By Kristen Lummis, braveskimom.com
I mean, do you ever see anyone who is not 20-something and gorgeous in the ESPN feed? Would a family feel comfortable at this event?
In a word: Yes.
Early last January, we skied with a local mom who makes Buttermilk her family's home base. When I asked her if they go to the X Games, she looked at me like I was crazy. "Of course we do," she answered. "It's a blast. The kids love watching the events, collecting swag and meeting the athletes." Then she added, "It's really easy. You've got to come." And so, based on this recommendation we did.
Here's what we discovered at Winter X Games 15 and why we're going back for Winter X 16.
1. It's easy. Despite the large crowds, Aspen has the logistics down pat. We drove in from the west, so we parked, for free, in the outlying parking area known as the "Intercept Lot" along Highway 82. You don't really have to know where it is, because the signage is excellent. From this lot, we caught a free shuttle that drove us about 10 minutes to the entrance gate at Buttermilk.
The shuttles run continuously from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. The local bus company, RFTA, also runs buses to and from the X Games. Buses are free within the Aspen/Snowmass area, but tended to be really crowded, especially at night. Traffic in and out of Aspen is also heavy in the evenings. We were happy to leave our car at the Intercept Lot and avoid the hassle.
2. It's free. In addition to free parking and free shuttles, the X Games are free. It costs nothing to watch from the base area. From the base, you can see quite a bit, especially the snowmobile events like FreeStyle and SnoCross. You can also watch the Big Air skiing and snowboarding competitions, most of the action in the Superpipe and the bottom of the courses for Slopestyle and Ski and Snowboard Cross. There are giant TV screens at the base, so you don't have to be in the midst of the crowd unless you want to be.
The first night we were there, we wanted to catch the Mens' Final of Skiing Superpipe, so we joined the throng and climbed up the edge of the Superpipe. You have to be really quick to get right on the edge and, as my son puts it, "you could get crushed like a bug." About halfway through the competition, people started leaving to go warm up. By the end, we were right on the edge, with a great view. This year, I may wait and go up when others start coming down.
3. It's friendly. To a person, everyone we met associated with the X Games was friendly and helpful. And why not? It's a fun event. The event is competitive, but not Olympic competitive, so there isn't that underlying layer of stress. It's not uncommon to see the athletes wandering through the crowd and talking to admiring kids. The ESPN staff is also super-friendly. The cameramen working the pipe were willing to answer questions during the breaks and point out great vantage points. Our sons were hanging with a group of friends when a staff person offered to take them up close to watch the Big Air preliminaries. There are plenty of people to ask questions and get directions and the Aspen/Snowmass Ski Patrol has a tent for spectators needing medical assistance.
Get On the Mountain
During the day it is fun to ski Buttermilk and watch events from the mountain and chairlift. This requires a lift ticket. But, in our opinion, it's worth it. Especially if you want to see watch events like Ski and Snowboard Cross or SlopeStyle, where some of the action takes place higher on the hill. Plus if you ride the Summit Express lift, you'll fly over the snowmobile venue to your left and the superpipe and jumps to your right. It's a great way to take in the size and scope of the competition.
Pick Up Some Swag
Stuff We All Get is always good. X Fest, at the X Games base, is full of vendors handing out free stuff. Some of the better giveaways are timed -- say at the top of each hour. Others run all day. Our kids love collecting as much stuff as their pockets will hold. Yours probably will too.
X Fest also has vendors selling food throughout the day. Alternatively, food and drink can also be found at Bumps (Buttermilk base) and The Cliffhouse (on-mountain).
X Games Rated G
While we really enjoy the X Games and are looking forward to going again, I'm not going to tell you that they are 100% family friendly. As in any large crowd, some people behave themselves and some do not. Especially at night, the party starts and if you are uncomfortable with partying 20-somethings, come during the day and go home for dinner. Language varies, as in any crowd, so your kids may hear some words you'd rather they didn't. The easiest way to avoid this is to ski and watch from the uncrowded upper slopes and chairlift. Also, catch the warm ups and preliminaries up close and personal before the crowds come. During the main events, step out of the crowd and watch from the fringes. During SlopeStyle we found a spot adjacent to the TV tower that was almost empty and offered a great view. It can be done. And it will be fun.
When You Go
Lodging is probably the trickiest part of attending the X Games. If you stay for the evening events, you'll need a bed at some point. We chose to stay down valley -- way down valley -- in Glenwood Springs. We didn't book soon enough and most everything in Aspen and Snowmass was full -- and expensive. Glenwood is only 45 minutes away and is served by RFTA, so if you don't want to drive, you can take a bus.
Where ever you choose to stay, or even if you just come up to Buttermilk for a day, do it this year. ESPN's contract with Aspen expires after these Games. Aspen/Snowmass is working with X Games to secure future years, but right now, nothing has been finalized. While I can't imagine the X Games finding a better home, this could be the last year at Buttermilk. If you can get there, do. This is a Colorado event you don't want to miss.