Bleiler, Fisher Help Grow Winter X |

Bleiler, Fisher Help Grow Winter X

Little-known athletes such as Shaun White and Gretchen Bleiler turned into household names. Two sports lacking credibility became part of the Olympics. Thousands of people found another reason to watch ESPN.

Those are the effects of the first 11 years of the Winter X Games, a action-sports festival of snowboarding, extreme skiing and snowmobile racing that hasn’t stopped growing.

Nearly 1 million ESPN viewers, more than 100,000 spectators and 250-plus athletes, including 20 Coloradans, are expected for Winter X Games 12, which opens to the public today and runs through Sunday on Buttermilk Mountain. Competition began Wednesday, with Tanner Hall finishing with a top score of 95.33 in men’s ski superpipe elimination.

Like the previous six years Winter X was staged in Aspen, teenagers and young adults – most wearing ski caps and baggy pants, some sporting foam taco hats – have invaded the ritzy mountain town.

Aspen’s population of 5,800 will more than quadruple each day of Winter X. The attendance record set last year – 76,150 over four mostly sunny days – could be broken despite a 60 percent chance of snow today and Friday with a wind chill as low as minus-10 degrees.

The growing popularity of White and Bleiler, among others, makes ESPN executives believe last year’s viewership records – 734,000-household average in prime time and 925,377 households on the Sunday prime-time telecast – will be eclipsed.

“It’s going to keep getting bigger and bigger,” Bleiler said Wednesday at a Winter X news conference. “More live coverage. More events. Every year, the progression just steps up.”

The Winter X Games served as a springboard to fame and fortune for Bleiler, an Aspen resident who was recognized in snowboarding circles before she won a halfpipe silver medal at the 2006 Turin Games.

Bleiler appeared this month on the cover of ESPN The Magazine, wearing clothes provided by Oakley, one of her biggest sponsors. Her own clothing line, the GB Collection, might launch in September.

Like Bleiler, White was a snowboarding star before Turin, but the halfpipe gold he won launched him into another category. In a five-year stretch, he claimed eight Winter X medals, including six golds.

White donned the cover of Rolling Stone magazine in 2006. He has more sponsors than he can count – Hewlett-Packard, Mountain Dew, Red Bull, Sony and Target the most prominent.

“Winning an X Games medal solidifies your place in the sport,” said Breckenridge resident Steve Fisher, who beat White in the men’s snowboard superpipe finals at Winter X Games 11. “It pushes you in the public eye more than winning any other contest.”

Click here to read the full story.

Posted on: January 23, 2008