ESPN is reviewing bids from several ski resorts hoping to host the Winter X Games.
The network's annual bacchanal of snow sports — featuring 200 superstars of freeskiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling — turns 17 next year. And like any 17-year-old, it's growing up and eyeing potential new digs.
Buttermilk ski area, Colorado's 11-year X Games host, joins a collaboration of Lake Tahoe resorts in California, Utah's Park City Mountain Resort and possibly British Columbia's Whistler-Blackcomb in courting the Winter X Games.
Aspen Skiing Co.'s Buttermilk ski area will host its 12th — and possibly next to last — Winter X Games next month. The company's contract runs through 2014. Last year, the event drew 108,000 attendees who filled every available room in the Roaring Fork Valley, stirring $6 million to $10 million in spending during the four-day event.
In 2014, ESPN plans to announce the next host for 2015 through 2017. The network said it would announce bid finalists early next year.
"The process is just beginning," said Aspen Skiing Co. vice president John Rigney, whose team has developed an expertise in negotiating with ESPN, winning two two-year extensions in recent years, including the latest deal to keep Winter X at Buttermilk for 2013 and 2014.
"With our track record with ESPN, the formula will certainly be similar, but we'll tweak it as we have over the past 12 years to remain compelling and best represent Aspen-Snowmass," Rig-ney said.
South Lake Tahoe's Heavenly ski area, owned by Vail Resorts, and nearby Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows ski areas have joined forces in a multivenue bid to host the Winter X Games, sources confirmed. Park City Mountain Resort, which hosted several alpine events during the 2002 Winter Olympics, has submitted a bid.
ESPN's bid process — see it at bidxgames.com — includes a clause requiring hosts to not share any information. Network representatives declined to comment.
Earlier this year, Whistler-Blackcomb lost to Aspen in a bid to host the Winter X Games in 2013 and 2014. But the host of the 2010 Winter Olympics said it would continue to fight for the event.
"We would certainly be open to discussing future opportunities with ESPN if the occasion were to arise," said Whistler-Blackcomb president Dave Brownlie in a statement released in May.
Hosting is a big deal, with a resort pretty much surrendering an entire mountain and base lodge to event organizers for a meaty chunk of the winter. The network employs 400 staffers to sculpt snowy venues and set up the technological wizardry required to splash 16 hours of live action — in 3-D, of course — into 232 million homes in 200 countries.
Aspen Skiing partners with local tourism and lodging groups for multifaceted support of the X Games, a regionalized approach that is a massive undertaking.
"It is a high-visibility, world-class, really significant event," said Colorado Ski Country president Melanie Mills. "To put it on, it needs some major infrastructure and community support and big dollars."
Jason Blevins: 303-954-1374, email@example.com or twitter.com/jasontblevins
Home sweet home
The Winter X Games has been held at four resorts — two in Colorado — since its debut in 1997:
Big Bear Lake, Calif. 1997
F Crested Butte 1998, 1999
F Mount Snow, Vt. 2000, 2001
Aspen 2002 through 2014