Nineteen hours. That's how long it took Bobby Brown to vault from skier to superstar last January. It wasn't just that he became the first skier to win two gold medals at the same Winter X Games -- something not Tanner Hall, Jon Olsson, Candide Thovex or any other freeskiing legend had achieved. It was how he did it.
At A Glance: Bobby Brown
The first night, in the finals of Big Air, Brown pulled a switch dub misty 12 -- an impossible combination of spins and flips that makes keeping track of where you are in the third dimension laughably difficult. He nailed the trick like a free throw, scoring a rare perfect 50 with the judges. Then, for his second run, Brown added yet another half-rotation and landed switch. He stuck it just as solidly for another perfect score and his first X Games gold medal.
Let's be clear: Brown had never even tried the switch double misty flip 1440 that he landed in his second run, and he'd only been doing the 1260 version for two weeks. But as he likes to say, "It's just when you're feelin' it, you're feelin' it. And you know you have a trick and you're gonna land it."
The next day, Brown, a Denver native who now lives in Breckenridge, upset the deepest and most talented Winter X Games field of all time to win gold yet again, in Slopestyle. He peppered his run with a handplant misty 720, a switch right misty 900 and a double cork 1260 before once again stomping his switch double misty 1260 on the final hit. The following weekend, Brown continued his streak by winning a well-attended Dew Tour Slopestyle event in Vermont, laying down a similarly impressive run. His name is sometimes a bane, he says, because of the endless "My Prerogative" jokes, but in the span of one week, the words "Bobby Brown" had become the hottest in skiing.
This was because everything seemed sudden. And it was. But his contest wins -- which have since grown to include a slopestyle win at the second stop of the Winter Dew Tour in Killington last weekend and big-air victories in Australia (in September) and Norway (November) -- aren't why some skiers talk about Brown, 19, the way baseball scouts talked about Bryce Harper, or why he signed a lucrative multi-year Red Bull contract last spring. They talk that way because they know his foundation. They know how rare his breed really is.
You think two Winter X Games gold medals in two days is fast? Try Brown's mogul season when he debuted for Team Summit at age 12. He stuck his first 360 early in the winter, landed his first backflip in the middle, then his first 720. By the end of the season he was stomping D-spins and corked 720s. The next winter, at 13, he began landing switch 900s.
"The progression happened so fast that it's kind of a blur," he said. "It just suddenly clicked and everything started getting really easy."
Brown is not the first to use a moguls background as a platform to excel in other disciplines. Shane McConkey, Jonny Moseley, Henrik Windstedt and Tanner Hall, among others, count moguls as a direct link to freeskiing. The difference is, Brown never stood out. "He had great balance but he wasn't super focused on his mogul skiing," said Chris Carson, a former Warren Miller and Poor Boyz skier who coached Brown at Team Summit. "He'd push out of the gates and couldn't wait to get to the kicker."
Air sense is difficult to quantify, but Carson said Brown has it better than anyone he's coached. The family put a trampoline in their backyard when Bobby was young, "and he'd be on it two hours a day, seven days a week," recalled Will Berman, Brown's best friend since middle school. "He started doing doubles when he was a freshman or sophomore in high school. He'd jump off the roof onto the tramp all the time."
When Brown got his driver's license, he borrowed his dad's '95 Chevy pickup and drove to the local ice rink. He shoveled all the ice shavings into the bed of the truck, then built a takeoff ramp out of the artificial snow onto a homemade rail, which he skied until sunset.
"It was pretty clear then that this was what he was going to be doing," said his father, Bob, a builder and former tennis player at the University of Colorado.
Brown almost never watched TV or played video games -- though he did spend two years watching every freeskiing movie ever made. Instead, he drew caricatures of his favorite skiers and daydreamed about snow.
"He wasn't always comfortable in school," said his mother, Connie, who works in a flower shop. "Skiing kind of saved him, in a way. Because he was a shy kid with so much energy, but not really an outlet for it. Skiing is the one thing that makes him happy."
The world of sports is full of hard workers. Tiger Woods hits golf balls for roughly 4½ hours per day. Peyton Manning has been known to conduct 12-hour film study sessions on his opponents, and Jerry Rice used to sprint up the Stairmaster in the 49ers' locker room for over an hour before games. On an average day in Breckenridge's Freeway terrain park, Brown arrives at 8:30 a.m. and leaves at 4 p.m. He estimates that he makes five laps an hour (hitting eight features each lap), never stops for lunch -- "we just wait till we get home" -- and falls once a day, if at all.
Conservatively, then, Brown is logging 35 park runs per day, or 175 per week. And now he's added halfpipe training to his already packed schedule, though slopestyle and big air remain his priority.
"His determination is just beyond anybody else's," Berman said. "He's gotten mad at me because he's been up in Freeway at 8:30, and I didn't get up there till 9:30. He'd be like, 'Dude, where were you? We've wasted so much time.'"
What's more, Brown doesn't seem to need a warm-up. "He has no problem doing his hardest tricks on the first run of the day, or in bad weather, or if he's never hit the jump before," said freeskier Gus Kenworthy, one of Brown's roommates. "He always surprises me by doing something ridiculous and completely out of left field."
Each autumn, Brown writes down his goals for the season on a piece of paper, wads it up and sticks it in his bedside drawer, not to be read until spring. At the end of the season he finds out how he did. Lately, he says, he's achieved every goal he's set.
Still just a year removed from his high school graduation, Brown is earning a salary (read: steady paychecks) from six companies and has an annual travel budget in excess of $20,000. In 19 hours at the 2010 Winter X Games, he won $40,000, not including sponsor incentives.
"I'll put it this way: There are no unreturned e-mails or phone calls when it comes to Bobby Brown," said his agent, Jaimeson Keegan, who brokered Brown's Red Bull deal.
Keegan calls Brown "an agent's dream," but it's not just due to the kid's freeskiing skills or, let's be honest, his good looks. It's also his hunger. When Brown made his Winter X debut in 2009, he was knocked unconscious for 30 seconds during a practice run before the final. "That was the gnarliest crash I've ever taken, for sure," he said. Twenty minutes later, he took sixth.
At the Breckenridge Dew Tour stop last season, Brown landed so hard that the skin on his leg ripped wide open, a gash that required 20 stitches. He stomped his next run despite excruciating pain and placed fourth.
Most recently, Brown sustained a broken pelvis and three compressed vertebrae March 15 while filming with Matchstick in Idaho's Sawtooth Mountains (his segment in "The Way I See It" hit theaters this fall). Six weeks later, on April 25, he trudged alone through Arapahoe Basin's slushy parking lot to make laps in the park. Asked what it would take to knock him out of a contest, the teenager said: "My legs to fall off, probably. I'd do anything possible to pull off my run. Seriously, I would."
Fresh off his win at the Dew Tour last weekend, Brown is the clear favorite coming into this week's Winter X 15, and last weekend, he hinted that he had a new trick he was planning to roll out. Just ask freeskiing legend Mike Douglas who he thinks will win Slopestyle and Big Air this week in Aspen. "Bobby Brown is so dialed, from his competition head to having a bunch of the best tricks in the book," Douglas said. "As people catch up to him, he's always pushing it even further."