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Sunday, January 30, 2005
Updated: May 14, 2:30 PM ET
No Pressure: Huser/Andersson Take UltraCross

By Alyssa Roenigk

The Winter X Games are serious business. There's prize money at stake. Bragging rights for a year. Olympic aspirations. TV time. Sponsorships to make even X Games prize money look like piggy-bank fodder.

When the more than 230 athletes who converge on Aspen for a chance at their 15 minutes of fame and flawnesses drop on their competition, they're as serious as a compound fracture on the Cross course.

Except for one event.

For an hour and a half on Sunday afternoon, skiers and snowboarders are teammates. They hug, they high-five and they ride with the common goal of winning an event that, like the Games, only happens once a year. True bragging rights for 365 glorious days, because there's no U.S. Open, no Triple Crown, and no World Cup of UltraCross. There's no season-ending champion or Rider of the Year. So, in turn, there's no pressure.

The UltraCross party begins with just that, a party. Saturday night, the invited skiers and snowboarders gather behind the velvet ropes of the Athlete's Lounge for a Draw Party to decide the shred-ski teams. Random pairings. Random finishes. None of the duos paired up Saturday night had ever ridden together. Some had never met. This party was as much a meet-your-teammate mixer as it was a seeding soiree.

Some teams talked tactic. Some reviewed the turns and twists of the course. Some headed out for a little latenight team-bonding. They all prepared for a second shot at conquering one of the burliest X courses in WX history.

Random or not, there were a few favorites in the field. Xavier de le Rue, who won Saturday's Snowboarder X gold and has two previous UltraCross medals, drew 10th-place Skier X racer Davey Barr. This year's Skier X champion Reggie Crist (one-half of last year's UC championship team) drew Paul Henri de le Rue, who finished eighth in Boarder X. The team of Peter Lind and Rob Fagan, who both finished 13th in their respective races, account for four UC medals in the past five years.

But when the snow settled on the final Cross-course competition, the team trekking to the top of the podium was headed to the steps for the first time. Swedish skier Eric Andersson, who finished 14th in Skier X, and Snowboarder X bronze medalist Marco Huser claimed gold in a hold-your-breath-til-it's-over final reminiscent of Lindsey Jacobellis' late-course charge over Erin Simmons.

With the snowboarders riding last, Huser trailed Xavier de le Rue's teammate Davey Barr as the pack reached the final jump. But, as if he'd spent the morning talking strategy with Lindsey, the curly-Q'd goddess of speed, Huser launched over the final jump, passed Barr and leaned into the finish to take the top spot by a board length.

He unstrapped from his board, hugged his two-planked teammate and turned to face the television cameras. Fifteen minutes.

"The race was amazing," he said, still breathless from the charge. "I got out of the gate third and kept gaining momentum. I passed one person and then passed de le Rue. He's the best and once I passed him, I knew I could win."

UltraCross may only happen once a year, and it may be all about the spirit of competition. But in the end, these adrenaline junkies are competitors. They're here to win. When the gun sounds and the gate drops, fun only comes in one form: a gold medal hanging around their neck.