X Games Aspen sport disciplines announced
ESPN announced the competition lineup for X Games Aspen 2015 on Wednesday, and while one snowmobiling event exits, another returns for the first time in a decade.
Snowmobile Freestyle, which has been held at the Winter X Games since 2007, will not be part of the four-day event when it returns to Buttermilk Mountain in Aspen, Colorado, for the 14th straight year from Jan. 22-25. Snowmobile HillCross, which was last contested in 2004 and features head-to-head racing up the X Course, returns as an X Games event.
ESPN also added Snowboarder X Adaptive, a former demonstration event, and brought back Mono Skier X and Snowmobile Speed & Style to the docket after brief hiatuses.
"Throughout our history with X Games, year in and year out we just take a look at what sports we're doing, and we make changes all the time," said Tim Reed, senior director of X Games content strategy. "It's part of that process of continuing to evolve the event and do different things."
In January 2013, Caleb Moore died as a result of injuries sustained in a Snowmobile Freestyle crash. In spite of that incident, Reed contended that the decision to drop Snowmobile Freestyle was not related to safety. In 2014, Moore's brother Colten won gold in the same event, producing one of the most memorable moments in the X Games' 20-year history.
"We all suffered a huge loss with Caleb's death two years ago at Winter X Games," Colten Moore said. "Last year, I returned to take the gold for my brother. This year, I support ESPN's decision to postpone the actual freestyle comp to bring a fresh new version of Speed & Style to the games. Speed & Style at Summer X was a success, and they are hoping to achieve the same with snowmobiles this winter. The only thing on my mind is to train hard this year so I can take home another gold for Caleb."
Many Freestyle athletes learned of the decision to eliminate their event before it was made public. Heath Frisby, a nine-time X Games medalist and last year's bronze medalist in Freestyle, said he was disappointed. Frisby was among a group of early freeriders who lobbied to get the discipline included in the X Games eight years ago, when snowmobile competitions almost exclusively involved racing.
"It was my impression from talking to the guys at ESPN that we'd be back," Frisby said. "They're trying some different things; I don't necessarily agree with it. Freestyle's my favorite sport that I compete in, so all you can do as an athlete is just sit and wait and hope for the best and hope that you can be back in there.
"Every sport changes," he added. "Look at skateboarding. It used to be about Tony Hawk and [vert]; now it's all about street. Everything is different every year. You never know. A couple years from now you might see Snowmobile Real Snow."
Ten years after Snowmobile HillCross last appeared, the same man who won the gold medal -- Levi LaVallee -- will be a favorite to win again. LaVallee, 32, who has captured X Games gold in four snowmobile disciplines, also plans to compete in Speed & Style and Long Jump. He won Speed & Style gold the last time it was held in Aspen, in 2013, and is the defending champ in Long Jump.
Though LaVallee said he was surprised to see such a "staple" event like Freestyle get canceled, "It's my understanding that it's not gone for good."
"I think what this might do is maybe re-energize Freestyle," said LaVallee, who recently announced his retirement from snowmobile racing but plans to compete in the X Games for at least three more years. "Maybe guys will be like, 'Hey, we got to not take this for granted. We got to really push. Maybe it will bring the level of freestyle up a notch.'"
Snowmobile Long Jump, SnoCross and SnoCross Adaptive will also be part of the program in Aspen. Tucker Hibbert will try to win his eighth consecutive gold medal in SnoCross.
The ski and snowboard dockets remain unchanged from last year. Men in each sport will compete in SuperPipe, Slopestyle and Big Air, while the women will vie for gold medals in SuperPipe and Slopestyle. Snowboarder X returns for both men and women.
Some of the snowboarders will also team up with Special Olympic athletes Jan. 22 for a first-of-its-kind Special Olympics Unified Snowboarding dual slalom on the X Course.
One of the biggest noncompetitive changes is the relocation of concerts from downtown Aspen to Buttermilk. Previously, the biggest musical acts played at Wagner Park. Reed said a schedule of performances will be released soon.