Two of the longest-running competitions in X Games history, winter's Snowboarder X and Skier X, will not be part of the show when the X Games return to Aspen in January 2013, event organizers confirmed Thursday. ESPN decided to cut the events, as well as Mono Skier X, and will not build the X Course for the first time in history.
Snowboarder X was one of three events that had taken place every year since the Winter X Games debuted in 1997, along with Snowboard Superpipe and Slopestyle. Skier X had been staged 15 of those 16 years, starting in 1998. Mono Skier X was added to the docket five years ago.
"These decisions are never easy, obviously," said Tim Reed, senior director of content strategy for ESPN X Games. "We understand the ramifications these things bring. We come up with what we believe are the best events to showcase to our fans on-site and obviously the networks, too.
"There wasn't one single factor that led to this decision. It just comes down to filling the schedule with how much we believe we need to make the event enjoyable to the fans and deliver on what we need from a product standpoint."
Meanwhile, two events that were dropped last year, Snowmobile SnoCross and Speed and Style, are returning to the 2013 Aspen schedule. SnoCross had been featured for 14 straight years before it was omitted from X Games Aspen 2012.
Six-time and defending SnoCross champion Tucker Hibbert knows the sentiment all too well. "I'm bummed for boardercross and skiercross; I know how those guys feel," he said. "We're kind of at the organizers' mercy in terms of whether we're in or out, but I'm thankful that SnoCross is back in and I'm going to do my best to make sure we're in for years to come."
The turn of events hit the ski and snowboard communities hard this week, with a handful of athletes finding out Tuesday. "It's a devastating blow to our sport and skiercross, too, because X Games has been our Super Bowl for years," said Nate Holland, who has won six of the past seven gold medals in Snowboarder X.
Holland said he appreciated the opportunity to work with ESPN in the past, but he's expecting to take a financial hit with the loss of the sport's most prestigious annual event. "I have sponsors that put a value on X Games and the exposure I get there," he said. "Basically, my stock went down as soon as that news came out."
"No Skier X comes as a surprise to me since X Games put it on the map and (helped foster) the progress it's made to the Olympic level," Daron Rahlves, the 2008 Skier X gold medalist and promoter of the Rahlves Banzai Tour, said in an e-mail from Chile. "Skicross athletes look forward to the X Games for the best track of the year and the big stage to compete on."
"It's definitely perplexing," 2011 Mono Skier X gold medalist Josh Dueck said. "It's not the only mono skiercross race, but in my eyes it is because it does it on a level no other event matches. There's no better exposure we can get for our sport. And right now we're young and growing exponentially. This is a huge, huge hit to the evolution we're seeing. It's hard to digest."
Reed didn't dismiss the possibility of the disciplines being added to future X Games events. "There's nothing to say we won't do X course next year," he said. "We believe in the sport, we love it, we've been doing it for a lot of years. Ultimately we just made the decision that we're going to focus on pipe, slope, big air, a full complement of snowmobiles and snowboard street."
Holland, for one, hopes his sport's fate mirrors that of SnoCross. "I know it's a business decision," he said. "I remain optimistic that they'll repeal this decision in the years to come. I'm open to any suggestions. I don't want this to be the end. And I don't think it's over for us."