Evolve or die. | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Evolve or die.

ESPN’s Winter X Games, the veteran among the alternative snowsports set, has seen its challengers, and will meet them on their own ground this week, Wednesday though Sunday, at Mount Snow, Vt. While this year’s X Games have changed, they’ve done so to keep the spirit of the original competition the same.

Gone are the ice-climbing venue, and the “free” at the beginning of the skiing competition. For 2000, the X Games welcomes the new ultracross venue, where the top 16 skiers and snowboarders in the games compete in a relay race on the skier X course. The halfpipe has evolved into the superpipe, and the big air competition adds a quarterpipe. This is a leaner, faster X Games, grounded in the original principles of the game, but one that flies higher.

“Right now, it’s the venue that has the most respect because it’s been going on for a logn time, and it’s the one they’re basing the others off of,” said South Lake Tahoe skier Mike Dill, an entrant in the skiing venue.

“The standard is set by the X Games,” he said. “You win the X Games, you’re pretty much the king of skiercross.”

Even if the games are in Vermont, a little Northern California flavor shouldn’t come as a surprise. The field – and one of the new disciplines – has a heavy Tahoe flavor with South Lake Tahoe native and Meeks Bay resident Shaun Palmer seemingly ready to dominate any discipline he enters (he’s registered for snowboarding, skiing and ultracross) after sweeping the snowboard gold from 1997-99.

“I’m looking forward to Shaun Palmer,” ESPN Winter X 2000 reporter Sal Masekela said in an online chat forum. “I wasn’t a Palmer fan for a long time, and I thought he was really cocky, but having gotten to know him, he is just so good.”

Tahoe’s flavor also permeates the ski event, with South Shore athletes like Dill, Janez Demsar and Truckee’s C.R. Johnson in the skiing competition, native Glen Plake judging, and athletes spread around the disciplines.

Even the newest X Games venue evokes the Tahoe Basin. Ultracross mixes snowboarders and skiers for the first time in the game, with a random selection picking a one-skier and one-boarder team the night before the event for a relay run for the money the next day. Ultracross started, according to ESPN, at the Mount Rose ski area.

“The weather didn’t really treat us too right, but people liked it,” said Chris Schuster of Tahoe City promoter Global Event Management. “It was a great course. We had a ton of snow to work with, and we had a lot of cool features. We had over-under options, people flying over other people’s heads. It was cool to see the skiers and snowboarders high-fiving each other in the finish corral. That was something I had never really seen before. We got a lot of good response, a lot of good press out of it, so Red Bull wanted us to do it again.”

Palmer proved to be an immediate ultracross threat, winning a recent event at Squaw Valley USA with South Lake Tahoe freestyle skier Chris Hernandez. Hernandez, though, won’t be on hand in Mount Snow to help Palmer repeat the feat at the X Games. The U.S. Freestyle team member is in Quebec preparing for a Nor Am event.

“It’s just a cool event,” Schuster said. “The team thing just makes it a lot cooler. There’s some strategy involved, and it’s just a cool thing to have somebody else who they can share the experience with.”

Many of the athletes who compete at the X Games this week also competed in similar events at the inaugural Gravity Games. But the X Games still occupy a distinct niche.

“I’ve found the X Games are starting to get a little more international,” said Dill, who missed last year’s X Games after injuring his knee in their first skiercross event, but rebounded this year to compete at the Gravity Games. “It’s nice to have that international flavor coming into the X Games. It’s nice to see what’s happening in the world, not just in the U.S.”

ESPN’s coverage of the games starts today with practice and preliminary rounds, and the games run through 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time Sunday, when the snowboard big air finals wrap the schedule.

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