The X (Games) Factor

Once little more than a fringe element of mountain culture, the Winter X Games is now the biggest—and maybe the most important—sporting events on snow.
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Once little more than a fringe element of mountain culture, the Winter X Games is now the biggest—and maybe the most important—sporting events on snow.
Shaun White wins fifth halfpipe gold

When it started 16 years ago, the Winter X Games was a bastion of counterculture. It was barely a blip on the greater ski industry's radar. The mainstream winter sports community largely disregarded it as a playground for nonconformists who were in it for adrenaline's sake alone and contributed little to the ski industry's bottom line. The competitors were unknown kids and young adults who went to school or worked full-time jobs. They invented new tricks in their spare time for no reward but their peers' admiration. They did it with little, if any, support from ski resorts or gear companies, and they operated in the shadows of more mainstream events. But in the past decade and a half, the X Games has made alternative sports—and their top competitors—mainstream. You need to look no further than your home mountain's terrain parks, arguably a direct result of the X Games influence. Today, X athletes rake in million-dollar product endorsement deals and create their own brands. They're influencing what your kids wear, where they ski, how they talk, what they drink. But more important than all of that, they're progressing our sport and pushing the boundaries of athleticism. If you're not already, it's time to start paying attention. Here are a few highlights from this year's X Games.