The hard part about ski racing, Reggie Crist says, is its lone-wolf makeup. Each race produces only one winner. Collaboration is rare, especially in the cutthroat, head-to-head world of skicross racing. Which, looking back, helped Reggie and his brother, Zach, stand out because they were often the only ones working together.
"I always looked at it as though we had two chances to win instead of one," Reggie Crist said. "Half the time people would come up and congratulate me for Zach's accomplishments, and vice versa. In the eyes of the sponsors, it was beneficial to me if he did well, and it was beneficial to him if I did well."
When both Crist brothers succeeded, the impact was greater. They shared the same sponsors, not to mention the same parents. And, in late January 2005, the blond-haired duo from Sun Valley, Idaho, made X Games history in Aspen, Colo., sweeping the gold and silver medals in a hotly contested Skier X final.
Reggie led from start to finish, and Zach passed the brothers' nemesis, Frenchman Enak Gavaggio, on the last jump to claim silver by a whisker. They remain the only siblings to finish 1-2 in a winter X Games event. (Brothers Eito and Takeshi Yasutoko finished 1-2 in an inline skating contest at X Games in summer 2000, 2002 and 2003.)
Each Crist brother calls the 2005 sweep the highlight of his competitive skiing career.
"It was always sort of a thought that maybe we could pull that off, but it seemed improbable given how competitive that sport is and all the unexpected things that happen," Zach recalled. "In some ways [taking second] was better than winning gold. It was a really special thing to be able to share that with Reggie."
Few siblings in ski history are more closely linked to each other than the Crists. They grew up in Ketchum, Idaho, sons of a lawyer father and a psychologist mother. Reggie, four years older than Zach, paved the way for his kid brother. Each made the U.S. Ski Team and raced on the World Cup for several years. When they quit alpine racing, each went into the then-budding discipline of skicross.
It didn't take long for them to figure it out. Zach earned X Games bronze in 2000 and gold in 2001. Reggie won gold the next year, starting a five-year podium streak that included two gold, two silver and one bronze. Combined, at least one Crist brother medaled in every X Games Skier X race from 2000 to 2006.
It wasn't an accident. They built a start gate in their backyard and trained together all winter for the annual X Games stage. "If you could win one race, that was it," Reggie said. "There was no Olympics. For a lot of people, the only time they'd ever see our sport was at the X Games."
Reggie, at 6 feet, 205 pounds, was the linebacker who could glide. Zach, 5-foot-7 and 170 pounds, made his living with finesse and efficiency. "If you took the two of us and turned us into one skier, we'd have the perfect combination of skills," Reggie said.
Their brotherhood remains as tight as ever. They live one mile apart in Ketchum, within walking distance of their sister, Danielle. Their kids play together and ski together, as do they -- Reggie estimates he and Zach still ski together 40 to 50 days a year.
They are also business partners in Stellar Adventure Media with photographer Will Wissman. Reggie guides heli-ski trips in Alaska and was on his way to ski in Iceland at the time of his interview for this story. Zach guides for Sun Valley Heli Ski and leads backcountry trips in the Sawtooth range near his home. Both are sponsored by K2 Skis and Eddie Bauer.
Their memories of the 2005 X Games sweep have not faded a bit, most notably the final pass that allowed Zach to eke past Gavaggio, "literally by inches," he said.
"I'd go so far as to say we could never have repeated that in 10,000 years," Zach said. "But, truly, I think we were two of the best in the sport at that time, so it made sense that we were able to do that."