Reporting from Mammoth Lakes — Danny Davis wasn't alone on his history-making halfpipe run here the other day, his journey on the board bolstered by the vibe of a close friend, almost riding shotgun.
Nor was Hannah Teter truly running solo when she steeled to take on the icy pipe, preparing to drop in and chase a spot at the Olympics in Vancouver next month.
Kevin Pearce wasn't in Mammoth. But the severely injured and hospitalized snowboarder has found a safe place, deep in the hearts and minds of his friends and colleagues in the tight snowboarding community.
"He's with us. Absolutely," said Mike Jankowski, U.S. snowboarding head halfpipe coach.
Pearce, who was wearing a helmet, suffered a serious brain injury in training Dec. 31 and remains hospitalized in Salt Lake City. He was upgraded last week to serious from critical, the first positive development in his case, as his breathing tube was removed and Pearce has been slowly regaining consciousness.
On Wednesday, one of his doctors, Elaine Skalabrin, said, "Kevin continues to improve and is actively participating in his therapies. He is making progress on a daily basis."
Pearce's brother Adam posted a status update on Facebook: "Seems to be right on schedule in his recovery."
The Facebook page honoring Pearce has rapidly expanded its membership, hitting nearly 30,000 fans, with messages of support from as far away as Scotland, Spain, Ecuador and Ukraine.
Resolutely, the snow show went on last week at the U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix event in Mammoth, a qualifier for the fast-approaching Winter Olympics.
"It was just more difficult not to have [Pearce] out there riding with us," Davis said.
The finish area was dotted with signs of all shapes and colors honoring Pearce, who, before Davis, had been one of the rare riders to defeat 2006 Olympic gold medalist Shaun White. Davis, at the awards ceremony, held up one sign: "Pearce Be With You."
Teter, who won Olympic gold in 2006, talked about the impact of Pearce's accident. Pearce, 22, suffered the injury at practice in Park City, Utah, trying to complete a twisting double back flip and hitting his head on the edge of the halfpipe run.
"When one of our friends goes down, it takes a piece of everybody," Teter said. "Just to get back out there and ride your hardest because you know the danger is there . . . it is hard. When I see somebody fall in practice or get hurt, it almost makes me want to cry. It shows me that you've got to be on, or this thing can eat you."
Pearce's accident has heightened the level of scrutiny of the risky double cork, which has gone from a talked-about breakout move to a must-have weapon for top riders.
"It's not like we've been working toward double corks for five years or anything," Jankowski said. "It's just the natural progression of the sport."
One double cork, perhaps, might have meant a spot on the podium in Vancouver. Now, it's like a chess game, not knowing who is going to make the next move.
"To win, as of now, it looks like it's going to take at least two," Jankowski said. "Three double corks is going to be what it takes to win. Two to get on the podium with guys like Shaun White, Louie Vito and Danny Davis, all having these double corks on lock. It's not going to go backward."
Davis became the first to land three in a run, beating the sport's icon, White, a week ago Wednesday. Though he hadn't been able to land the run in the days leading up to the competition, Davis went for it in an all-out effort to beat White.
But there is a difference between those at the top of the sport and vying for medals and spots on the Olympic team and less experienced riders. After Pearce's accident, there was some rethinking about the double cork, according to the mother of an up-and-coming American rider.
"What they're saying is that people that don't have the double cork down now, they're not trying it," said Lynn Jacob, the mother of 16-year-old Trevor Jacob.
Lynn Jacob, whose son started snowboarding when he was 3, was talking about the maneuver just a few minutes before Davis hit his trio of double corks to energize the crowd on another sun-splashed day at Mammoth.
"The guys that have it or are working on it all did it in their runs and will continue to do it in their runs and use the competition as training as well," Jankowski said last week.
"Obviously being an Olympic qualifier, it's time to throw all your cards on the table and put yourself out there. They're not doing it unless they're ready and they feel safe about it, of course."
Long-held stereotypes about the sport may be at work too.
At least that's what former Olympic coach Pete del'Giudice voiced on the hill when he was being asked about Pearce's accident and the double cork. He pointed out the inherent risks in other extreme sports.
"They all want to blame it on the raggy, taggy halfpipers; it's not true. Anybody that gets to this level in snowboarding, they've got their act together," del'Giudice said. "They think we're all bunch of scatterbrained idiots."
If so, then the people he is talking about probably aren't reading the thoughtful, heartfelt expressions of support on Facebook or listening to Pearce's introspective colleagues and mentors. Or haven't heard about the hours of training the riders put in, on and off the halfpipe.
"Any time there's an accident like that, it definitely makes you stand back and look at the big picture: what it is that we're doing out here," Jankowski said.
"What it is we're doing out here is taking the sport to the next level, and Americans are leading the way in the future. That is not going to go by the wayside.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with Kevin, and he's here with us in spirit."