X-treme opportunity

Ferris State students earn rare experience at X Games

From left to right (back)-Valerie Ryan, Marra Boulanger, Joey Stout, Keri Frahm, Jamal Bohannon, Nicholas Rice and from left to right (front)-Emma Franklin, Madison tollstam, Janitza Sawyer-Ocasio, Noah Poser, Breyanna Gebben, Jessica Tucci and Kary Kiio pose for a photo with a Ferris flag. Photo courtesy of Photo Karyn Kiio

Over 37,000 people have watched high-flying flips and supersonic speed at ESPN’s Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

Out of these thousands of people, there were eleven that brought their Bulldog pride and enthusiasm for the experience.

In partnership with Ferris’s event management program, Professors Amy Dorey and Karyn Kiio brought nine Ferris students to assist and run event operations for the three-day national competition Jan 19-21.

“The X Games provides an exceptional model for the type of mentor relationship and focus on the student experience,” Dorey said.

Helping at the X Games has become a yearly tradition for the event management program. The annual experience started six years ago when Dorey and the students made a valuable connection by helping at a local wakeboarding event.

“Our program was approached by the West Michigan Sports Commission for help with the Mastercraft Throwdown wakeboarding event in Grand Rapids,” Dorey said. “I rounded up about ten students from across the College of Business and Sports Communication and took them to Millennium Park. Through that initiative, we met the director of operations for the X Games and he invited us to participate based on our performance.”

Since that initial meeting, students every year take the nearly 1,500-mile trip to Aspen, Colorado to learn and participate in various pieces of the professional event management circuit.

“Students are able to learn what it looks like when internal guests are taken care of really well and have an outstanding experience,” Kiio said.

For students like Brey Gebben, the experience allowed her to learn not only what goes on within a massive event but what happens on the outside too.

“The experience I had was getting to interact with the locals,” Gebben said. “It was interesting to learn how they all live inside of a ski town. “

Not only do the students get to be hands-on but so do the administrators. Although their positions have developed over time, there is one thing that continues to stay the same: emphasis on the student’s learning.

“We’re hired to enhance the student program and experiential learning on-site,” Dorey said. “We hold supervisory roles scattered across Guest Services, Sponsorship Activations, and some Public Relations and Social Media teams.”

While the group has made the journey to the Rockies for six straight years, fans haven’t had the same pleasure. In 2021, fans were held out of a live view of the games at Buttermilk Mountain due to COVID-19 restrictions. In-person attendance returned in 2022 with what Kiio would describe as a warm welcome back from the athletes.

“We all got pins on our hats that said, ‘Welcome Back Fans,’ which was pretty cool. It was such a big deal and the athletes kept talking about how having the fans there, made it much better.”

When it comes to the overall experience, many attendees attribute the live contests as the coolest part of their experience. For Gebben, it actually came outside of the games watching a simple practice session.

“Thursday night after our training, we got to go watch the men’s snowboard superpipe practice on the side of the pipe. I have videos of the snowboarders right in front of us doing their tricks. It was the first time I truly realized I was in Aspen.”

For those who participate in the event, the tradition has led them to feel a part of a special group characterized by the common badge.

“Year to year, students wear their summer and winter X Games gear,” Dorey said. “They are brandished points of pride on this campus. The “X” represents a symbol of the relationship we have.”

While the opportunity has gone past, there are still opportunities lurking in the future. The organization also partners with the Summer X Games that takes place annually in the U.S. According to Dorey, every student that does a job interview is often asked first about the X Games experience.

“It’s a rare, unique opportunity that is just straight fun.”

For more information on the unique event or the management program, contact amydorey@nullferris.edu.