Walking on the slippery slopes of trodden powder, the Mens Ski Big Air Final announcements clash with the bass echoing from the concert venue where the Chainsmokers will follow Anderson.Paak in bringing X Games Aspen 2017 officially into a new year of competition. Snowmobile exhaust still lingers faintly in the crisp, six-degree air as we maneuver to the back of a massive conglomerate of unified, cold, hearty, and passionate Games-goers watching to be the first few hundred to witness in person who will take the gold.
One thing to be sure of every time Winter X Games and ESPN have renewed their contract with Aspen Skiing Company is the plethora of people it attracts. Each year, more than one hundred thousand people rally in the cold to support almost two hundred athletes testing their athletic (crazy?) abilities in one of the biggest and most well-known games of its type. Men and women and even children compete for the gold and the chance to stand in front of some of the most ardent ski and snowboard fans in the nation: shoutout to Winter X Games youngest competitor, Kelly Sildaru (14!), who defended her gold in Womens Ski Slopestyle against X Games veterans and some women more than twice her age.
Of course, these hordes pose the question of waste. With nearly the population of Boulder, CO, X Games crowds generate huge amounts of waste, extra automobile pollution, and other outputs that Aspen, the Games, or ESPN have not yet quantified1. All three, however, have noticed the need for remediation efforts and have thankfully stepped up accordingly.
ESPN recognized the potential negative environmental impact of such concentrated crowds and created the Green Team in order to increase data collection on top of their usual water, waste, and energy saving projects. The Green Team is a branch of ESPNs X Games Environmentality (XGE) program that facilitates and champions environmental stewardship throughout the planning and practicality of hosting an event such as the annual X Games 2.
This program practices waste minimization, using environmentally conscious products such as plates, napkins, and cups, as well as pollution prevention. One of ESPNs ultimate goals is to have all items used during a meal able to be recycled or composted. All serviceware items for attendees, staff, and athletes alike are composed of renewable and compostable materials including a plastic created from corn, a fiber made with sugarcane, and recycled paper 3.
XGE has sponsored bins at the games that are clearly marked into three sections: recycling, compost, and trash whose components are sent to and processed at the Pitkin County Solid Waste Center. This is the first large-scale public event in Pitkin County to send its waste to the waste center rather than to a landfill. During the 2012 Winter Games, for example, more than 24,000 pounds of compostables were saved from their previous fates at the landfill 3.
The Green Team collected data on what is actually deemed as trash by spectators and athletes by weighing and sorting all waste from the X Games. They found that 80% of trash bin contents were in fact recyclable or compostable, hinting that there is still opportunity for improvement. X Games and ESPN intend to improve in the future through community engagement and education and have already begun by initiating their Corporate Citizenship tent at this years games2.
In addition, all Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA) vehicles used to transport spectators to and from the Games are powered by biofuels which emits fewer toxins than would otherwise contribute to poorer air quality and climate degradation in the Roaring Fork Valley 3.
Water use and water rights are a significant and charged issue in the valley already, and Buttermilk Mountain mitigates this concern by using a base of piled and compacted dirt in the 22-foot walls of the Superpipe rather than the traditional twenty million gallons of water in man-made snow 3.
Aspen Skiing Company is making its own progress in making Winter X Games more sustainable by beginning to replace older snow-making guns with newer and far more efficient models in order to decrease greenhouse gases.The old guns operated at 96 kilowatts, or about the yearly total of a dishwasher or of a washing machine. The new models, totaling about 95% of Aspens approximately 200 guns, use only 4 kw 4.
Although there have been no revolutions in how to eliminate Aspen X Games waste outputs completely, Aspen SkiCo as well as ESPN have been working to remediate some of the pollution that plagues the festive air and to mitigate some of the waste that used to pile onto already large landfill mounds in Pitkin County. The X Games are a joining together of old and new friends, a celebration of competitors accomplishments and daring feats of athleticism, and a space to let loose and have a good time in this coming-together of like-minded, chilly individuals. Looking into the future, it should also begin to be a place of celebrating zero waste and complete environmental sustainability, and the two main players are making huge strides in moving toward achieving this goal.
1. Statista: https://www.statista.com/statistics/205228/total-x-games-attendance/
2. ESPN Corporate Citizenship: http://www.espn.com/espn/citizenship/story/_/page/teamespn-Sustainability-Winter-X-Games/sustainability-winter-x-games
3. ESPN Environmentality: http://www.espn.com/action/news/story?id=3810889
4. Aspen Times: http://www.aspentimes.com/news/how-big-is-the-carbon-footprint-of-x-games-on-colorado-mountains/