Wescott vs. Holland
Nate Holland, 31, has won Winter X Snowboarder X gold in each of the past four years (2006-2009), and he's aiming for the first five-peat in WX history. Seth Wescott (33) captured the 2006 Winter Olympic gold medal in Snowboard Cross' debut, but he's been at every Winter X since 1998 and has yet to get Snowboarder X gold despite six Snowboarder X medals and UltraCross gold. Both men want the other's title.
Until spring 2009, the two competitors had respect for each other but weren't friends. Going into WX14 that -- and a few other notable factors -- has changed.
In 2009, Wescott had arguably the worst Winter X of his career. It was the first time he didn't make the Final in 12 appearances, and he finished 7th. And while he admits to being "lazy as hell" since winning Winter Olympic gold, Wescott has kicked up his training considerably over the past six months. He's been regularly mountain biking a 25-mile loop outside his home in Sugarloaf, ME, training in the gym, and he's got a custom Kessler board that's been working for him. He was the No. 1 qualifier at the first World Cup of 2009/10 in Chapelco, Argentina, and went on to place second. Nate finished 19th.
"I feel like I'm in a really good place," Wescott says. "The overall goal is to win and bring Winter Olympic gold back to the U.S." As for Winter X, he's had a monkey on his back for 12 years, but he refuses to put pressure on winning. Instead, he claims, "I'm already going to say it doesn't matter."
As is usually the case with Holland, he's not lacking for confidence. He's confident he'll repeat at Winter X, saying, "I've gone into it for the last four years and been able to deal with the pressure and media." He knows the hill and knows where he needs to make his move. "I've been behind before and been able to pull the move to get ahead. I'm pretty confident I can win with the energy there."
The two finally became friendly last spring at the Legendary Banked Slalom in Mt. Baker. Wescott claimed Holland couldn't beat him, and the two put a $5,000 wager on the event. Holland won, Wescott finished 12th, and the money was put toward a heli trip to Alaska with Points North Heli.
The pair traveled to Points North in April 2009 and spent two weeks together. Holland says at one point while they were waiting for the light to change before they dropped in on top of a mountain, he looked at Wescott and said, "Dude, I'm scared." Wescott replied, "Yeah, you should be." Holland said after always competing against each other they became friends because "Basically, your life and your buddy's life are on the line up there."
Beyond their newfound friendship, the biggest change between Holland and Wescott going into WX14 can be found under their feet. Wax technicians are a crucial part of the equation in Snowboarder X, and all four of Holland's wins have been at least partly due to Curtis Bacca. Thanks to his success with Holland, as well as with Skier X champs like the Crist brothers, Bacca is widely considered the best in the business.
For the 2009/2010 season, Bacca will work with Wescott. He and Snowboarder X racer Lindsey Jacobellis are paying him out of their own pockets, rather than using the tech provided to them by the U.S. Team. Jacobellis says the only reason Wescott is letting her use Bacca too is because, "I'm not the competition."
Holland is typically cavalier about the change: "It's not going to make a difference. Seth is trying to win Winter X by taking my wax tech, but it's not going to work."
"Hopefully [Wescott] can make the Final this year," Holland says. He appreciates that a five-peat would be even better if it came over his new friend. "I like racing Wescott, he's a fast, clean racer. You like those guys in the heat because it makes victory that much sweeter."