It takes a lot to see something, mouth drop in awe, and realize you haven’t the slightest idea what just happened, but you still recognize it might have been the raddest thing you’ve ever seen. Yes, after this past week in Aspen, the words rad, gnarly, alley-oop, and oh s**t have forever been added to my mountainous vernacular. Welcome to X Games Aspen 2013 (otherwise known as Winter X 17) where you should have already been introduced to some of the biggest daredevils in all of action sports.
Jumps and falls and spills and lots of “Oh, s**t”s. Free vodka as long as you’re OK with pairing it with any of the four Red Bull flavors throughout the 3.5sq mile town of Aspen, parties and guest lists a mile long each night, wristbands to prove you belong, girls in baggy pants with banging bodies which only makes sense in a mountain town, and hair-raising jumps higher and bolder than the previous year.
I’m not going to lie. A four-day event with 17 different categories (five ski, seven snowboard and five snowmobile), a record attendance of 115,500 according to ESPN, over 200 invited athletes, and women competitors with bigger balls than 99.99% of the men you’ve ever met, I was way out of my league, much less my oxygenated element. Oh, and not to mention weed was legal. Thankfully I ran across a guy who was pretty damn helpful. And actually kind of a big deal: Keir Dillon.
Having been on the X Games telecast team since 2008; Keir was this year’s snowboard play-by-play announcer and brought his nine years of X Games experience to the podium. We hung out at the VIP RedBull closing ceremonies party inside Aspen’s most luxurious hotel, Hotel Jerome, and started recapping the games that had concluded just an hour earlier.
Interviews are always better over cocktails and with pen and paper in hand, so bear with me as I try and piece this doozie together. It started with me asking Keir why the X Games didn’t get as much credit as some other sports, like basketball. The training and mentality and ever-changing landscape of the disciplines at the X Games is unprecedented.
“I don’t know, but it’s coming. Think about it – Michael Jordan perfects one shot over a decade whereas guys like Shaun White have to add new jumps, twists, etc. on a regular basis,” Keir said. “A dunk is a dunk,” he said.
You’ve got the occasional Blake Griffin dunking over a Kia, but you’re right — only guys like Shaun White can land a 24-foot backside method into a frontside double cork 1080 to a cab double cork 1080 followed by frontside 540 to a backside double Mctwist 1260 and ending with a frontside double cork 1260, right? (Thanks to ESPN’s press release for that exact verbiage…)
Like all sports, elite athletes are continuing to push the envelope and motivate other athletes in their field, particularly action sports, like X Games. “Someone’s ceiling is someone else’s floor. Action sports is the vehicle to make that happen,” Keir said bluntly.
I get that, but Shaun White’s ceiling could literally be the death of someone else, like me for instance. Watching these games up close and personal, you see how incredibly dangerous the sport is. I was there on day one to witness Caleb Moore’s horrific accident as he attempted a backflip and his 450-pound snowmobile crashed onto his head and chest. Moore passed away yesterday, and his tragedy has raised many concerns of the dangerous sport. Keir explains that while the sport can be dangerous and he too had many spills throughout his career, these athletes train year-round and work with staff to try and prevent such tragic accidents.
The amount of common-folk unaware the X Games were taking place at the exact time Keir and I were talking about it, boggled my mind. I asked Keir to offer up some advice on “why” to watch the X Games.
“If you have a passion for any of the sports, it’s the best way to appreciate the athleticism, follow an athlete and get sucked in,” Keir said. Of course I countered with my love and passion for snowboarding and my own recent attempts to jump as clear evidence he may be slightly off course on his recommendation.
I made Keir watch the above video to which he said, “You should relish in the fact you’re not good.” He’s really good at those one-liners, probably why he’s an on-air TV personality and I am not.
As a novice to the event, there were entirely too many good moments and stories going on at every conceivable second, I didn’t know which way was up so I asked Keir to break down his most memorable X Games moment from the weekend.
“The best for me was seeing Torstein Horgmo (25) and Mark McMorris (19) in the Men’s Snowboard Big Air – the two best in the world and they weren’t even in medal position at that time when Torstein drops in and lands a trick never landed in a snowboarding competition before. Right after that, Mark saw it and dropped in with an equally new trick. It’s so cool to watch athletes at the top of their game rise to the occasion,” Keir said of their epically close performances.
After winning gold, Horgmo admitted to ESPN, “This is the craziest level of riding I’ve ever been a part of. The level just got pushed so high.” Moments later, McMorris said, “No one’s ever done that. I’m so proud to be a part of progressing the sport and doing something new,” of his silver medal performance.
So basically what you’re telling me is that one of these guys saw an awesome trick and without even really practicing a ton or knowing full well he could land it, he decided to up his game mid competition, I asked Keir? “Yeah, it’s like seeing an athlete land something unique and wanting to capitalize on it. It’s similar to a football player – you see the defense line up and you change your game plan. Fake a throw or change up your pitch in baseball,” he explained. The mutual respect and admiration all these athletes have for one another is another reasons Keir believes more people should tune in to the sport.
One would think sitting in a fur vest, a v-neck t-shirt from Target and a wonder woman studded headband in the Living Room at Hotel Jerome, I wouldn’t have to tell Keir I was a badass, but I did anyways as it was the ideal segue to my next question. Very rarely do I feel surrounded by women with bigger ovaries than I, so it’s got to be especially hard for a guy to handle. Who’s the one female you wouldn’t challenge?
“Kelly Clark and I used to be on the same team and when the weather scared me, she kept going,” Keir explained. “No way I could drop in on her in the halfpipe and do better than what she does time and again. It’s very hard to put it in perspective, especially from the booth, but what these women do is gnarly. Same thing if I went up against Michelle Wie in a tee box – she’d school me and I’m man enough to admit it,” Keir laughed.
We started talking about all the great names in the X Games event, not just the most common redheaded name everyone knows, Shaun White. These women are intense and are just as electrifying to watch as anyone else on the slope. “One of the most memorable moments for me this year was Elena Hight’s run in the women’s Snowboard Superpipe final, which pushed forward women’s snowboarding,” Keir said. During her final run, Hight landed the first-ever (by a female or male) backside alley-oop rodeo in the halfpipe finals scoring a 90.0. Big moments like these from Hight are what’s going to continue pushing forward the X Games and making these household names, we both agreed.
Keir now spends his time not only playing on the slopes for fun or helping blonde gals write intelligently about the X Games, but also with his line of earbuds, Frends, which are the only women’s headphones sold in the Apple store. “We broke it down,” Keir said of his line. “Just cause you shrink it and pink it doesn’t make it female – this is more form meets function.”
Jayme is a freelance sports and travel writer based in Houston and is currently in a full-court press writing her hugely opinionated sports column, The Blonde Side. Follow her travels for sporting events and check her out on Twitter.