ASPEN, CO, Jan 24 2004 (AP by John Marshall) -- With their baggy clothes, shaggy hair and facial piercings, the Winter X crowd looks like a pack of ruffians rumbling into town every year.
But instead of shuddering and locking their doors, most in this town filled with celebrity residents and posh resorts greet them with a smile and a pat on the back.
With the economic boost and vibe infusion the Winter X Games provide, it's hard to blame them.
"Everybody is universally happy, and I believe it's because it reminds even longtime residents of what Aspen used to feel like," said David Perry, senior vice president of Aspen Ski Company. "It's quite infectious."
The Winter X Games first came to Aspen in 2002. Organizers and athletes liked it so much they decided to come back the next year, marking the first time the event was held at the same site in consecutive years.
Aspen's third Winter X Games started Saturday and will run through Tuesday night, and there will be three more years after an agreement was reached earlier this week.
It's not hard to see why Aspen would want to continue the relationship.
ESPN, which runs the event, fills Aspen's hotels and lodges with 300 people a month before the event and about 1,000 during the two-week period surrounding the games.
Thousands of fans also show up, along with the 250 athletes and their families, boosting occupancy rates up and down the Roaring Fork Valley that ends at Aspen.
As a result, the Aspen/Snowmass area is sold out at a time when occupancy rates are typically around 70 percent.
And all those people need somewhere to eat and spend their leisure time, so the town's restaurants, bars and shops do brisk business as well.
An estimate of the direct and indirect benefits is about $60 million annually.
"There's no doubt it has a huge impact on the town," Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud said. "The direct economic and the sort of media coverage that we get is priceless."
Winter X also has given Aspen a much-needed attitude adjustment.
Once considered a trendsetting town, Aspen became stale and stodgy as its residents got older. But for that one week of the year when the Winter X crowd hits town, Aspen is again that hip town of the 1960s that was filled with vibrancy and irreverence.
"Part of the world's perception of Aspen/Snowmass is that it's a place for older people that have a lot a money, and that it's kind of snooty and upper-class _ not 'my kind of place,"' Perry said. "I believe the invasion of X, if you can call it that, is rapidly changing that perception around."
The effect can be seen the rest of the year.
In town, snowboard shops are sandwiched between ritzy boutiques and gourmet restaurants, and stores filled with Christian Dior and Gucci are just around the corner from shops with X crowd threads.
Up on the mountain, the changes took a little longer.
In an effort to preserve its tradition, the town Aspen Mountain _ one of four in Aspen/Snowmass _ was deemed off limits for snowboarders. That changed three years ago, when the financial and social pressure became too much.
"I think to be successful, you have to continually reinvent yourself," Klanderud said. "This is the next generation. The thing that's exciting to me, is that those who are now getting older _ this is now the 21st century _ and Aspen has a whole new appeal to the next generation."
And that generation certainly loves it.
"If they keep putting on a killer event like this, I'm sure everyone is going to love coming back," Winter X snowboarder Andy Finch said.
Copyright © 2000 The Associated Press