By Steve Keating
DALLAS (Reuters) - Super Bowl XLV may be next Sunday but for action sports junkies their gala is already here this weekend with Winter X Games 15 taking over Aspen for four days of jaw-dropping, gravity-defying competition.
Once as welcome as swine flu, snowboarders and extreme skiers now rule over the mountains they were chased from -- embraced by sponsors, television and a massive legion of fans.
Even Aspen, a posh ski resort once the exclusive winter playground for the rich, famous and powerful, has welcomed the party-hard daredevils with open arms staging the Winter X Games for a 10th successive year.
White knows no rivals on the halfpipe and very few in the marketing arena, taking second spot in BusinessWeek's annual Power 100 list, which measures athletes' influence on and off the field.
White, who signed his first promotional deal when he was just seven, has grown into a marketing titan with his own clothing line, video games and a line-up of endorsements that would leave Roger Federer envious.
On the Marketing Arm's Davie Brown Index (DBI), that quantifies consumer perceptions of more than 2,700 celebrities, White's scores are nearly as remarkable as those he receives in competition.
"Based on his deal with BF Goodrich, it appears as though his marketability is expanding, which is extending his reach to hit a more mainstream target," Bill Glenn, senior vice-president of the Marketing Arm told Reuters. "He's already the LeBron James or Peyton Manning of extreme sports.
"But his influence is broadening."
While the mop-topped White may be the standard bearer for action sports, the X Games are about a lifestyle more than a single personality.
A made for television event, the X Games have provided a stage for extreme sport athletes to showcase their skills.
The inaugural Winter X Games were held in Big Bear Lake, California in 1997 and have exploded into a worldwide phenomenon.
Winter X Games 14 was televised in 172 countries and territories and those numbers are expected to increase this year with coverage that will include 18 hours of 3D viewing.
For the competitors, the X Games are as important as the Olympics and in many cases the pinnacle of their sport.
The entire medal podiums in both the men's and women's halfpipe at the Vancouver Winter Games will be competing at Aspen, including White, winner of a record 15 X Games medals including 10 gold and women's halfpipe winner, Australian Torah Bright.
While snowboarders fiercely cling to their counter-culture roots, there is no denying a decade of growth and three Olympic Games have brought the sport mainstream appeal -- and respectability.
In return, the Olympics have received a badly needed jolt of energy that has helped keep the Games relevant with the younger generation.
Despite a shift toward the mainstream, the X Games have tried to remain true to their core values.
Innovation reigns supreme at the X Games, the only limits being a competitor's own imagination and gravity.
X Games organizers have tried to keep their finger on the pulse of the constantly evolving world of extreme sports adding new events and tweaking others as kids find new ways to express and challenge themselves on the slopes.
Snowboard, skiing and snowmobiling are the three main disciplines in the X Games but each includes a number of different events.
Snowboarding and skiing events this year include superpipe, big air and slopestyle (outrageous tricks off a jump), which could be the next event to find its way onto the Olympic lineup.
"It (slopestyle) is a discipline that I think needs the recognition because the tricks are just as hard, just as impressive and there's a whole group of riders out there you don't hear much about," said White.
"With the Olympics possibly getting slopestyle I would love to do it.
"It would be great."