Year in review: Snowboarding


White Out
You know when you're name-dropped by Lil Wayne in a song called "Bill Gates" that you've made an impression on the world. After bagging his second Olympic gold, Shaun White has gone on to cast such a big media shadow that he often obscures snowboarding itself. From his increasingly outrageous Rolling Stone covers to his regular, comfortable appearances on the big talk-show couches, White is by far the biggest superstar snowboarding has ever seen.

The big story surrounding White coming into the Olympic season was about how much time he'd spent alone, learning new tricks in a "secret" halfpipe in the Colorado backcountry, pre-Games. The training paid off, making him almost unbeatable. In Vancouver, he qualified in first and then put down a first run that guaranteed him another gold medal. But he hadn't thrown his new double McTwist 1260 yet -- the notorious "Tomahawk" he'd been hinting at for over a month. So, instead of taking a fun, loose "victory lap" -- like the one he pulled after winning in similar circumstances in Torino -- White broke out the Tomahawk, scored a truly ridiculous 48.4 (50 is perfect), and gave everyone a 30-second master class in modern transition riding.

That Bites
Bronze medalists don't always become household names, but Scotty Lago has never been ordinary. After the Pearce/Davis "Frends" crew member nabbed his medal in Vancouver's halfpipe, thrilling snowboarders everywhere with his solid performance and easy-to-love persona, his athletic prowess was quickly overshadowed by one little paparazzi shot. The controversial photo shows Lago in a USA Team shirt with his hard-won medal tied around his waist, smiling as a woman on her knees leans in to bite it.

When the predictable scandal erupted over the photo (and the predictable reaction in the snowboard community to the media and Olympic committee overreaction over what is generally agreed to be a set up, non-incident), Lago apologized to officials and volunteered to leave Vancouver early. He went home quietly, but back in his native New Hampshire, he was jumped by every major news and entertainment outfit worth mentioning, becoming, in the process, a far bigger star than anyone had ever planned. Lago continues to shock and awe, but just on his board, and the next photos that make him famous will be the ones shot during filming for Travis Rice and Brain Farm's new movie, "The Art of Flight."

Fallen Frends
Two best Frends. Two brutal injuries. Two lost chances to take Olympic Gold from Shaun White. On the last day of 2009, four-time X Games medalist Kevin Pearce hit his head attempting a cab double cork during a training session in the Park City, Utah, pipe. The impact was so forceful that Pearce received a traumatic brain injury, despite wearing a helmet, and was put in the ICU, listed in critical condition and breathing through a tube. His injury prompted a well-known non-snowboarding Olympic commentator to argue on live television that double corks should be banned from competition, sparking a wildfire backlash in the snowboarding world. Meanwhile, Danny Davis picked up the competitive torch and dedicated his season to Pearce.

Davis was in fine form in the Grand Prix U.S. Olympic team qualifying contest series. In fact, Davis beat Shaun White at the Mammoth stop with a run that was hailed "best ever by anyone" and included three double corks and consistently huge airs, all done in Davis' untouchably relaxed style. (See for yourself here.) But in another cruel irony, Davis suffered his own traumatic injury: A late-night ATV accident in Utah left him with a fractured vertebrae and mashed pelvis. While Pearce and Davis both began their patient, upward climbs to recovery, White went on to win the Olympics uncontested.