In part, that's because of snowboarding's relative newness. "When most boarders went to a competition as kids, there were only a handful of others in their age group, so they often became really good friends," says Bower. But it also comes from the freewheeling spirit of boarding, which has moves with names like Crippler and McTwist. Most boarders, including these three, got into the sport not because they were pushed by parents or thought it would someday make them rich but because it was fun.
"When they're around each other, they're drawn to being the best," says Hannah's brother and manager, Amen. "There's this spirit of good-natured free expression. Their progression is spiraling upward, and I don't think that would be the case if they didn't like and push each other."
Kelly, 27, and Gretchen, 28, have been friends since 2000, when the two then-rookies went to their first training camp in California and proceeded to lock the car keys in the team van. "We were like, 'Okay, let's just tell them we both did it.' And that was that," says Kelly. They've roomed together ever since. Hannah, the baby of the trio, met the others in 2003, when she was 16. Eight or nine months of the year, the three eat, sleep, travel, and train together. They skydive in New Zealand, golf in Oregon, and surf in Costa Rica. They horseback ride, hike, bike, and kayak.
All three grew up in or near resorts. Gretchen, who was raised in Dayton and Aspen, and Hannah, from Belmont, Vermont, were tomboys who tried to keep pace with their older brothers (Gretchen has three, Hannah four) on the mountain. Kelly grew up near the Vermont resort of Mount Snow, where her parents signed her up for ski racing. "The racing was really competitive, and I didn't enjoy being pushed by someone else," Kelly recalls. "The first year snowboarding was allowed at our mountain, I got a board and was hooked. I finally skipped enough ski-racing practice that my dad stopped paying for it. In snowboarding, you find people competing who are actually rooting for each other. That didn't happen in ski racing."
In fact, the three will tell you that their friendship is the best part of the sport. "It's a great lesson in life to be hanging out with the person who beat you, because you have to let it pass, and it keeps you humble," says Gretchen. "When I started snowboarding, I was looking for success to bring me identity. I still love to win, but at the same time, I don't need the X-Games to show me who I am."
They compete every weekend, "so they have to learn to collect themselves quickly, because they're going to be getting in the car and on the plane together," Byrnes says. "It's like family. Everybody's not always holding hands and skipping along—they have their moments. But it's about leaving what's on the playing field on the playing field."
Adds Hannah: "We have a support system everywhere we go—on the mountain, when we're traveling—and it adds a huge dimension. We never fight. We're always supportive—it's hard to find that in the big world sometimes."
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