Steamboat Springs Brett Buckles was in the desert when her love for skiing was rekindled.
The former Steamboat Springs Alpine ski racer quit in 2002 and took a three-year hiatus from the sport, traveling to Arizona to attend college.
"I got the itch again," Buckles said. "The winter before last, I came home, and it dumped the whole time. I skied epic Steamboat powder and was like, OK, I need to get back to the mountains. I transferred to (the University of Colorado) and just wanted to get back to recreation skiing."
After some prodding from a Steamboat friend and a handshake agreement to give skiercross a try, Buckles, 24, found herself in Sugarbowl, Calif., at an X Games qualifier.
She placed second by a fraction of a ski length.
"In my first skiercross, I qualified for the X Games," Buckles said. "I love it. It's such a breath of fresh air from ski racing. Everything I couldn't stand about ski racing is absolutely absent in skiercross."
Buckles, a graduate of The Lowell Whiteman School, has blended competition with camaraderie in her new sport. She's still fast on skis, but in skiercross, Buckles must navigate turns and clear jumps with at least one other person on the course during races.
"It was quite the jump, being thrown into it," Buckles said. "It's been a blast."
Buckles has become America's top skiercross racer and one of the best in the world. She finished third at the Jeep King of the Mountain Professional Skiing and Snowboarding World Championships on Feb. 26 in Squaw Valley, Calif.
France's Ophelie David won gold, and Austria's Karin Huttary, who defeated Buckles in the semifinals, won silver.
"The end of the year was awesome," Buckles said. "The coolest thing was stepping up on the podium with the No. 1 and No. 2 skier girls in the world. It was such a thrill."
Buckles said her season will include one more race in April in California, but she already has the momentum she wanted heading into the offseason. Buckles wants to recruit more American women to the sport.
In Europe, skiercross is as esteemed as Alpine or cross-country skiing, but its World Cup tour is growing in popularity. In North America, on the other hand, Buckles and Canadian rival Anik Demers had to push organizers to hold women's races.
Skiercross racers may be able to build on the Olympic success and popularity of snowboardcross, an event similar to skiercross.
Buckles has rehearsed her skiercross sales pitch.
"The U.S. series is so mellow and so low-key," she said. "This is fun, and it's not dangerous. You get your competitive edge back out, but not in a racing way. You get to thrive off competition, but it's so healthy and fun."