A year after fatal crash, X Games moves on

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Photo: Snowmobiles jump at the X Games
Katejun Coonishish (left) of Canada and Bobby LePage of Minnesota take flight during a practice session at the 2007 Winter X Games in Aspen. Competitors in the freestyle snowmobile competition normally go even higher off the ground, and flip their sleds in the air.

Caleb Moore's death a year ago came a few days after his X Games crash. It was the first fatality in the X Games' 18-year history and it led organizers to put in new safety protocols.

But those changes weren't really tested this past weekend, since there weren't any big crashes.

On Thursday, Colten Moore told reporters he was riding with Caleb by his side.

In freestyle snowmobiling, riders propel themselves off jumps, hundreds of feet in the air, doing flips and turns.

The brothers got into the sport through experience racing and flipping all-terrain vehicles (ATV's), according to Joe Drape, who covers sports for the New York Times and recently wrote about the Moores' story and the history of the X Games.

In 2009, the Moore brothers were sitting with their father and the X Games were on – it was then they saw the snowmobile freestyling competition,

"And their father, Wade Moore, kinda looked at them and said: 'You guys could do this,'" Drape recalls.

In December 2009, snowmobile maker Polaris sent two sleds to Texas, where the men lived, and soon they began to practice flipping them over a foam pit.

Drape says the brothers only had one weekend to practice on the snow in Michigan before they got on the course at the X Games in 2010.

"But once they gunned it to the ramps, they could do remarkable things because they'd been flipping their ATV's around for years," Drape says.

By 2013, the Moore brothers were considered favorites.

Immediately after the crash, Caleb Moore got up and walked away but died in a Colorado hospital just a few days later.

This year's games featured a tribute to Caleb Moore on Saturday night.

Moore's family hasn't been outwardly critical of the X Games or ESPN, the company that runs the event.

Drape says he thinks that's at least in part because the X Games are really the only outlet that makes riders into professionals.

"All these guys in these X Games, they act like they really need ESPN," Drape says. "It's the exposure--people see them, they bring sponsors and they can make a living out of this."

Immediately after Caleb Moore's accident in 2013, a few subsequent events were cancelled and ESPN thought about how to make the event safer.

Changes to this year's event included military-grade flak jackets for riders, new helmets and a spring on the snowmobile's skis to make it harder to get them caught like Caleb did when he crashed.

The only major change, according to Drape, was to cancel the event called "best trick."

Also last year, a runaway sled got into the crowd and injured a boy who was watching.

New barriers were erected in 2014 but the system remains untested since no sleds got away from the competitors this past weekend.

"ESPN's stance is: these guys are going to be doing this anyway out in the backcountry," Drape says. "But it's dangerous to flip a 500-pound machine going backwards flying through the air."