ESPN, Skico negotiating new Winter X Games contract | |

ESPN, Skico negotiating new Winter X Games contract

Jason Auslander
The Aspen Times
Henrik Harlaut spins onto a rainbow rail on the slopestyle course during a practice run before the finals for the ski slopestyle on Sunday. Harlaut took first place with a score of 93.
Anna Stonehouse, Aspen Times

The Aspen Skiing Co. is in discussions with ESPN about extending its contract for Winter X Games, with an announcement possible by next month, sources said Tuesday.

“I’m optimistic,” Skico CEO Mike Kaplan said. “We would love to continue with it.”

Kaplan said an announcement about a new contract could be made by next month’s 18th Winter X Games at Buttermilk, scheduled for Jan. 24 to 27.

Vanessa Anthes, ESPN associate director for global X events, confirmed Tuesday that discussions with Skico about a new contract are ongoing.

“I can say that ESPN loves Aspen,” she said. “We hope to have an announcement in the near future.”

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Winter X Games was first held in 1997 at Big Bear Lake in California, then moved to Crested Butte for the 1998 and 1999 games, then to Mount Stowe, Vermont, for the following two years. It was held for the first time at Buttermilk in 2002 and has been at the Aspen-area venue ever since.

The last contract for five years was awarded to Aspen in 2014 after ESPN solicited bids from other ski towns, including Whistler in British Columbia, Canada. This time around, and while ESPN continually talks with various resorts, the company did not formally solicit bids this year, said Grace Coryell, ESPN communications manager.

“It definitely shows we have been in Aspen for 18 years and we definitely love the town and the setup of the mountain,” Coryell said.

Winter X Games will be free to the public as usual this year, except in the concert areas. The beer garden at Home Team BBQ again will be set up, as will a similar area at Bumps restaurant, she said.

Concerts at Buttermilk this year will feature Lil Wayne at 10 p.m. Friday, Louis the Child at 5 p.m. Saturday, The Chainsmokers at 9:30 p.m. Saturday and Kygo at 3 p.m. Sunday. Lights from the night concerts will be extinguished by about 11:30 p.m., Anthes said.

Pitkin County Commissioner Greg Poschman questioned the county’s contribution of overtime for sheriff’s deputies when ESPN and its corporate parent, Disney, are worth billions of dollars. In the beginning when the event was young, it made sense for the community to contribute, but the games have now become a major event, he said.

“I’d like to request ESPN pay their own way when it comes to (Sheriff’s Office overtime),” Poschman said.

His colleagues on the county board, however, were not receptive to his suggestion.

“It’s a great event,” Commissioner George Newman said. “It brings in people from all over the country.”

The long-term marketing for Aspen is easily worth the community contributions, he said. Newman also noted that the Sheriff’s Office must frequently provide security for dignitaries without compensation.

Commissioner Rachel Richards recalled supporting Winter X Games coming to Aspen when she served as mayor in the early aughts, and said losing the event would lead to complaints like those she heard this year about not having World Cup events in Aspen.

Richards also said that in travels to other ski towns, she’s heard people say Aspen used to be known as “your grandfather’s ski area” while it’s now thought of as “a kid’s ski area” because of Winter X Games. In other words, the benefits to Aspen far outweigh the community contributions, she said.

“This has become a hugely successful event,” Richards said. “I’m OK with the contribution. I’m very supportive of this moving forward.”

Board Chairwoman Patti Clapper agreed, noting that she received no complaints about Winter X Games last year.

“I’m ready for it to roll again,” she said.

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