Winter X 2010 marks the 12th year that France's Enak Gavaggio has competed at WX -- the most WX appearances of any skier. With six Skier X medals, Enak is also the most decorated athlete in the discipline. He won his only Skier X gold during his rookie year in 1999. Back then, Gavaggio shared the podium with two of freeskiing's biggest stars, late legend Shane McConkey (silver) and Jeremy Nobis (bronze).
While he is one of the smallest competitors on the Skier X roster (5'7, 160 lbs), he is also one of the most intimidating -- hence his nickname, "The Dark Lord." Pushy and relentless, he maneuvers the course like a race car driver and always finds his way to the front no matter where he is when the gate drops.
A free-spirit at heart, Gavaggio is an accomplished big mountain skier and BASE jumper who frequently lights up the screen for both European and American productions. We caught up with Enak for a little one-on-one down the WX memory lane.
You have competed more at WX than any other skier. How have you stayed in the sport when it can be so hard on your body?
EG: I don't know, maybe just because I was only 21 when I started. It's about age; it's about view of thinking. But I will stop skiercross this season, right after the Olympics. I will go with Reggie Crist, my old friend (and former Skier X gold medalist), to Alaska in March, but I think I will stay in shape in the future and certainly come back to the Winter X Games, because this is the only race I like.
What do you remember most about your first Skier X in 1999?
EG: I just remember how the guys, like McConkey, Nobis and (Kent) Kreitler were pretty nice to me, because I was the young one, the "rookie of the year." I knew nobody, and I had some drinks with them. I was not speaking English, but we didn't need to speak when we were drinking!
Do you have any favorite moments at Winter X over the years?
EG: What I like the most is the life you have around the Winter X Games: the party, the concert, seeing some of the other riders in the other events, like SuperPipe, Snowboarder X, etc. What are some of the biggest changes in the sport since 1999?
EG: I think the FIS (International Federation de Ski, which has hosted skiercross events since the 2002-2003 season) has changed everything. The jumps are now small and the races are easier. Before it was big, now it's flat.
How popular is skiercross in Europe? Do people ever recognize "The Dark Lord"?
EG: Sometimes in the mountains, but in France, except for soccer, tennis and rugby, sports have no consideration. It means that in the mountains everybody knows me, especially a lot of journalists. But in Paris, for example, I am unknown, and it's better I guess.
How did you get the nickname "The Dark Lord"?
EG: Zach and Reggie (Crist) gave me this nickname. I guess I was a bastard -- an insolent guy at the time. The story is still not clear with Zach right now, but we both forgot what happened and now we have some fun together. Zach and Reg were the only guys after my crash (Winter X 2008) who came in my house in Aspen to see how I was. It means that we have a lot of respect and some friendship.