Project X had the bigger budget, but the Frends had a better time. Between runs on this mid-June morning, Jack Mitrani explains how he and Luke came to the sport. "We started as martial arts prodigies," he declares, straight-faced, "but were so advanced that the state forced us to register our hands as lethal weapons. So our mom took us out of that class, and we got into this."
The conversation turns to missing Frend Scotty Lago, who is injured but on their minds, having recently opened a can of carbonated Rockstar Energy Drink and placed it in a pneumatic tube at his local drive-through bank. Innocent tellers were sprayed, and the cops were summoned, though Lago was not arrested.
Amid the levity it's easy to forget that Pearce may have squandered a competitive advantage by inviting them. In the series of five Olympic trials events that start on Dec. 11 at Copper Mountain in Colorado and end in late January, only four male riders will make the U.S. halfpipe team. Of course, that's not how he sees it. "What's happened," says Pearce, "is that we've pushed each other to a place we might not have gotten on our own."
Luke broke the ice. He's a dangerous and fearless rider, which is why, during their mid-June training, he was the first of the Frends to attempt a double. After watching Luke pull off a double Michalchuk—a pair of twisting backflips—"it was on," says Davis. "I just told myself, You need to step your s--- up." And he did, pulling off a seriously technical trick called a cab double cork.
Next up was Pearce, who nailed a double McTwist—a contortion involving two front flips. He, Luke and Davis spent that day and the next dialing those tricks in, euphoric in the wake of their collective breakthrough.
The giddiness ended abruptly on the afternoon of June 18. Attempting a switch double Haakon flip, Pearce catapulted himself 10 feet over the lip, all the while flipping forward. Coming out of his second rotation, his board hit the deck hard, torquing his ankles and pitching him back into the air. He rag-dolled to the bottom of the pipe, where his older brother Adam leaned over him, taking inventory. It was not the first time one of them had inspected the other after an epic wipeout.
American Pia McDonnell met Irishman Simon Pearce in 1977; they were married two years later. After two years of living in his native country, where he began a successful blown glass and pottery company, the couple bought a 200-year-old building in Quechee, Vt., and converted it into a glassblowing factory and studio. Three decades after setting up shop, Simon Pearce, the company, has 300 employees and a sterling reputation throughout New England and beyond.
Pia and Simon had four boys in six years—Andy, now 28; Adam, 25; David, 24; and Kevin. Like their dad, Kevin and two of his brothers are dyslexic. (David has Down syndrome.) With a Master's degree in human development and a doctorate in education, Pia knew enough to be proactive, getting the boys tutoring before kindergarten and working with administrators to find creative solutions and individualized education programs.
The Pearce boys never lacked for fun at their home in Norwich, Vt. Across the driveway from the main house is a giant white barn. When Andy was 16 he asked his parents if he could convert the barn into a dorm for him and his brothers. Simon and Pia agreed, with the proviso that if the boys abused this privilege, it would be taken away.
The end result is a local legend: a two-story man-cave with a big-screen TV and pool, Ping-Pong and Foosball tables downstairs and sleeping quarters upstairs. Just outside sit a skateboard ramp and a basketball hoop. Walls are covered with vintage snowboards and banners heisted from the Vermont-based U.S. Open Snowboarding championships dating back 15 years.