In 2009, just when Kevin Pearce looked like he'd be a serious medal contender at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, he suffered a traumatic brain injury while snowboarding that left him in a medically-induced coma. Three years later, the 25-year-old Vermont native is not only back on the slopes, he's on the air as an analyst for ESPN at the 2013 Winter X Games (January 24-27, 2013).
While he may never compete again, he's still heavily involved in the snowboarding scene. We asked him where he expects the most groundbreaking action will take place during this year's X Games in Aspen.
DETAILS: Who are the snowboarders we should be looking out for during the 2013 Winter X Games?
KEVIN PEARCE: I think it's going to be this kid Iouri Podladtchikov, a.k.a. "iPod." He's got what it takes. He has all the tricks, but so far he hasn't been able to link all of them together. That's why Shaun [White] is still the best. He can land just about everything and he never seems to fall. Another dude is Scotty Lago, who is really good; he's got the amplitude but doesn't have the super-gnarly tricks. But maybe he'll be able to pull it all together for the X Games.
There's also a pair of Japanese kids, Taku Hiraoka and Ayumu Hirano. Ayumu is 14-years old and is just gnarly. He has this insane style and I think he just needs a couple of years of experience and he'll be winning some of these events. They're younger and are just kind of popping up now. It's cool to see new talent coming into the pipe. The last couple of years have been kind of stale with the same kids doing the same tricks.
DETAILS: What kind of tricks should we be looking out for this year?
KEVIN PEARCE: The main one this year is the Triple Cork. It's when you do three flips while doing a 1080. Before it never really happened and then we saw it a few times this year at Big Air (X Games 2012). It wasn't just like one went down. Mike McMorris did three of them and ended up winning it. It's pretty crazy. Last year the Double Cork became the standard, even though a couple of years before that nobody was doing them. So athletes are taking it to the next level pretty quickly.
DETAILS: Is there a dress code in snowboarding, or can you pretty much wear whatever you want to?
KEVIN PEARCE: It's totally open. That's why I was drawn to it. That's why it's still cool; there are no coaches and there's nobody telling you what to do. You can do whatever the hell you want, ride however the hell you want. It's so open and you're totally free to express yourself.
DETAILS: Who dresses with the most flair?
KEVIN PEARCE: Shaun White's outfit is pretty out-there. He has this tight outfit with these tight leather pants. It's completely different from what everybody else wears.
DETAILS: How have the X Games changed since you started snowboarding?
KEVIN PEARCE: It's the biggest thing going in snowboarding right now. It's almost like the Super Bowl. Even with more exclusive events it's not that hard to get invited. With the X Games it's an honor to be invited. It's like you made it to the top level.
Pearce in action
DETAILS: After your accident you became a big proponent of helmets and snowboarder safety in general. Any tips on picking a helmet that looks cool on the slopes?
KEVIN PEARCE: That's part of the appeal of snowboarding—looking cool, which is why it can be so hard to get these kids to wear helmets. Really, I don't think the helmets really make you look uncool anymore. It's hard for me to understand why kids aren't wearing helmets. It's great that contests are now requiring them, but the kids that don't wear them when they're just cruising around are just idiots.
There are these helmets, RED Hi-Fi, that are really cool and have headphones in them. It's really a great brand, comfortable, and fits great.
DETAILS: What do you listen to these days?
KEVIN PEARCE: I'm a classic rock guy, so mostly the Rolling Stones and Neil Young. I'm really into Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. I go for a really mellow vibe. Snowboarding is just more fun when you have music to cruise to.
—Keith Wagstaff is a writer and editor based in Brooklyn. Follow him at @kwagstaff.