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click to enlarge CREIGHTON SMITH

It's not unusual to live in the Pikes Peak region, own a snowboard, ride said snowboard, and, in certain social contexts, refer to yourself as a snowboarder. So perhaps it's surprising that the region has yet to spawn a professional rider of national stature.

Woodland Park's Jill Baker-Haight and Colorado Springs's Andy Bruce hope to change that next year when they will compete in national competitions in an effort to turn their passion into a profession.

While the power and the glory of pro snowboarding spins high above a frozen halfpipe, Bruce and Baker-Haight are seeking their fortunes in an emerging competitive class called boardercross. Scheduled to be an Olympic event at the 2006 winter games in Italy, boardercross combines elements of slalom and freestyle snowboarding with the excitement of head-to-head racing. Riders maneuver up berms and air over humps while jockeying for position against three to seven other competitors.

What's got these two 20-somethings juiced up is their placements in February at the United States of America Snowboard Association's national championships in Angel Fire, N.M. Baker-Haight took first in the senior women's division while Bruce got seventh in the men's.

For Bruce and Baker-Haight, the bar has been raised as their success at Angel Fire automatically qualifies them to compete next year in high-profile national competitions, most notably the winter X-Games in Aspen.

Baker-Haight works for her parent's landscaping company in Woodland Park and makes near-daily schleps to practice at Breckenridge during the winter. She says her goal is to compete in the 2006 Winter Olympics. Recently, she landed a sponsorship from the Breckenridge-based "Team J-Sak," a private team that will send her to competitions on the North American pro-circuit next year. This comes on top of a modest shop sponsorship from North Shore in Colorado Springs. Though she's not entirely comfortable saying as much, these sponsorships herald her transition from amateur to pro.

Meanwhile, Bruce, who frames houses for a contractor in northeast Colorado Springs, has yet to land a sponsor despite besting sponsored riders in competition. When asked who his sponsors are, he simply tells people, "My back."

-- John Dicker

Photo by Creighton Smith

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