bertoni are Olympians this year, and that’s probably because Hibbert and Bertoni’s respective sports are not currently recognized by the International Olympic Committee.
The presser was moderated by Chris Klug, a snowboard alpine racer from Aspen who once competed in boardercross at the X Games. But Klug decided to focus on the gates as the boardercross courses at Winter X became more extreme.
“My specialty is turning a snowboard,” said Klug, an Olympic medalist in 2002 who will compete in his third Winter Games this year.
Aspen’s own Bleiler — she actually is from Snowmass, 10 miles from Aspen — said the huge home stage of the X Games used to be a challenge.
“When (the X Games) first came to Aspen, I was a little overwhelmed,” she said of the additional pressure of having all your family and friends in attendance and expecting big things.
“I felt like I had something to prove,” said Bleiler, who at one point claimed superpipe X Games gold three years in a row. “Now I’ve figured out how to use it to my advantage.”
Holland, of Truckee, is competing for his fifth consecutive gold in boardercross, which would be an unprecedented feat in the Winter X Games. He called this year’s X Games boardercross course “hands down the best course I’ve ever ridden.”
“I’m not going to lie, I was a little nervous going over the inspection,” Holland said of the course that will push riders to 60 miles per hour on the final straight away.
While some Olympians chose to sit the X Games out in order to rest or train privately before Vancouver, Holland said it was “a no-brainer” for him to compete in Aspen.
The X Games have given so much to him over the years, it was the least he could do to come this year, he said. The five-peat is also a motivator.
“That would just be the cherry on top,” he said.
But in no way does he see the X Games as detrimental to his Olympic hopes.
“If anything, it’s the best practice I could do,” he said.
Photo by Heather Rousseau, www.hrousseau.com
X Games athletes answer questions for the media before the start of Winter X 14.