Story By: Devon O’Neil – espn.com
One of the longest-running Winter X Games events — Snowmobile SnoCross racing — will no longer be a part of the Winter X program, as of this coming January’s event in Aspen, Colo., X Games officials announced Thursday. SnoCross debuted in 1998 as the first motorized sport in X Games history, and had been contested every year since then. Speed & Style, which combines snowmobiling’s freestyle and racing disciplines, and adaptive SnoCross, are also being eliminated.
X Games Senior Director of Content Strategy Tim Reed said the decision to cut the events was complex and not tied strictly to budgets. “Ultimately, we’re trying to create and build the best event we can,” Reed said. “It’s never easy. We know there’s a lot going on in the industry and a lot of it is tied to the X Games. A lot goes into these decisions.”
The official statement read: “Each year the X Games monitor and evaluate the most appropriate sports for inclusion in each event and over time has continued to evolve in order to deliver the best product and most value for its athletes and fans. At this time, we decided that ESPN will focus on the disciplines of Snowmobile Freestyle and Best Trick and will not bring back the disciplines of SnoCross and Speed & Style to Winter X Games Aspen.
“SnoCross has been a great element of the Winter X Games for the past 14 years. We’ve enjoyed working with the athletes and look forward to seeing many of them in Aspen as they continue to compete in the other disciplines.”
Many of the sport’s top riders were informed of the decision Wednesday. “It’s a shock,” said Tucker Hibbert, the five-time defending SnoCross gold medalist and six-time winner overall. “Definitely wasn’t something we were expecting to hear. It’s obviously going to be a huge blow to snowmobiling.” Hibbert broke into the sport by winning his first SnoCross gold medal at age 15, making him the youngest gold medalist in Winter X Games history. He went on to compete in SnoCross for 12 of its 14 years at the X Games. “It’s been a big part of my professional racing career,” he said. “For me, one of the biggest letdowns is just not getting the opportunity to go for the six-peat.”
“On a business side, I can understand the X Games’ reasoning,” said four-time Snowmobile gold medalist Levi LaVallee, whose seven total medals include the SnoCross silver he earned in 2006. “But it’s just disappointing. Without the exposure, it’s going to take a toll on the riders, the teams, the sponsors. We’ll just have to work that much harder.”
SnoCross, which exploded in popularity in the mid-’90s, dominated competitive snowmobiling for decades before the freestyle discipline began to grow in the early and mid-2000s. Ironically, before Freestyle debuted at the X Games in 2007, many freestylers struggled to gain industry support because so much focus was given to the racers. Now, at least at the X Games, the opposite is true.
“That’s where it obviously started, with SnoCross, but at the same time, you got to change things up and we’re always seeing things change at X,” said freestyler Heath Frisby, who took silver in Speed & Style at WX 2011. The hybrid discipline returned this year after a one-year absence, and many riders felt it rewarded the most complete snowmobiler at Winter X. “Speed & Style was my favorite event,” Frisby said. “I’ve been working out and training for it already this year. It’s a shock to me.”
Hibbert said SnoCross’ elimination from X opens up about a six-week hole in his winter schedule, time he’ll use to prepare for the World Championship race, which he won in Sweden in 2010. “That’s the only event I’ve put as much time into as the X Games,” Hibbert said.
As for snowmobiling’s future in Aspen, Reed said ESPN remains committed to the Freestyle discipline. “It’s an exciting thing, the fans react to it. It doesn’t take anything away from the SnoCross guys or Speed & Style, but we’re looking forward to highlighting Freestyle in the future.”