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Open Roads: The X Games’ Influence on the Olympics

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Aspen, CO - January 24, 2014 - Buttermilk Mountain: Nate Holland, Alex Tuttle, Konstanin Schad, Kevin Hill, Cameron Bolton, Stian Sivertzen competing in Men’s Snowboarder X Final during X Games Aspen 2014

Last week the pin dropped on Highway 82 in Aspen, Colorado, the mountain kingdom of fun. The X Games were back in town, celebrating their 20th anniversary, showcasing the world’s best snowboarders, skiers, and snowmobilers in the most progressive competition formats. Record crowds showed up to watch athletes from 20 different countries compete one last time before the Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia (follow our Sochi coverage). Ski halfpipe and slopestyle will make their Olympic debut—two of the most recent events made popular by the X Games and then adopted by the International Olympic Committee.

NBC’s Olympic host, Bob Costas, recently commented on the Today Show, comparing slopestyle to MTV’s show Jackass. Nick Goepper answered back with a triple flip to take the X Games Gold while David Wise claimed his third straight X Games title in the halfpipe perfecting his switch 900 nearly 20 feet above the deck. David Letterman made no such comparisons when Goepper appeared as a guest last Tuesday night. Regardless, watching these two ‘Jackasses’ going for Olympic gold will be a phenomenal show.

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Aspen, CO – January 26, 2014 – Buttermilk Mountain: Louie Vito on the podium after competing in Men’s Snowboard SuperPipe Final during X Games Aspen 2014; Photo by Christian Pondella / ESPN Images

Beyond influencing the progression of Olympic sports, the X Games has rejuvenated the image of Aspen. Before the event arrived in 2002, Aspen had become somewhat of an exclusive resort visited mostly by older, fur-wearing, high-rollers. It’s been 20 years since the release of Dumb and Dumber, which hit cinemas a year after Aspen Extreme. T.J. Burke and Dexter Rutecki proved that two regular guys from Detroit with a passion for skiing could become local legends overnight, while Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunn mingled with Aspen’s elite despite any measure of intelligence. This kind of inclusivity is (in real life) the mark of a great ski town where the mutual pursuit of ‘living the dream’ becomes a common bond regardless of any perceived socio-economic strata.

In the late 90s, Aspen’s community chemistry may have fallen out of balance when real estate prices and the cost of living catapulted in the wake of the dot-com boom. But ever since its beginnings, Aspen has always found its way back toward keeping it real … and really fun! Aspen Ski Co’s, John Rigney, put it best, “We know we have fantastic skiing and snowboarding, but what makes the difference is the total experience.” The X Games counter culture lights this town on fire with passionate youth spilling into the streets and across four different ski mountains. It seems everywhere you look, all sorts of people are going big! Except for the brightest star of them all, Shaun White, who withdrew from the X Games when he came down with a case of “Olympic-itis”—a common ailment suffered by those in fear of injury so close to the Games.

The rest, however, would have surely made the late Hunter S Thompson proud. During his rowdy days living in Aspen, Gonzo once said, “When the going gets weird, the weird get professional.” Aspen was full of professionals last week—some of whom will take the worlds biggest stage in Sochi when the Olympic Games showcase the most progressive elements of mountain sports and culture when ski halfpipe and slopestyle hit the spotlight.