Winter X Games Sound Gets Bigger on the Bottom
The Winter X Games are all about bass this year. Buttermilk Mountain in Aspen, CO, is crisscrossed with fiber cabling between the Calrec Hydra stage boxes at each event station, and much of what is carried is destined for the .1 channel in viewers’ homes.
“We’re definitely pushing the [low-frequency effects] this year,” says Florian Brown, audio manager for the ESPN show, which runs Jan. 22-25. “We’re putting mics in the PVC tubes at the landing zone at Big Air so we can dial in more thump when the skiers land. The LFE is being emphasized this year.”
That’s also a useful counterbalance to the higher-pitched wind sounds that are part of Winter X’s soundscape. Many of the shotgun-mic pairs aimed at the event sites to capture a broad stereo image are covered with “dead cats” and “blimps,” the furry screens needed to attenuate wind noise that’s often ubiquitous on the mountain.
The bigger, deeper soundtrack is a mandate from newly named Show Manager Rich Feinberg, Brown says: “We’re not creating any synthesized stereo. We’re doing it the good, old-fashioned way, with lots of microphones and also really filling out the low end. And we have a lot of PA sound on the mountain, so that’s getting in there, too.”
One of the edgier sound sources is the stereo pairs of microphones attached to U-shaped poles on cameras held by skiers following about 10 ft. behind the contestants as they descend Big Air at 40 mph. Batteries for the assemblies are balanced carefully on each side of the skiers, who are not able to use ski poles for balance. “It’s insane,” says Brown, “but the sound is incredible.”
Other sound sources include eight parabolic reflectors loaded with wireless microphones provided by BSI.
Sound is routed from the Hydra boxes at the event sites to NEP trucks Supershooter 22 and 32, fitted with Calrec Apollo and Alpha consoles, respectively. A1 Steve Kaura is doing the main mix and the effects submix at Venue A, which includes the Big Air and Super Pipe events, from SS32, assisted by Tim Bischof; A1 Thom Mangan is mixing and submixing Venue B, where X Course and Moto events take place, from SS22, assisted by Joel Groeblinghoff.
Winter X Games always presents a challenge for audio. Cabling, which stays in place during the entire event, is exposed to temperatures forecast to drop below zero at night this week and to stay below freezing during the day until Saturday. Even a slight warming trend can cause problems if water or condensation accumulates on cabling and refreezes. According to Brown, the critical Hydra hub boxes are on raised platforms enclosed in small tents to keep them dry. The generators that power them are also in those enclosures, in part to use their radiant heat to keep components dry and warmer.
Winter X Games’ sound has gotten bigger this year by design, but the show is still making use of streamlining techniques that have evolved over the past several years at both Summer and Winter X Games. This includes having the games switched from ESPN’s Bristol, CT, headquarters.
Even so, when you’re on the mountain, says Brown, you still feel like you’re in a completely separate place: “Television can’t really do it justice. It’s just so big.”