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Participants and spectators alike have been counting down the days to one of the most celebrated action-sports events around: the Winter X Games. Starting Thursday, the X Games are taking over Aspen, Colorado.

For an industry defined by firsts, expectations are paramount. Here are a few noteworthy story lines you can follow this week.

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Winter X will be using drones for the first time to capture the action surrounding the snowboardcross and snowmobiling events. ESPN senior coordinating producer Rich Feinberg told the Associated Press, “[Winter X has] always been an event that has, in many aspects, been a working laboratory for technical innovation.”

Because the drones must be kept inside a “closed-set environment,” viewers will likely see footage captured from above, aside, and behind racers on the snowboardcross course, and at the end of the snowmobiling course.

X Games

Shaun White may or may not be the best snowboarder in the world anymore, but he’s certainly still the biggest name. Photo courtesy of Joshua Duplechian/ESPN

Other notable news lays to rest speculation about whether two-time Olympic gold medalist Shaun White will or will not compete this year. Interestingly, his name was still missing from Tuesday’s confirmed athlete list, but as reported by The New York Times, White showed up to Superpipe practice Monday night, seemingly eager to compete in the Superpipe finals Thursday night. "Maybe I'll get to throw some runs I didn't get to throw at Sochi," he told the newspaper.

The jury is still out on whether the Shaun White who shows up will be the two-time Olympic gold medalist and 15-time Winter X Games gold medalist or the one who finished a disappointing fourth in the halfpipe final at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, where he also bowed out of the slopestyle competition citing concerns over a dangerous course.

[Related: Why I cried for Shaun White]

With outside interests such as his band, Bad Things, and Air & Style, a competitive snowboarding series and music festival he bought a majority stake in, only time will tell.

Mono Skier

The return of Mono Skier X after a three-year hiatus was such big news that Paralympic medalist Josh Dueck came out of retirement to compete. Photo courtesy of Joshua Duplechian/ESPN

In other firsts, 10 Special Olympics snowboarders will be paired with X Games stars (think Hannah Teter, Ken Block, and Torah Bright) in a dual-slalom team event when Special Olympics Unified Snowboarding makes its debut.

Fans will no doubt be inspired by these athletes’ unwavering commitment to their sports.

Additionally, the Snowboarder X Adaptive event will be brought back as a full competition; it was previously staged as a demonstration in Winter X Games 2011 and 2012. It joins Mono Skier X and Snowmobile Snocross Adaptive in the new lineup.

These are just some of the events we’ll be tuning in to see in the days ahead:

Wed., Jan. 21: The Women’s Ski Superpipe is where skier Maddie Bowman will be defending her X Games gold against podium pal Roz Groenewoud and Olympic silver and bronze medalists Marie Martinod and Ayana Onozuka.

Thurs., Jan. 22: Get ready for the return of Mono Skier X and see Paralympic silver medalist and 2011 X Games gold medalist Josh Dueck compete. Special Olympics Unified Snowboarding makes its debut as Hannah Teter and other X Games stars pair up with 10 Special Olympics snowboarders in a dual-slalom team event. Gold medalist Shaun White is showing up for this year’s Men’s Snowboard Superpipe contest, and joining him are Iouri Podladtchikov, Ayumu Hirano, and Taku Hiraoka, who bumped White off the podium in Sochi. Don't miss this final!

Fri., Jan. 23: Friday will be action filled as we follow the Men’s/Women’s Snowboarder X events. On the women’s side, Lindsey Jacobellis will be chasing her ninth X Games gold medal with Eva Samkova and Helene Olafsen closing in. On the men’s side, watch for Nate Holland, who has won in seven of his last eight X Games appearances. Competitors Nick Baumgartner, Seth Wescott, and others will be looking to make history. Snowboarder X Adaptive will showcase Evan Strong, Michael Shea, and Keith Gable, the U.S. trio that swept the podium in Sochi. America’s Navy Snowboard Big Air finds podium favorites Max Parrot, the 2014 Snowboard Big Air and Slopestyle event winner, and Mark McMorris in stiff competition against Torstein Horgmo and Stale Sandbech.

Sat., Jan. 24: Nick Goepper will have to work hard if he wants to three-peat in Ski Slopestyle this year. Rivals Joss Christensen, Gus Kenworthy, and Oystein Braten will be putting the pressure on. Five-time X Games gold medalist Kaya Turski has everything to prove in Women’s Ski Slopestyle because Sochi medalists Dara Howell and Devin Logan will be leaning in, hard. It’s been 10 years since Snowmobile HillCross was contested at X Games, and 2004 gold medalist Levi LaVallee is still a favorite. Arielle Gold and Chloe Kim will join seven-time X Games gold medalist Kelly Clark in the Women’s Snowboard Superpipe event. Henrik Harlaut’s nose-butter triple cork 1620 has won him two consecutive GoPro Ski Big Air golds, but don’t count competitors Vincent Gagnier and Kai Mahler out just yet.

Sun., Jan. 25: The final night of the event will determine the winners of Men’s/Women’s Snowboard Slopestyle. While Jamie Anderson may have won gold in the women’s Snowboard Slopestyle’s Olympic debut, Silje Norendal’s Cab 720 is bringing the heat. And Sochi Snowboard Slopestyle gold medalist Sage Kotsenburg has a lot to prove against competitors Maxence Parrot, Mark McMorris, and Stale Sandbech. Mike Schultz is leading with five consecutive gold medal in Snowmobile SnoCross Adaptive and nobody at X Games is wearing a bigger target on his back in Snowmobile SnoCross than Tucker Hibbert. Men’s Ski Superpipe closes out X Games, with Torin Yater-Wallace, Aaron Blunck, and Aspen local Alex Ferreira dropping in; only time will tell which of these athletes will be making history.

For the official X Games schedule and results, stay tuned in here.

Catch the action at X Games Aspen, Jan. 22-25 on ESPN and ABC.

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