Extreme Sports, Extreme Gear

Innovative cameras will capture the action for ESPN and ABC

Extreme-sports athletes won't be the only ones pulling tricks at ESPN's 10th rendition of the Winter X Games, which started Jan. 28 in Aspen, Colo., and conclude Jan. 31. ESPN is deploying a bevy of innovative cameras to capture the competition on snowboards, skis, motorcycles and snowmobiles and bring it home to both ESPN and ABC viewers.

ESPN's “FlyCam” is mounted more than 20 feet above the ground and travels at speeds of up to 75 mph via a custom cable. It is being used to provide moving overhead views of the Games' three racing events: Snowboarder X, Skier X and SnoCross, which features snowmobiles competing on a challenging course.

“It will give you a view over the shoulder of the guys racing downhill,” says Rich Feinberg, ESPN senior coordinating producer.

Another production highlight will be “Sled Cams,” six on-board cameras with RF links that will be mounted on racers' snowmobiles for the SnoCross competition. The unique pictures from the cams, which can be mounted on the front or back of a snowmobile, should be particularly valuable for the SnoCross final. Feinberg says the course will be significantly longer than in previous years: 20 laps compared with the previous six.

ESPN will once again use its “FollowCams” to provide tracking shots of skiers and snowboarders competing in both the SuperPipe competition, where they perform aerials in a 500-foot-long half-pipe, and Slopestyle, where they speed down a long course of jumps, rails and other terrain features and attempt various tricks.

“Follow­Cams” are operated by expert skiers who are also trained camera operators, allowing them to follow elite snowboarders and skiers at speeds up to 40 mph. The “FollowCam” is mounted on a waist-level rack system worn by the operator and uses digital-RF technology to transmit live pictures.

“It's a skier and a cameraman combined into one,” says Feinberg, who was especially looking forward to the coverage of the SuperPipe this year. The event's halfpipe will be floodlit for nighttime competition.

For an overhead view of the courses and beauty shots of Aspen's Buttermilk Mountain and the surrounding scenery, ESPN will rely on a Tower Cam, a crane with a camera operator that rises 130 feet in the air.

Winter X Games 10 represents a cross-platform push for the extreme-sports franchise. ABC and ESPN will air 15 hours of live X Games event coverage, and SportsCenter will report nightly from Aspen with live reports during the 11 p.m. show.

Daily late-night highlight programs will run on ESPN2, and broadband coverage will be provided through the ESPN360 subscription service, along with highlights on EXPN.com and ESPN.com. ESPN is also producing video content for Apple's iTunes online store and iPod mobile player—including gold-medal runs with athlete commentary—and highlight packages for mobile phones through the Mobile ESPN service.

Says Feinberg, who has worked on both the Summer and Winter X Games since Summer X launched in July 1995, “It's all kind of culminating for us after 10 years.”