Where: Aspen, Colorado’s Buttermilk Mountains
Events: Skiing (5), Snowboarding (7), Snowmobile (4) and Real Video Series (3)
Future X Games: Summer X Games–August 1-4 in Minneapolis, Minn. (features Skateboard, BMX and Moto X competitions)
X Games Aspen 2019 unveiled its first batch of invited athletes and the competition schedule just last week, meaning before we know it, the extreme sports world will once again have its eyes transfixed on Colorado’s Buttermilk Mountains. The 23rd Winter X Games head to Aspen for the 18th straight year, giving competitors and spectators a one-of-a-kind experience at one of the United States’ premier skiing and snowboarding destinations.
Whether you’re an X Games connoisseur or aren’t quite sure exactly what it is, you’ll find it entertaining. All sporting events are free, and the week also features performances by a number of musical acts including Lil Wayne and The Chainsmokers. While the athletes compete for medals and prize money, attendees can watch their exploits, soak in the beauty of Snowmass and enjoy a fantastic winter festival experience.
No matter how you plan to consume Winter X Games XXIII, here’s some things you need to watch for come late January.
Medal count: Can anyone challenge the U.S.?
The United States rolled to the medal count crown last year, taking home 24 of the 54 medals. Canada was second with eight, while Norway checked in at third with six. The gold medal count was slightly closer, with the U.S. taking seven and Canada four.
It will be interesting to see if other nations can put a dent in the U.S.’s dominance as X Games grow in popularity around the world. Norway has the most Winter Olympic medals of all time, and Germany, Austria and Russia are consistently competitive with the U.S. in that setting. This year and in the years ahead, we’ll see if some of the top winter athletes in other nations begin to migrate from more traditional winter sports and test their mettle in other more new age events.
Will ratings continue to climb?
X Games Aspen 2018 experienced triple-digit growth, for its digital audience, while the in-person attendance was the second largest in history. The social media presence and savvy of some of the sports’ biggest stars also helped draw around 11 million views across major channels like Twitter and Instagram.
Even better for the Winter X Games and television rights holder ESPN is how the event is reaching its target market. Viewership on linear TV from fans between the ages of 12 and 17 rose 33 percent from 2017. Meanwhile, the age 18-34 audience streaming of X Games Aspen was up nearly 10 percent from the previous year.
With the number of world-class athletes competing growing each year, and the overall festival-like experience quality growing in scope, there’s reason to think interest will continue to soar.
Over 75 Olympians will return to action on sports’ biggest stage to compete across 17 disciplines. All 2018 medalists earn an automatic invite to the 2019 iteration. Here are several athletes you’ll want to know about before everyone is talking about them:
- Ayumu Hirano (Japan)–Hirano became the youngest-ever Winter X Games medalist in 2013 and then became the first Japanese athlete to win an event when he captured the Snowboard SuperPipe title in 2016 and 2018. He is coming off a silver medal in the PyeongChang Olympics.
- Chloe Kim (California)–Snowboarding sensation Chloe Kim took home 2016 X Games gold medals in Aspen and Oslo before making history at the Park City Grand Prix by sticking consecutive 1080s–becoming the first woman to achieve a perfect 100 score in the process.
- Henrik Harlaut (Sweden)–Harlaut’s combination of athletic prowess and personality is pretty much an X Games marketer’s dream. He has the most Ski Big Air gold medals in the event’s history, and the most gold of any male skier in a single discipline. Off the slopes, Harlaut has put over two years of work into a film project called The Regiment. The trailer debuted in October, offering glimpses of the motivations and inspirations that make him an elite freeskier.
- Kelly Sildaru (Estonia)–The skiing prodigy’s path to this point is truly remarkable considering she hails from a country with no real mountains. That hasn’t stopped Sildaru, who took gold in the Ski Slopestyle at the 2016 Aspen Games as a 13-year-old, becoming the youngest X Games gold medalist ever at a winter event. A knee injury prevented Sildaru from competing at last year’s Olympics, meaning you can bet she’ll be extra eager to leave her mark at Snowmass.
- Rob Adelberg (Australia)–The seven-time Summer X Games medalist made a successful transition to the Winter X Games last year, winning the first-ever X Games Aspen Snow Bike Best Trick Gold Medal. Finding ways to integrate more popular stars like Adelberg into the Winter Games could help drive increased popularity and coverage.
One athlete we didn’t mention above that could easily be included is Canadian slopestyle and big air snowboarder Mark McMorris. At last February’s PyeongChang Olympics, McMorris earned a bronze medal in the men’s slopestyle. The impressive feat becomes all the more so when you learn McMorris was forced into a medically induced coma just 11 months prior following a life-threatening crash. Despite dealing with a collapsed lung, 17 broken bones and a ruptured spleen, McMorris quickly returned to the sport and regained his status as a top competitor.
McMorris’s story is sure to be told and retold a few times in Aspen, and it’s a strong bet he’ll capitalize on his expanded platform.
Stylin’ and Profilin’
Tip of the cap to New York Knicks’ great player and broadcast Walt Clyde Frazier for the above section heading. We’re guessing Clyde doesn’t really know his way around a half-pipe, but there’s no arguing he knows style.
Therefore, he’d enjoy seeing the styles new, old and everything in between sported by Winter X Games athletes. All kinds of versatile winter beanies, performance custom headbands, reflective gear and much more will be on display in late January. Expect athletes to promote their look on social media as well, which means plenty of adoring fans will be trying to replicate the look themselves. That’s a little bit easier and less daunting than landing a 1080.
SHRED HATE Initiative
You’ve gotta appreciate athletes utilizing their platform for good. Along with Major League Baseball stars, Winter X Games luminaries are taking part in the Shred Hate initiative to fight bullying.
An estimated 10 million U.S. students are bullied each year, and the effects include reduced self-esteem, anxiety, depression and earlier use of alcohol and drugs. The “different” culture of X Games sports is a great fit for the cause, with its stars selling them as positive avenues for kids who aren’t all about “traditional” team sports. Through ShredHate.org and several specific offshoots in Colorado, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Minneapolis, Winter X Games stars are doing their best to help youth who look up to them. Kudos.