X Games athletes excited to compete as competition gets underway Friday | PostIndependent.com

X Games athletes excited to compete as competition gets underway Friday

Audrey Ryan
The Aspen Times
Australian snowboarder Scotty James, right, talks as host Selema Masekela listens during an introductory press conference ahead of X Games Aspen on Thursday at Buttermilk Ski Area in Aspen.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Athletes and announcers were teeming with excitement as X Games Aspen kicked off Thursday afternoon with a press conference at the base of Buttermilk Ski Area.

New X Games CEO Steven Flisler started off by talking about how thrilled he was to be “full throttle back in Aspen.”

ESPN, the creator of the X Games franchise, sold its majority stake to MSP Sports Capital back in October. ESPN will maintain a minority position and continue to broadcast the events, but the day-to-day operational control of the summer and winter contests is in new hands.

“We’re here to build out the next next chapter of the X Games,” Flisler said. “We’re taking incredible, incredible parts that have been built out over 27 years, and we’re really excited to build out the future with all of you.”

In its first year under new ownership, X Games brought back Selema Masekela as the official host for 2023. He left X Games in 2013 after a 13-year run as the host. He was there in 2002 when X Games first arrived at Buttermilk. He will be joined by co-host Victoria Arlen.

“Aspen is the home of X Games when it comes to winter sports, and I’m excited to be back here and to be a part of it,” Masekela said.

Basalt freeskier Hanna Faulhaber was one of five athletes who spoke. She is competing in her second X Games this year after winning bronze in women’s halfpipe skiing in her debut a year ago. She’s also fresh off her first trip to the Winter Olympics, finishing sixth at the Beijing Games last February.

“It’s just such an honor to finally be able to compete in my dream competition, and I still can’t find the words to really describe how I feel,” she said.

Seasoned X Games snowboarder Scotty James is back, and the affable Australian looks to add another medal to the seven he already has in the halfpipe.

“It’s been a fun journey so far, and one that I look forward to still being on in the foreseeable future,” he said.

Other panelists were Zeb Powell, competing in snowboard knuckle huck for the third time; Canada’s Megan Oldham, who placed third in ski slopestyle and second in ski big air last year; and Utah’s Alex Hall, a multi-time medalist at X Games who is the reigning Olympic champion in slopestyle skiing.

Teammate camaraderie

Even though they are competing against each other, the X Games panelists noted how important their tight-knit community is to them.

“As much as we’re all competitors, we all respect each other greatly,” James said. “It’s not a walk in the park out there. It’s dangerous. It’s technical. It’s hot. It’s scary. So, I think that’s where the brother-sister thing comes from.”

Faulhaber, who grew up idolizing some of the X Games athletes still active today, now competes alongside them.

“They’re definitely my older sisters and brothers,” she said. “It’s just so great to have that experience after absolutely fan girling over them.”

Big air under the lights

For the first time since before the pandemic, big air is going back to its own spot under the lights. Last year, the big air jump was still part of the slopestyle course, even though it is its own discipline.

“It’s really cool just to highlight that and have a really big jump where we can, as athletes, push ourselves to show you guys what we can do on the course,” Oldham said.

Competition begins Friday

The first medals of X Games Aspen 2023 will be awarded Friday. The action begins with the women’s snowboard slopestyle final at 11:30 a.m. The Special Olympics Unified Snowboarding and Skiing event returns at 1:30 p.m., before women’s ski big air gets the nighttime contests underway at 5:30 p.m.

Ski knuckle huck is next up at 7:30 p.m., followed by Friday’s nightcap: the men’s snowboard halfpipe competition at 8:30 p.m.

General in-person spectating is free and open to the public.

To reach Audrey Ryan, email her at aryan@aspentimes.com.

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