The Ride of Their Lives

These women are going downhill fast.

After that, she took a look at her fellow competitors. "The whole crew was younger, even younger than last year," she says. "They're all training hard for the Olympics -- one event, very focused, not at all like we used to be. It must be intense."

The X Games ended Barrett's racing for the season, but she'll still be riding for a living over the next few months -- a helicopter trip for a Utah TV station, outings with Vail VIPs at a conference in Breckenridge, several photo shoots arranged by her agent.

"And what next? People have been asking me that forever," she says. "I'd like to get involved with recreational riders. I like teaching. There's so many women who don't see themselves as your typical snowboarders. I want to teach them. I love to play tennis, and I love to surf. I love basset hounds. I love my husband. And you know, I have a lot of medals. You can't do this all forever. I've done as well as I want to do."

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.

"Saturdays," Jessica says happily. "I love Saturdays -- so many people to show off in front of." And that's what she's been doing all day, riding up and down Lift 6 to the Loveland terrain park, riding the rails and the boxes, oblivious to the small group of thirteen-year-old girls who watch her every move. Tupac croons into her headphones, and it's all "awesome and smooth," she says, "feeling my board move around underneath me and just hitting it." When she jumps onto an obstacle -- a long, C-shaped box about a foot wide -- it looks effortless, as if she were taking the first step onto a flight of stairs.

On her next ride up, though, Jessica witnesses a brutal collision between two skiers. After the crash, both lie limp in the snow. A young boy on a snowboard rushes toward them, not sure what to do.

"Oh, my God, that's horrible," Jessica says, breathing fast. "I'm terrible around blood and freaked-out people. This guy who's been riding with us, a crazy guy with skulls tattooed on his neck, and it turns out he's old, like thirty-eight, he hit his leg riding with us a few weeks ago and the blood was just spurting. And then when I was in that pickup truck that rolled -- when I woke up, I was lying there bleeding and my boyfriend at the time was bleeding in a ditch. I broke my eye-socket bone and my nose. I had lied to my dad about where I was all week and the kids were all drunk. You know what? I think I've been stupid and naíve and have had to learn a lot of lessons. I think they should change the driving age."

After the rollover accident, Jessica got a little insurance money. She put a thousand dollars into snowboard gear -- all good, but used. Then last September, she went to Washington's Mount Baker to ride the early season, which was so sweet, and she looked for work so that she could stay where the serious riders live. But there were no jobs, so she returned to Loveland for another season. There's talk that next year, Loveland will have a snowboard team, and she'll be on it. Meanwhile, she'll ride and wait for the little races to come to town.

"This little ten-year-old girl asked me to ride with her last weekend," she recalls. "Her brother was making fun of her, saying she couldn't ride the park. So I did, I rode with her. It was cool. She was fearless, of course."

Dena is definitely not supposed to race for at least three more weeks, so she's come out to the Copper Boardercross Series just for the hell of it, she says. Her ribs still hurt so much that she has trouble bending over to put on her boot, but she's dying to get out on the snow.

"I might just side-slip down the course behind the other girls," she decides. "Just so they know I was there. They have to give me some points for that."

Only three other girls enter the race; she should be able to stay out of their way. And what's the worst that could happen?

While she waits, she takes pictures with the tiny digital camera she got in her X Games goodie bag. "It was a great atmosphere, now that I can think about it," she says. "A huge athlete's lounge with big-screen TVs, massage, Internet, food and drink. And they gave us these cameras, and backpacks, and candies -- Reese's, which I ate both of and felt guilty -- and an Offspring CD and a couple of beanies. I got $250 prize money just for showing up.

"You know something?" she asks. "I made $40,000 last year, half on a snowboard. That's not too bad."

Parked in her gate before the next boardercross heat, Dena looks relaxed, wearing one of her Cold As Ice bright-blue outfits and a helmet sticker that reads "Girls Luv Snow." She is eight years older than the next-oldest competitor. When the gate drops, she falls easily into last place, coasting gently around the first curve and on toward the finish line. People who know her can't believe she's racing at all.

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