As the crowd filed into the base of Buttermilk Mountain each morning there was tangible electricity in the atmosphere at X Games Aspen 2015.
Spectators turned up to watch athletes produce one of the best collections of Winter X Games performances to date. Maddie Bowman and Danny Davis defended their gold medals in the Superpipe on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively. Mark McMorris reclaimed Big Air jump gold on Friday, Chloe Kim made history in becoming the youngest athlete to bite an X Games gold on Saturday and Silje Norendal beat out Jamie Anderson to take Slopestyle gold on Sunday.
There were more photo finishes than fans could shake a GoPro stick at, but X Games Aspen was much more than just a series of extreme winter sport competitions. This year, the four X Games villages offered more to do than just spectate. The four X Games villages created an overall experience that was as fulfilling to fans as it's ever been, proven by record-breaking attendance. Approximately 115,000 people gathered at Buttermilk over the course of the event, the highest total in the history of the Winter X Games.
“I’m really happy with how this first iteration of the X Games village has gone,” said Tim Reed, vice president of the X Games. “Friday was a good test for us to see how everything would flow, and it all did so really well.”
When fans weren’t on the Superpipe or at the base of the Big Air jump, they were spending their days in one of the four festival villages that made Winter X Games debuts this year. Each one offered different sights, sounds and experiences.
The concert stage, code named “Sound Factory,” was on-site for the first time at Winter X Games, which saved people the trouble of traveling back and forth between the town of Wagner Park in Aspen and Buttermilk Mountain. The combination of location and high profile performances helped X Games sell out two of the four concerts.
For Snoop Dogg and Skrillex, who performed Thursday and Saturday nights, the Sound Factory was packed to the brim; there wasn’t a ticket to be had. Snoop performed old and recent hits of his own, as well as never-before-heard adaptations to songs ranging from “P.I.M.P” to “I love Rock n Roll.” Skrillex kept the bass pumping past midnight, while Wiz Khalifa went crowd surfing during his set on Sunday, which marked the end of X Games Aspen 2015.
“Man, it was cold out there,” Khalifa said after his performance Sunday.
“But it was tight because the crowd had a lot energy. They kept it going, kept it live, so I wanted to get down there and show a little love."
The Pittsburgh based rapper is new to the X Games, but no stranger to the sports scene. In January 2011, he performed his hit single “Black and Yellow” in Heinz Field before his Steelers defeated the New York Jets in the AFC Championship Game.
“Sports and music kind of go hand-in-hand these days, so it was something I was already into,” Khalifa said.
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The Game Shack was every teenage gamer’s dream. An oasis from the cold outside, the heated tent was set up with two large projection screens that showcased the online battles of the world’s best gamers playing Counterstrike: Global Offensive for PC. It was even complete with commentary. That’s right -- video game commentary. Eight teams four from Europe, three from North America and one from Brazil competed for Winter X Games medals -- no different from Kelly Clark or Sage Kotsenburg.
“There are gold, silver and bronze medals up for grabs here just like in the Superpipe,” said Adam Apicella, executive vice president of operations for Major League Gaming.
When the dust settled, French based Team LDLC defeated the Swedish team Ninjas in Pyjamas for the first MLG Winter X Games gold medal.
“Typically the European teams dominate the field in Counterstrike: GO,” said Apicella.
The most youth-friendly area of X Games, the playground was given a makeover. Unlike past years, the entire area was specifically branded to be a part of the X Games experience. Kids smashed pucks on goal all day in slap shot hockey, sunk buckets in basketball double shot, and did their best Ben Roethlisberger impression at the football quarterback pass game. Games were open to all ages -- the grown ups got into the swing of things as well.
“We’ve had versions of the playground, but this year we did a good job of giving it a brand and a theme,” said Reed. “I think of it as stealing a little bit from what Disneyland does with theme villages and taking that to the Playground.”
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The Galleria was a village comprised of all of ESPN’s X Games sponsors. Each one had a vendor set up that offered different interactive activities, giveaways, merchandise and the potential to win some pretty big items.
In the Jeep vendor, graffiti artists tagged up Jeep paraphernalia for fans. Jeep also gave away skis to people who signed up for a larger raffle to win $45,000 towards a Jeep vehicle purchase. Eleven sets were handed out during the weekend.
At the Microsoft tent, two sets of Microsoft decaled skis and snowboards were up for grabs, and Harley Davidson had a raffle to a one- you guessed it- a Harley Davidson.
Navy’s tent showcased their brand and some of their equipment. The Navy vendor, true to form, made spectators sweat in order to win their snowboards. They gave two away each day, one to the man and woman who could do the most pull ups. Every day at 5 p.m., people gathered to watch last minute entries attempt to steal the board and glory.
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Courses (still the main event):
Wrapping up with the event courses themselves, Slopestyle received its usual annual makeover. For 2015, more rails and three big jumps instead of the usual four was the formula that riders had to contend with. The revamped course was the site of some surprising results; defending Men’s Slopestlye champion Max Parrot failed to qualify for the finals, but Nick Goepper didn’t seem to have any issues with as he won his third consecutive gold medal in the event.
“Slopestyle is the hardest practice at the Winter X Games,” Goepper said at his award press conference. “No matter the course, it’s always tough.
The 80-foot Big Air jump still made the casual skier or snowboarder shudder at the thought of launching off into the air. It was so well done that it wasn’t altered at all after it was originally built.
The Superpipe was epic, as usual -- 567 feet of pipe with 22-foot walls. Warmer temperatures over the weekend may have contributed to lack of amplitude compared to past years, but it’s still more than enough to throw down, as Davis and Kim proved.
Wrap all of that up into one event area, and it’s not hard to figure out why X Games Aspen 2015 succeeded in pushing the limits.