Aspen's Buttermilk Mountain will be rocking out now through Sunday, Jan. 30, 2011 as the 15th version of the Winter X Games returns to the famed Colorado resort for the 10th time. Look for more than 200 athletes, several new events, and ESPN prime time coverage. The international focus on Aspen is invaluable to the resort region.

"ESPN Winter X Games provide Aspen/Snowmass with publicity that you couldn't buy," Aspen Resort's Jeff Hanle told OnTheSnow on the eve of this year's event. "The worldwide reach of the X Games gives us invaluable exposure through the television audience, print, and electronic media outlets. It exposes our resort to the people who will be the future of our sport. Not only that, but the X Games brings in the top influencers, athletes, and media in the entire industry." Some 84,000 fans attended the 2010 event in person.

New features include Snowboard Best Method where six rider will participate in a six-minute "finals only" jam. It will be judged and voted on via text messaging and online.

Snowboard Speed & Style made its debut at the 2008 X Games, but this year's version is via a format that worked well during last summers X Games for motocross. Eight competitors are in a single elimination format with two riders competing head-to-head. They both received a freestyle "style" score. The first rider across the finish line gets speed margin of victory bonus points added to a style score.

Athletes who are invited to compete in WX 15 are chosen by media, members of the snow sports industry, and by the athletes themselves. Gold medalists from the 2010 Winter X Games get automatic invitations.

ESPN's coverage will be deep. ESPN and ESPN2 will carry 24 hours of live coverage, while those of you with 3D sets can view 18 hours of original coverage on ESPN 3D. Even more coverage will be available on ESPN International, XGames.com, ESPN360.com, SportsCenter and ESPN2's X Center.

There has been no announcement about the future of X Games at Aspen, though the event is locked in through 2012 and there appears to be a mutual desire to keep the games at the resort. Negotiations are continuing, but Chris Stiepock, ESPN's vice president of content and sponsorship development, gave the best clue to the Aspen Times:  "I will say that if we had ever discovered a better place to go we would have already left."

There are few resorts that can afford to turn over one of its mountains to ESPN for a full month. Aspen can close down Buttermilk for preparations and spread its January guests over Snowmass, Aspen Mt., and Highlands.

The first Winter X was held in Snow Summit, Calif., followed by two years in Crested Butte, Colo. The games went to the East Coast for two years, landing at Mount Snow, Vt., and then came to Aspen.

Here's a round-up of action from the 2010 Winter X Games at Aspen: