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Winter X Games get fans to help green effort

Winter X Games organizers are trying to make the event's environmental impact as small as possible, limiting its carbon footprint through a program called X Games Environmentality.
Winter X Games
Under a clear evening sky, the base of Buttermilk Mountain in Aspen, Colo., is lit up Wednesday for the 12th annual Winter X Games.Nathan Bilow / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

The cups and plastic ware are made of corn, the plates and napkins from a sugarcane byproduct. The leftovers will become compost and grease from the kitchen will be turned into biodiesel, which will power the buses and snowcats.

There's even prizes for fans who separate cans and plastic into recycling bins.

With thousands of people descending upon Buttermilk Mountain for this weekend's Winter X Games, there's undoubtedly going to be some kind of environmental impact. Organizers are doing their best to make it as small as possible, limiting the event's carbon footprint through a program called X Games Environmentality.

"This is an amazing initiative," said snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler, a two-time X Games gold medalist and Olympic silver medalist.

"Global warming and the climate change is very important to me because it affects my livelihood, but I think every one of us has the responsibility to do everything we can to get our planet back on balance. What the X Games is doing by reducing the carbon footprint, I think it's a great charge for the demographic that they appeal to."

Environmental consciousness has been a part of the X Games since its inception in 1995. Organizers didn't have much choice back then, in part because the first event was held at Fort Adams, a Newport, R.I., structure that had stood since before the War of 1812.

But there's always a low-environmental impact approach behind the scenes at the X Games, with staff and crew recycling everything from aluminum cans to construction materials. Organizers decided to expand the program at the 2005 Summer X Games, creating X Games Environmentality as a way to get fans involved in the process.

'Legacy to our fans'
"Environment protection has always been at the core of our philosophy of how we approach our events," said Michelle Plotkin, an event producer for the Winter X Games. "From Day 1 we've always grown our event to manage our environment as best we can so we can leave it better than we found it. The X Games Environmentality was a way for us to leave sort of a public side of it, a little bit of a legacy to our fans."

The initiative is wide-ranging, involving everyone from fans to the staff who work behind the scenes.

Spectators are rewarded for using recycling bins by receiving tokens that they can redeem for prizes at a recycling store within X Fest village. One kid last year earned nearly 500 tokens and exchanged them for a new snowboard.

The cups, plates, napkins and plastic ware are made from renewable and compostable materials, including plastic made from corn and Bagasse, a sugarcane byproduct.

The base of the superpipe is built out of dirt rather than snow, saving 4 million gallons of water and about $15,000 in energy costs annually, and the media guide is printed on recycled paper, with a recycled plastic binding.

Composted leftovers
Leftover food is separated out and turned into compost, with nearly 10,000 pounds diverted from landfills since the program's inception. Shuttle buses, along with snowcats and heavy equipment used at Winter X, all run on biodiesel fuels made from ethanol and fats and oils.

The program also will plant 500 trees in the nearby Pike-San Isabel National Forest on behalf of each athlete participating in the Winter X Games, a grove that is expected to pull out 138 tons of carbon monoxide annually.

"I love the idea that they want to leave this place as it was before," said Bleiler, an Aspen native. "They want to come and have this amazing event, but equalize the footprint by doing all the steps that they're doing to make it really eco-friendly. More and more people are starting to do this and it's a great step in the right direction."

Bleiler has selfish reasons for supporting any initiative that fights global warming — without snow, she can't make a living. But saving the environment is something that's been important to her for a long time.

Sure, she drives a car and flies around the world to compete in snowboarding events, increasing the world's carbon dioxide output, but she also does little things like replacing incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs and unplugging electronic devices when she's not using them.

Bleiler also has included a line made of recycled products in her new Gretchen Bleiler Collection of clothing and accessories for Oakley.

"It's all about making lifestyle changes," she said. "They don't have to be huge steps, but even the little things help. It makes a little difference, but if we all do it adds up and we can have winter for years and years to come."