Olympian Shaun White can still do some amazing things with a snowboard. He’ll show onlookers just how much at the Winter X Games in Aspen from January 24 to 27. With the right itinerary, you can make some equally amazing moves on Buttermilk Mountain. This handy guide will get you to the right hotel, top restaurants and best parties of the snow-packed, four-day event.
What to Know
Built on high speed, big air and massive amounts of adrenaline, the ESPN X Games has delivered action from the best extreme athletes in the world for more than 15 years. It made its debut with its first summer competition in 1995 (dubbed the “Extreme Games”), with the winter games following in 1997. This year, the X Games is expanding globally beyond its previous three-city schedule (Aspen, Los Angeles and Tignes, France) into three additional spots—Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil; Munich; and Barcelona—that also will host summer contests through 2015.
The first stop carves into Buttermilk Mountain, traditionally characterized as the friendliest of the four peaks that make up the Aspen/Snowmass resort complex—neighboring Snowmass, Aspen Mountain and Aspen Highlands round out the quartet. Featuring a 22-foot superpipe (voted No. 1 by Transworld Snowboarding magazine’s 2012 readers’ poll), the peak will host more than 150 athletes from around the globe.
What to See
The world-class extreme-sports weekend lures top names on the mountain. Shaun “The Flying Tomato” White is back and aiming for a six-peat in the SuperPipe competition, while fellow snowboarder—and the first to land a triple cork (three inverted backflips with 1,440 degrees of rotation) in competition—Mark McMorris will defend his gold medal in Slopestyle and Big Air. Repping the female snowboarders are Gretchen Bleiler, Olympic medalist and four-time SuperPipe gold winner, and Kelly Clark, the first woman to land a 1080 in competition.
But it’s not all about snowboarding at the X Games. The snowmobiling and skiing competitions are just as intense—and the athletes catch just as much air. Don’t miss snowmobiler Heath Frisby, who was the first to land a snowmobile front flip and arguably one of the best freestyle riders in history, or Levi “Launchin Levi” LaVallee, who is the only snowmobiler to attempt a double backflip in competition. And back looking to win gold for the third time in Aspen is defending Slopestyle skier Kaya Turski.
Where to Refuel
After cheering on the athletes in the numerous competitions—all of which are free to attend—you’ll need some food and a cozy abode to refuel for the next day’s action, and Aspen has no shortage of either. The Little Nell, with its relaxed but ultra-luxe atmosphere and ski-friendly amenities, is the place to stay. This Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star hotel’s mix of modernity and mountain flair makes it a posh destination to rest your head after watching a day of extreme winter action. And if the high-fliers have inspired a mountain outing of your own, the hotel’s ski concierge will heat up your boots, prep the equipment for a run and wax your skis to a shred-worthy sheen. Ashcroft Pine Creek Cookhouse—reachable only by horse-drawn sleigh or ski in the winter—is the epitome of a mountain lodge, with crackling fireplaces in the dining room, exposed wood beams and chandeliers made of antlers. Try the winter dinner tour—it’s a four-course meal featuring everything from elk and venison to wild salmon and rainbow trout.
Where to Get Cultured
This year’s X Games brings more than just sports—there are also tons of music, film and even fashion events to attend. The Crash Reel (Jan. 23, 8:15 p.m. at Wheeler Opera House) is an HBO documentary about the traumatic brain injury and recovery of snowboarder Kevin Pearce after his horrific crash while training for the 2010 Winter Olympics. Green Day’s documentary ¡Quatro! (Jan. 26, 9:15 p.m. at Wheeler Opera House) gives fans a glimpse into the band’s creative process behind its 2011 album trilogy, ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, ¡Tré! Be sure to get to the screenings in time for the runway shows scheduled just prior to the two films—they’re expected to demonstrate the relationship between sports and high fashion.
If music is your thing, DJ stars Calvin Harris (his 2012 hit Feel So Close was inescapable) and Major Lazer are headlining several live shows throughout the weekend, including the free X Fest Stage at Buttermilk Mountain on Jan. 26. The Belly Up Aspen along with X Games Music will also have three concerts—indie band Bloc Party on Jan. 23 and Tyler the Creator (co-founder of the hip-hop group Odd Future) and a second Harris show on Jan. 25, although tickets to the DJ’s second show might be tough to get as it’s sold out.
Photos Courtesy of ESPN Images, Eric Lars Bakke, Scott Markewitz and Tomas Zuccareno