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Saturday, January 24, 2004
Updated: May 14, 4:35 PM ET
At X, It's The Little Things

By Eric Neel

Some day soon this scene will be huge. Today's young X devotees will grow up and into the target demographic, and before long the mainstream sports world will have to do some dancing to their new tunes.

And that'll be cool, because top-flight athletes now working in the action-sports shadows will get to do their thing on the big stage. (Which is already beginning, with the launch of live Winter X TV yesterday.)

But in these days before it goes super wide and superfly in middle-American living rooms, I'm digging the small-town, small-time charms of the Winter X Games.

Shaun White
Ladies love Shauny and his latest gold medal.
-- Shaun White, the MJ of the Winter X world, finishes his gold medal Slopestyle run and throws his hands in the air. For a second, he's the blissed-out champion soaking in the sweet smell of victory. Only seconds later, he's surrounded by fellow riders offering kudos and hugs. And just seconds after that, he's joined by two young ladies, Carly and Rochelle, who've hopped the fence and run up to meet him and get a picture with him. Here's the biggest, brightest star of the Games, not on a pedestal, not untouchable, just in the mix.

-- A little guy named Colin (4 years old) sits near the bottom of the Skier X course, staring at the snow stuck to the ends of his gloves. He crosses his eyes just a little, like a jeweler working on a watch, and then sticks out his tongue for a good long lick of ice and glove. Cracks me up. I ask his mom if I can take a picture but he scurries behind her legs when I try. I come back later and he's pitched the gloves and is on his hands and knees leaning in to kiss the snowy ground directly. That's right, Colin, don't get cheated, little brother. Get your money's worth. Soak up the whole thing. Taste X.

-- Gretchen Bleiler, who took SuperPipe snowboarding gold here last year, has a blown-out knee. Still, she's here doing interviews and rooting for her friends. More Willis Reed than Shaq-Fu.

-- Funny thing about interviews at Winter X, by the way: they feature eye-contact, smiles, and the subject thanking the reporter and whatnot. Freaks you out at first.

-- Jana Meyen, gold medal winner in women's Slopesyle, carries her board through the crowd. Nobody notices.

-- Torah Bright, ridiculously attractive young woman capable of flying a snowboard up into the deep blue sky who just also happens to speak with a very endearing Australian accent, walks alone out near the ski lift. This should never happen. Boys should be following her in packs, promising to poke their eyes out in exchange for even her most indifferent look in their direction.

X Girls
X-chicks antagonize in Aspen.
-- Speaking of packs, young girls do travel in them here at Winter X. They walk the grounds like they own the joint, teasing boys, and screaming for their favorite athletes. Katie, Kelly, Seneca and Lexi, seen here with their faces all Xed-out, are here to praise another fun, fearless girl: "Tara Dakides is awesome!" they shout in unison.

-- Nate Adams is in line for the bathroom. In his full Moto gear. Just standing there, like maybe he's in a SportsCenter commercial or something.

-- Every once in a while there's a lull in the action, except at the snowboard practice park. There, the urge to slide, skid, and occasionally glide, never sleeps.

-- A kid named Junior (3 years old) does snow angels over by the SnoCross course. His little brother Jobey (11 months) does 'em too. Actually, Jobey's doing something more like snow face-plants, but he's doing them with the same inspiring zeal and commitment. It's a stirring scene, I tell ya. We should all be so willing to fall and so ready to get back up and do it again.

Shauna rocks the purple lid.
-- A guy on a cell phone calls his buddy back home so they can watch the Moto X Best Trick competition together. "Dude, did you see that?! Me too!" The same scene at a baseball game is annoying, but it plays genuinely enthusiastic (if a bit dorky) here. Why? I don't know, maybe it's the way the light plays a sweet song in the foothills as he speaks, maybe it's the shiny bike flying just above his head.

-- There's a sort of standard baggy skier's uniform on most folks, but there are some freak flags flying too. Exhibit A: Shauna making like the Mod Hatter here.

Briana and Kyla
Less is more for Montoya fans.
-- Some girls figure less is more. Briana and Kyla sport tight Ts and naked-to-the-wind bellies, but what sets them apart is their all-out advocacy of snowboarder Mark Frank Montoya. When he places seventh in the SlopeStyle finals, they start chanting: "Mark got robbed! Mark got robbed!" The crowd takes it up. There's a groundswell and all of a sudden Montoya's a hero of the people; they're looking to carry him aloft through the streets of the village. Mark breaks out a bright, grateful smile and goes over to meet the girls who've championed his cause. They get his 341 bib and a hug out of the deal. Everyone's happy, even with a seventh-place finish.

After competing, these Xers take a load off and cheer on the rest of the fellas.
And last, I'll just note this little thing that's missing around here:

-- No athletes rushing off after their runs, like Elvis ducking backstage and hustling into the limo. No prima. No donna. When folks are done doing their runs they gather at the finish lines to watch their friends and fellow-competitors go at it. They gather in tight circles around little monitors with cardboard sun shields to watch and root for each other. No big. No time.