I went up to Aspen for the last day of this year’s Winter X Games as an extreme sports virgin, never having ridden a rail, buckled boots to a snowboard or done a backflip on a turbocharged snowmobile, and I make no claims to besmirch the athleticism or spirit of these competitors who were, almost universally, talented and interesting to watch.

My criticism, rather, is leveled at every other person wandering around the base of Buttermilk Mountain: the “support” staff, the media, the fans, the commentators and, intermittently, myself. Everyone – from the commentators whose obtuse, jargon-strangled blabber was so unconcerned and monotonous that it was impossible to ascertain the measurable value of the athletic performances, on down to the tweens trying to look that precious extra year older – was so caught up in being cool that the events ceased to be fun.

But I lay the bulk of the blame squarely on ESPN/ABC/Disney et al. Not because they made me and a thousand other folks stand out in the cold for an hour and a half, continually promising that they’d let us mount the steep rim of the half-pipe to watch the evening’s finals only to keep us bunched tight, getting canned reaction shots from a swinging overhead camera. Not because when they did finally let us in their security detail had no control of the crowd and bodies slammed together, squashing the down lining in our winter coats into pigeon feathers. And certainly not because they actively lied to us, telling us the sides of the pipe were too slippery and were closed for the event, only to open them later when the crush of the disenfranchised had subsided. Public safety is in a bad state when it’s predicated on lies.

No, I blame them because the televised X Games has lost any sense of itself in the wall of downright bizarre corporate sponsorship (shaving gel, Totino’s Pizza Rolls?) and the whorish preeminence of the video cameras that capture the scene. At every opportunity, fans on site were kept as far back as possible, necessary only for the obliging, obligatory cutaway, and many spent most of the day with their necks craned to scan the big-screen TVs for news of what was actually happening on the mountain.

The Summer X Games comes to Los Angeles this August as it has for many a year, and I hope the experience there will be different. I’ve never been, so I can only hope that those games will appreciate those fans who wait in line, stand for hours for autographs and cheer wildly because they know why they are there: to witness something special as a group that will be accepted and never patronized for their otherness and in turn will offer their honest and uncontrived determination to skate, bike, ski or board on a different path.

Let this cloudy, cold day in Aspen be an aberration. Let me be wrong. There’s a first time for everything.