Aspen, Colo. • Snowboarder Scotty Lago still plans on performing some jaw-dropping tricks even if his mouth is sealed shut.
The Olympic halfpipe bronze medalist has been eating through a straw since a wicked wipeout two weeks ago fractured his jaw, causing him to drop nearly 10 pounds off his already skinny frame and keeping him from practicing.
Lago arrived at Winter X Games this week fully expecting to simply hang out with his buddies, a group of riders who have dubbed themselves "Frends," because there's no 'I' in snowboarding.
Once he arrived in town, though, Lago tried out the pipe, took a few runs on the slopestyle course, and realized he could hardly sit out of this competition.
Fractured jaw and all, he had to give it a go.
Lago won't perform any crazy tricks or take too many risks.
Or so he vows now.
Once the competition starts, he reserves the right to change his mind. He's going to be kept quite busy, too, as the only athlete entered in superpipe, slopestyle, big air and the snowboard best method events.
"As long as I don't take any hard slams, I should be all right," Lago said. "As long as I stay on my feet, I should be good. No one expects me to do this, so I don't have anything to prove. It's my favorite contest of the year, so I really want to do it."
Lago broke his jaw, cracked a bone in his chin and chipped teeth when he landed awkwardly from 40 feet in the air as he attempted a switch double backside rodeo 1080 while filming for Travis Rice's movie, "The Art of Flight."Upon impact, Lago's knees came up and smacked him flush on the chin, causing him to bite down hard on his tongue as well.
The group was some 20 miles into the backcountry near Jackson Hole, Wyo., making for a long, painful snowmobile ride back to town to see a doctor and undergo surgery.
At first, there appeared no way he would be ready for Winter X. Lago could barely slurp down a shake without searing pain, let alone snowboard.
Yet here he is, surrounded by his amigos, having a good time. He just had the wires taken out of his mouth, replaced instead with tight elastic bands.
It was the only way he would be allowed to compete.
"The wire can be a hazard at X Games. If I'm nauseous and throw up, my mouth won't be completely shut," Lago explained. "With the elastic bands, I can also open my mouth to get more air.
"My body feels fine. I'd feel guilty if I didn't do this, knowing I could ride the pipes and jumps."
Lago was somewhat of a surprise bronze medalist at the 2010 Vancouver Games, earning a place on the podium alongside gold-medal winner Shaun White with a performance of a lifetime.
However, Lago drew more attention for what happened after winning the medal. Lago volunteered to leave the Olympics once risque pictures of him wearing a Team USA T-shirt and his bronze medal showed up on the Internet.
Embarrassed over the stir the pictures caused, he distanced himself from the U.S. snowboarding team, needing time to sort through the incident.
Lago recently returned to the team, the flap over the photos a thing of the past. "Once my family got over it, I got over it. Just kind of moved on," said the 23-year-old Lago, who's from Seabrook, N.H. "The team couldn't be happier to have me back. It's kind of stupid for me not to have the team's support; they have a wax technician, the coaches. It's really beneficial at contests. I just missed everyone." The team has accommodated his hectic schedule, too. Lago was planning to spend more time filming this season and compete less.
That was the intention. But his fractured jaw has altered things.
"I only filmed for 10 days before I got hurt," Lago lamented.
On the flip side, he has more time to hang out with the "Frends" crew, which includes snowboarders such as Kevin Pearce, Danny Davis, Jack Mitrani, Keir Dillon, Luke Mitrani and Mason Aguirre.
It's been an emotional stretch for the bunch, with Pearce suffering a severe head injury that nearly killed him during a fall in the halfpipe on New Year's Eve 2009, and Davis breaking his pelvis when he crashed his off-road vehicle into a gate.
With Pearce and Davis on the mend, the group rendezvoused in Breckenridge, Colo., last December for an event, renting a house and letting the good times roll.
"It was awesome to have the whole crew together," said Lago, whose gang has launched their own line of headphones. "We had some unfortunate luck last year. What happened to Kevin and stuff, he's doing great and Danny is doing great, too. Those guys are honestly blessed to be in the condition they're in right now. They realize that. Kevin is grateful for everything they have and so is Danny."
Pearce will serve as an analyst for the snowboard competitions at Winter X this week, while Davis is scheduled to compete in the superpipe event.
For Lago, he knew he was back among buddies when he showed up in Aspen and Aguirre took one glimpse at his face and simply said, "Freak."
That's what "Frends" are for.