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X Games Aspen get underway Friday afternoon

Elena Hight
Posted at 5:37 AM, Jan 29, 2021

ASPEN, Colo. — Big jumps, big air, big mountains and a big change.

This year's winter X Games Aspen will have most of the same thrilling feats of athleticism as years past, but fans will be watching it all from home.

"Typically, we're hosting tens of thousands of fans, spectators," said X Games Vice President Tim Reed.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll on every major sports league over the past 11 months and these games are no exception.

"Everyone is going to be masking, distancing," Reed said.

The winter X Games usually host everything from skiing and snowboarding to motor sports like snowmobiling and snow biking.

But with all of the restrictions to keep competitors and officials safe, Reed said they "are focusing on the core competitions: snowboarding and skiing, big air, slope style, super pipe, couple knuckle events" all while keeping everybody safe.

When COVID-19 first began to break out in Colorado, the state's Department of Public Health and Environment had to close down ski resorts across the state to help mitigate the spread.

Other states made similar regulations and imposed travel restrictions, and that had an impact on athletes like Chris Corning, who had to hunker down and skip the slopes multiple times over the last year, including during production of a film he starred in.

"I got stuck in Wyoming for five weeks while filming that when the pandemic started,” he said. “And then, at the end of the summer, we went to Europe and we were there for about two weeks, but only rode for about two days because of the weather."

Corning has been on the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team for years, and was already planning to compete at this year’s X Games. However, between missing out on competitions since the pandemic began, and time to practice on the slopes, getting prepared has been a challenge.

"We had a contest in Austria a couple of weeks ago that was our first big air of the season," he said. "Leading up to those days, there were no jumps really open in Colorado. There were no places in the U.S. that had any jumps.”

Earlier this month, two athletes on the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team contracted COVID-19, so the others also had to quarantine for 10 days.

Usually, the team does 10 to 15 competitions per year but so far Corning said they’re only on track to do three.

But that lack of competition won’t stop him.

"We've all been competing for so long, doing all of these contests for so long, that it's not a huge deal," he said. "There's a little bit more pressure to do well because there was less contest. ... There's definitely something to be said about competing a lot and without that, you're not as comfortable, but I think that's something we can all get over."

And while no fans in the stands will be an unprecedented change, Corning said it’s not the biggest bummer

“I’ve competed in a lot of places where there’s not a crowd, so I don’t think it’s going to be too weird," he said. "I think it’s just going to seem weird that there’s no one here … because you’re used to it being so busy.”

Plus, there’s one advantage this year compared to others that could give him an edge.

"To be honest, I’ve struggled here at the X Games with coming in a little bit injured with all of the competitions leading up to this time, whereas this year I’ll be coming as healthy as I have since I started competing in the X Games," he said.

Couple that with fresh powder, a nice forecast, and a positive attitude from everyone involved, and Reed said he thinks it should make for a great time.

"We're, frankly, excited to have this happen. … We've got great courses, all the top athletes here fired up to put in a great show," Reed said. "So, hopefully everyone can tune in over the weekend. Should be fun."

He added that all office filtration systems are at the levels they need to be to hold the event.

Events get underway Friday at noon MST. You can see a full list of events here.