Maybe you've found yourself wondering, while watching the Olympic halfpipe every four years: Where can they possibly take the sport from here? In the months leading up to the Vancouver Games, the answer became clear: The next frontier is a family of exceptionally challenging off-axis spins called corks. Right now, the best riders in the world are executing double corks—stunts with Jabberwocky names such as "switch double Haakon flip" and "double McTwist."
Last June, Kevin Pearce (SI, Dec. 7, 2009) sat cross-legged on the backside of California's Mammoth Mountain, sounding like a pioneer. The 22-year-old Vermonter, a rising star in the sport, had invited a handful of his snowboarding friends to train with him. (They call themselves Frends—the absent i denoting selflessness.) With Pearce, Danny Davis and Luke Mitrani dialing in an assortment of double-corked moves, there was a sense of euphoria in the air. Pearce marveled at how quickly he and his Frends had gone from "just thinking about these tricks to actually taking it to the wall."
That progression was slowed last Thursday. In the process of landing a cab double cork—a trick he's nailed before—Pearce caught his toe-side edge, slamming headfirst into the wall of the halfpipe at Park City, Utah. Pearce, who was wearing a helmet, suffered a serious head injury; as of Monday he was in critical but stable condition at the University of Utah Hospital. "Kevin sustained a severe traumatic brain injury," said one of his doctors, Holly Ledyard. "[He] has a long recovery ahead of him."
How long a shadow will Pearce's accident cast over the Olympic halfpipe, scheduled to begin on Feb. 17? Through a spokeswoman, the Frends declined to comment. But, while discussing this latest generation of "heavy" tricks with Denver Westworld last month, Davis said, "One thing that I've realized is that you've got to commit.... If you think you're gonna freak out and open up halfway through it, don't try it."