Feature - The Other Games 

Aspen’s X-Games gamble pays off handsomely; event hailed as the most successful so far

It used to be a party town. A serious party town – one of the funnest in the west. Then it got chi-chi. Then it got old. And boring. People stopped coming. Especially the young. Suddenly the folks in Aspen discovered that their slopes were empty of youthful energy. And that wasn’t good for anybody.

"Our customer base was shrinking," admits Aspen Ski Corp. boss, Patrick O’Donnell. We needed to inject a little passion back into the mix."

So they decided to do something about it. First they opened up Aspen Mountain to snowboarders. And to the surprise of many, the sky didn’t fall on them. "That move was like a breath of fresh air," says Aspen Freeride Team leader, Chris Davenport of the liberating move made last spring. "It was a clear message that Aspen Corp. was ready for the 21 st century."

One of four mountain complexes owned by Aspen Corp. – which include Buttermilk, Highlands and Snowmass – Aspen Mountain was the company’s jewel-in-the-crown. And the one with the most tradition. No matter that it was a move made in desperation. No matter that some business insiders thought it merely window-dressing. Aspen Mountain – one of the last vestiges of old-school propriety – had fallen. And snowboarders were quick to take up the challenge. "It’s a great mountain for freeriding," says Davenport. "It’s really put us back on the map with a whole new generation of riders."

But the company was far from finished with its new branding efforts. When it was announced last year that Aspen had signed a two year deal with ESPN to host that annual celebration of snowsporting excess, the Winter X-Games, a collective gasp was heard across the country. World Cup downhills were fine. But X-Games? How would the fur-and-diamonds set take the town’s invasion by the be-ringed and tattooed X-hordes? How could the two groups even communicate?

Some predicted it would be a disaster. Others offered the opinion that Aspen still held its wild-eyed party past in high esteem. "Never underestimate Aspen’s ability to put on a good mountain fiesta," argued a local bartender. "No matter what our image has become, this is still one of the greatest resorts in North America when it comes to apres-ski…"

As it turns out, he wasn’t far off the mark. Last week, the X-hordes did indeed descend on this oh-so-proper mountain town for four days of hardcore fun and competition. And once again, the sky didn’t fall on Aspen. Call it Colorado’s answer to the Olympic hype in neighbouring Utah (never underestimate the level of competition between the two states). Whatever. Aspen’s Winter X-Games VI were deemed a raving success.

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