Every medal is created by hand with largely recycled materials
The X Games medals are meant to be special. They are awarded to athletes who achieve a feat that stands apart in his or her sport, an accomplishment that likely took years to reach.
Colorado artist Lisa Issenberg understands the responsibility that comes with making such a prize.
“The end result just needs to be a significant award for the incredible athletes who have worked perhaps a whole lifetime to make it onto the podium,” Issenberg said. “I definitely don’t take it lightly. It’s a grand task to produce something that incorporates a large organization’s branding and to do that in style with beauty and depth and heft. I want to give it my all.”
Issenberg, who operates out of her Ridgway studio, dubbed Kiitellä — Finnish for “to thank, applaud, or praise” — was first brought on by X Games in 2020 to make their highly sought after medals. The partnership went so well that ESPN’s Brian Kerr, their associate director of competition for X Games who oversees the medals, brought Issenberg back into the fold for X Games Aspen 2021, which takes place Friday through Sunday at Buttermilk Ski Area.
“We are thrilled to once again partner with such a creative visionary, local artist. We really appreciate and share her values,” Kerr said. “Her environmentally-sound practices line up with our X Games sustainability program, and we love that our X Games Aspen medals are designed and brought to life right here in her studio in the great state of Colorado.”
Every medal Issenberg makes is created by hand with largely recycled materials and limited to no excess waste. She created her company with the intent of making awards and has a clientele that includes Aspen Skiing Co. — she’s long made the Power of Four medals — the Birds of Prey World Cup ski races at Beaver Creek, and The North Face, among many others.
Issenberg uses a minimalist design philosophy in her work — drawing inspiration from Bauhaus as well as the Japanese concept of Wabi-sabi, which essentially is the acceptance of imperfection. The design she used on this year’s X Games medals is certainly different from a year ago, but still has the same familiar feel.
“It’s a fresh new design, but you can tell they came out of the same studio and by the same hands,” Issenberg said. “Every project is a new design challenge and I never know if I’m going to get it right. Like a painter or writer, you can’t know if or when a piece is complete. But if you keep the pencil moving, the final design surfaces like a haiku and you know that’s it.”
Not only is Issenberg responsible for making the main X Games medals, but she also made this year’s Knuckle Huck rings, two of which go to the winner of each contest. On top of that, she made this year’s Real Series medals — ESPN’s ski, snowboard and mountain bike film competition — as well as its Rocket League medals, a virtual competition based off the popular video game.
For X Games Aspen 2020, Issenberg created nearly 100 medals, but that number was cut dramatically this year as the coronavirus pandemic has drastically changed the event.
Courtesy photos of the X Games Aspen 2021 Knuckle Huck rings, created by Ridgway artist Lisa Issenberg.
“I’ve listened to a few athletes talk about some of their competitions being canceled, but X Games, the ones that can still be involved this year look forward to it and have to train with a goal in mind,” Issenberg said. “It was really beautiful to see the creativity that came out of the pandemic. At first everything just shut down and it was a bit of a panic. And then, bit-by-bit, you see organizations popping up and saying, ‘Well, let’s just remake what we can with what we have.’”
X Games has certainly been remade because of the pandemic. In 2021, it won’t include any of the motorsports, such as snowmobiling, any of the concerts or any of the spectators. Roughly 100 athletes were invited to take part in the 14 skiing and snowboarding events.
That however, is at the heart of Winter X Games. The athlete lineup still includes the sport’s best — from Chloe Kim to Shaun White to hometown hero Alex Ferreira — and remains a focal point for professional skiers and snowboarders.
Winning an X Games medal is hardly about the medal, but the medal is representative of a great achievement, by both artist and athlete alike.
“This is art at its finest,” Kerr said. “We are stepping into 2021 to try and get back to having some fun again. We are looking to bring some X Games light to clear away the COVID fog. We are all looking forward now, not back. We are hopeful our athletes can come together and thrive at X Games weekend.”