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In Aspen, X Games a Hit With Extremes

Sports Competition Melds Pierced and Privileged in Rocky Mountain Ski Town

By T. R. Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 31, 2005; Page A03

ASPEN, Colo., Jan. 30 -- In a marketing-driven marriage of the pierced and privileged, of extreme athletes and their extremely rich hosts, a horde of tattooed teenagers with rings in their chins and boomboxes in their backpacks has descended upon this millionaires' village in the high Rockies.

Aspen, where the police department patrols in $40,000 Saab sedans and the average home sells for $4.1 million, is playing host to ESPN's rowdy Winter X Games. The noisy pageant of high-flying hot-dog skiers and snarling snowmobiles getting big air off the bumps has attracted tens of thousands of young fans who would normally eschew this resort's $400-a-night hotel rates.

A spectator shows his determination to get to the Winter X Games in Aspen, Colo., which has attracted tens of thousands of young fans who would normally eschew the ski resort's $400-a-night hotel rates. (Photos Jack Dempsey -- AP)

And yet, both sides of the culture clash seem delighted with the results.

"The bars here! The restaurants! I'm telling you, bro, Aspen is a sick town," says ESPN announcer Selema Masekela, using an adjective that means "very, very good" in the argot of extreme sports.

"The X Games and all the kids help us counter the sort of stodgy reputation Aspen used to have," says Ann McLean of the Aspen Skiing Co., the town's biggest employer.

Of course, the two contrasting worlds still cherish their stereotypes about one another.

The X Gamers enjoy making fun of their hosts:

Q: How many Aspenites does it take to change a light bulb?

A: Five. One to screw in the bulb and four to make sure she's wearing the right outfit.

The locals themselves laugh at that one and return the favor:

Q: How many snowboarders does it take to change a light bulb?

A: Fifty. One to screw in the bulb and 49 to go, like, "Yo dude, wicked!"

One thing that Aspenites and X Gamers both understand, though, is the power of marketing.

The X Games -- a virtual Olympics of "extreme" sports, involving highly visual, highly dangerous races and stunts performed on youth-oriented equipment such as skateboards, BMX bikes, snowboards and motorcycles -- was created in 1996 by ESPN to give the all-sports network an attraction for younger audiences and the advertisers who crave them.

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