The Ride of Their Lives

These women are going downhill fast.

"The men's magazines have been trying to do that story forever," Barrett says. "Playboy was calling for a while there. Eventually they got girls who said they were pro snowboarders. None of us had ever heard of them, but who knows? They sure look like they have the most perfect bodies. I'm all for it if it fits your personality. I couldn't. I mean, I'm confident with myself, but not necessarily naked."

Nineteen-year-old Jessica Johnson and her boyfriend, CJ, have just figured out that a friend of a friend who goes to college in Glenwood Springs has floor space available and that they may be able to weasel out of their jobs at Loveland Ski Area long enough to catch a few of the X Games events, which are free.

Fast company: Jessica Johnson, ready to ride.
Anthony Camera
Fast company: Jessica Johnson, ready to ride.
A girl for all seasons: Barrett Christy, on the slopes.
Chris Owen
A girl for all seasons: Barrett Christy, on the slopes.

Jessica works part-time at the rental shop. Last year she worked full-time, she explains, but she barely had time to ride, and she needs all the riding time she can get. Her desire to turn pro is a lot stronger than her need for cash. Besides, she and CJ worked all summer selling beer at Red Rocks. The money was good, and three months of walking up and down those amphitheater steps gave her bionic quads.

After scrounging for gas money, they decide to make the trip. They're familiar with Aspen, sort of.

"Last year, CJ and I did the Jeep King of the Hill; it's a kind of a coed pair race," Jessica says. "We did great. He came in first, and I smoked all the guys. It was just last year, and we won a trip to Aspen to compete. They gave us two hotel rooms 'cause there were two of us, and so naturally we invited ten friends, and then none of us could afford to eat up there, it's so expensive. And we didn't do well in the race. But we had a great time, and I thought, for the first time, Whoa -- I could compete."

She can't wait to go back, even if she has to go hungry.

Jessica, CJ, a friend and an un-neutered male pit bull share a tiny miner's shack in Silver Plume that's visible from the highway. Heat comes from a wood stove. A snowboard video (License to Appear) plays on the TV. Jessica's savings account currently holds eight bucks. Her father, a framer with a grip on real-world economics, wants to know when she plans to join the rest of society. He also wants to know:

Why she keeps getting in car accidents.

Why she's been a "boot girl" at the Loveland rental shop for three years.

If she'll ever pay for her own health insurance, considering the number of times she's dislocated her shoulder while riding, and then there was that broken hand...

And what about this racing? Does she have a shot?

He owns a time-share at Beaver Creek, but like the rest of Jessica's family, he's skied only a few times in his life and never snowboarded. Jessica discovered Loveland on an eighth-grade ski trip and immediately decided that if her friends could ride snowboards, she could, too. Without ever taking a lesson, she simply decided to keep up with the boys. Before long, snowboarding was her life.

"My parents got divorced, and my mom and I moved to Evergreen, and I went to Clear Creek High School," she says. "I got in a lot of trouble in high school. My mom would pretty much ground me every weekend, so during the week, I didn't go to school much. There are a bunch of roads up here, and we'd go out there and throw rocks and drive around Idaho Springs and hang out at the park, just skateboard all afternoon. I got my job at Loveland when I was sixteen."

Compared with other Colorado ski resorts, Loveland is small, inexpensive and really not even a destination for out-of-towners. There are no hotels or boutiques, no day spas -- even the lodge carpeting looks decades old. But Jessica found out that a "dinky slalom race" had been set up, and she entered it and took third. The next round of the race was at Keystone. All she had to do was send in some paperwork, but...she forgot. Her dad, again, was pissed. The next year, though, she got it together and took fourth, and that's when she began thinking about life as a pro.

"A sponsor -- what would that be like?" she wonders. "I mean, do they really hook you up with everything you need? Making a sweet video -- that would be awesome, too. We had a friend up in Dillon, and she had this sweet camera and she was filming us, talking about making a movie, but we haven't heard from her in a while."

Loveland isn't exactly lousy with sponsors and film crews. So while Jessica waits, she rides as much as she can and works out "at the dinky little rec center in Idaho Springs. And I think," she says. "I think about the X Games."

What separates an amateur snowboarder from a pro?

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