Each time one of the approximately 600 truckloads of dirt used for the X Games dropped onto the U.S. Bank Stadium floor, the clanging of a truck bed drowned out the music playing through the football stadium’s speakers.
Trucks rumbled through a single entryway from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. for multiple days until all of the dirt needed was inside. Amid an intimidating assemblage of construction, it sounded like someone rhythmically pounding a gong.
“It’s almost a ballet, where they’re coming together,” Rich Bigge said of the activity from the west side of the stadium about two weeks before the X Games began. “It’s all coordinated.”
As the event’s director of competition and logistics, Bigge oversees course design and construction. The stadium floor was divided into what looked like four separate construction sites: piles of dirt for BMX competition in the south; beams for a stairway and elevator for Big Air in the north; sheets of plywood lay in the middle; and the wooden bones of two separate park and street courses, where concrete would eventually be poured, bordered all three.
“To some people, one of these projects is a big thing,” Bigge said. “To us, we have no choice. We have to do everything at once.”
The design of the world’s top extreme sports event is a logistical and mental challenge. In a sport that’s centered on pushing limits, each course must provide a greater set of boundaries than past years. According to X Games vice president Tim Reed, only two events, Skate Vert and BMX Vert, remain from the first X Games in Newport, R.I., in 1995.
“We’re like The Grateful Dead,” Bigge said. “We never play the same song twice.”
This year, Moto X Quarterpipe High Air is a new event. Motocross bikers will ride up a gargantuan ramp of dirt with the objective of flying higher than their competitors.
Even repeat events, such as park and street courses for skating and biking, have different layouts from year to year, and they contain local flair, such as the small Viking ships contained in each of this year’s courses.
That was something Brian Harper, in his 12th year with X Games as founder of California RampWorks, wanted to do but couldn’t when the Winter X Games were in Norway in March.
Bigge said the design process for X Games Minneapolis began in mid-July 2016, when the city won hosting rights. In August, he and Harper spent three days walking around U.S. Bank Stadium, even sitting in the stadium’s highest seats.
With tickets as low as $20, Bigge figures some people will come to the event only to see the facility at a far cheaper cost than a Vikings game. He said he put the park and street courses on the west side of the stadium to accentuate the large glass window there.
“This is essentially an art project,” said Reed, who used to work in Bigge’s role. “There’s such a variety of things to skate and ride on. It’s about bringing those elements into a creative, cool environment.”
There is such a thing as too much, even in extreme sports, when too-difficult courses make for a boring competition. So course designers consult athletes about what they liked about past courses and what could’ve been better.
On Monday, as Bigge walked onto the Big Air course — which requires athletes to drop in from about the second level of seats to a takeoff that helps them fly onto a 27-foot tall quarterpipe — he said he leaves the actual use of his constructs to the professionals.
“I just look at it,” he said from the base of the quarterpipe.
The Big Air drop-in, high above and almost 365 feet away on other side of the stadium floor, wasn’t visible beyond the quarterpipe’s lip.
Bigge works closely with Harper and Dave King, the founder of DirtSculpt, which designs and constructs the BMX dirt course. Even after 12 years of working with the X Games, King said it’s “definitely crazy” to think about the power he, Bigge and Harper have in dictating the direction of extreme sports.
The X Games are the largest platform for these athletes to push their events’ boundaries. The courses, in part, dictate what the athletes do.
But the X Games impact goes beyond impacting the discovery of new tricks.
“There is a bit of cultural influence to it all,” Reed said.
When skateboarding becomes an Olympic sport in the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo, there will be competitions on a park course that looks similar to the one at U.S. Bank Stadium — a deep, round bowl made of contiguous concrete, like an oversized swimming pool.
The Skateboard Park event at the X Games used to involve a series of wooden ramps, Reed said. As more skateparks with bowls opened in the United States, X Games designers needed to adapt. They started using concrete and made their bowls even deeper than ones found at local parks.
“Then it shifted,” Harper said. “What X Games did started to influence what cities would do, and these parks got bigger.”
Bigge doesn’t spend much time thinking about how his job influences the growing sport. He said by the end of the deconstruction process, about a week after the X Games are over, he’s so used to people calling out for him by last name that he says he gets confused when his wife calls him Rich.
During the X Games, Bigge will arrive around 5 a.m., before anyone else is there. He’ll listen to Phish from the iPhone in his pocket, and while he looks at his design, he’ll already have thought about how to make U.S. Bank Stadium look the way it did before the first truckload of dirt dropped.
Then planning for next year’s X Games begins.