Chapter One

It was the moment they had all been waiting for.

After weeks of training and practice, they could finally rest, for the time to choose SSX's four new competitors had arrived at last.

All 251 contestants sat huddled together in a set of bleachers, shivering, not because it was 28 degrees Fahrenheit on the mountain, but because of what was about to happen.

In just a few minutes, Larry LaPierre, commissioner of the SSX snowboard league, would step up to the podium centered in front of the bleachers and announce to them all who this season's four rookies would be. Naturally, the contestants were talking loudly among themselves, discussing who they thought would be chosen.

"I know it's me!" a dark-haired girl shouted over the cacophony to the blonde boy sitting next to her. "I have to be one of the four! I've worked so hard for this, you have no idea. Plus, I've been snowboarding for over 10 years. That's a lot longer than most the people here, you know. My coach says he's positive that I'll get picked!"

The boy she was talking to barely even seemed to be paying attention. It was clear that he'd been annoyed by her ever since the moment she sat down. "Yeah, well, there are a lot of really good contestants," he told her. "So I wouldn't get your hopes up too high."

The girl flipped a strand of hair over her shoulder, completely unfazed by his words. "If you say so," she said. "Anyway, I heard that the event organizers chose two guys and two girls this year in order to make the competition more even. Personally, I think they're just covering their asses so that they don't get sued for being sexist." She clapped her gloved together excitedly. "Whatever, though. That just works in my favor, as far as I'm concerned. Oh, I just know that I'm one of the two girls that was picked! What about you?" She turned to the boy with a questioning glance. "Do you think you were chosen?'"

The boy gave a small shrug. "Dunno, maybe. Truthfully, I've always been more of a skier than a snowboarder."

She wrinkled her nose at the mention of skiing. "Then why are you even here?"

"Well," the boy replied, "my parents are ski instructors up on Big Mountain, so the slopes are like my second home. Always have been. Doesn't really matter whether I'm skiing or boarding, I love it all. So when I heard that SSX was gonna be holding their tournament up on Big Mountain this year, I figured what the hell? I've wanted to either ski or board competitively for years, so I guess you could say that this is just me taking a shot in the dark at one of my biggest dreams."

The girl gave him a small smile. "Well then for your sake, I certainly hope you were chosen. As for me..." The boy rolled his eyes, though she didn't seem to notice. "Like I said, it's a no brainer that I'm gonna get picked. But then that means there'll be one other girl. Quite honestly, though, I haven't seen any other girl around here but me with real talent. I dunno, maybe they'll pick Annabeth or Victoria. They're both okay, I guess-"

"This one girl I saw yesterday was on fire," the boy quickly cut her off. "I'm serious. Her hair was red; she looked like a flame tearing through the trees. There is no way that she won't be on the lineup."

The girl frowned, obviously annoyed that someone other than her had stood out to him. "Oh. You must be talking about Allegra Sauvagess." She scoffed. "Yeah, I know her. Freckled girl, right? Always wears her hair in braids?"

The boy was nodding his head to all of her questions.

"Yeah, I've seen her too. And she's good, don't get me wrong, she's but nowhere near as good as me."

"Oh, really?" A confident, strikingly feminine voice spoke suddenly from behind them. "And what makes you so sure of that?"

The girl and the boy both spun in their seats and were shocked to find Allegra Sauvagess herself glowering down at them.

"I-I heard some of the coaches talking about you," the girl sputtered. "They said you're only 17, and that they doubted the event organizers would draft any minors this time around."

Allegra smiled, her dark blue eyes glimmering not with anger, but amusement. "Oh, yeah? I call bullshit," she said. "They let Mac Fraser into SSX when he was 15, and Kaori Nishidake when she was 16. It doesn't matter how old I am. If I'm good, they'll draft me. Besides," she added as she gave the girl a pointed glance, "you can't be that much older than me. What are you? Eighteen and one month?"

The girl turned away with a dark scowl on her face, saying nothing. The boy, on the other hand, smiled at Allegra and extended his hand. "'Sup? I'm Viggo Rolig."

Allegra took his hand and shook it. "And I'm Allegra Sauvagess. But by the sounds of it, I guess you already knew that. God, aren't your hands cold?"

It made perfect sense that she'd asked. Everyone sitting around them was wearing ski gloves, and it was difficult not to notice that Viggo was one of the few among them who wasn't wearing any.

But Viggo just shrugged and said, "Nah, I'm cool for now. I'm used to being in these temperatures. I've lived up here on Big Mountain for the last couple years, actually. My parents are-"

"Ski instructors, I know," Allegra cut him off. "I heard you say that earlier. You're lucky, though. I grew up in Colorado, and while it does get pretty chilly there sometimes, these constant freezing temperatures are gonna take a while for me to get used to."

Allegra shivered, thinking of how warm it probably was back home right now. She couldn't stand the cold. It was a wonder that she'd ever agreed to fly out to Big Mountain for the SSX tryouts. But then she remembered what had happened last summer at the skate park, and she didn't wonder anymore.

She could still hear the anger in her father's voice that night: "Allegra, I just don't know what I'm going to do with you. You put this upon yourself, you know, every time you get on that damn skateboard. Do you know how lucky you are that it was just your wrist and not your head?"

"Dad!" Allegra had wailed. "It hurts...I think it's broken. We have to go to the ER!"

Seriously, she thought, gritting her teeth so that she wouldn't scream again. What kind of dad is he, to just stand here and lecture me rather than rush me to the hospital?

"Dad!" she said when he took too long to act. "He-llo, my wrist is sprained, maybe even broken! Let's go!"

Luckily it had only been a sprain, but Allegra had sworn to her dad from that day on that she wouldn't skateboard anymore. Then about three months later, when her wrist had finally healed, she'd tried to sneak out of the house in order to make a break for the skate park. Her dad caught her right as she was about to race out the door, and Allegra had roared in fury. Didn't he realize that skateboarding was her outlet, the only real way for her to escape the monotony of everyday life?

Her dad sighed after she explained this to him. "All right," he said. "You need sports? Fine. But I want you to pick something other than skateboarding. It's too dangerous."

Allegra had sarcastically asked him what he suggested she should do, though much to her surprise he'd had an immediate answer for her: snow skiing.

At first Allegra had been disgusted by the idea. What was so fun about using two skinny little poles to maneuver your way through the snow? Nothing. At least, not in Allegra's opinion. But her dad had insisted she try it.

"We're in Colorado; we've got plenty of snow year round in the mountains!" he'd exclaimed. "Skiing is so much fun, Allegra. I used to go to the Grey Wolf Lodge with my buddies as a teenager. Why don't you drive up there with some friends sometime and give it a try? I think you'd really enjoy it"

So just to make him happy, she went. Several weeks later she found herself packing up her dad's TrailBlazer and on her way to the Grey Wolf Lodge in northern Colorado. She opted to go alone rather than drag her friends along. She knew they wouldn't be interested in a lame sport like snow skiing, and frankly she sincerely doubted that she would either.

What am I even doing? she asked herself the entire drive there.

Humoring her dad. That's what she was doing. Nothing more. I can just go home after this, she thought, and tell him I hate skiing. Then that'll be the end of it and I'll be free to skateboard again. In fact, I don't even have to ski at all. I can just sit around and drink hot cocoa. They've got to have a little lodge or coffee shop somewhere around the ski lifts.

When she got to the resort she instantly spotted several skiers, many of them young kids. There were groups of them out on the bunny hills, laughing and falling like newborn baby deer. It was obviously the first time most of them had ever tried skiing.

If you think you're going to see me doing that, you've so got to be joking, Allegra thought, entering the lodge where ski lift tickets were sold.

"Well hi there!" The woman at the front desk greeted her almost the second after she'd stepped inside. "One ticket for the ski lift?"

Allegra paused to examine a display of jackets near the front door. Even if she wasn't going to be a skier, she could still use a nice winter coat. "Actually," she said, looking closer at a white and rust colored one. "I was just wondering if you had a place where I could get some …"

She stopped, immediately letting go of the coat she'd been looking at, all of her attention now focused on the object hanging near the back window of the lodge. She stood there for a few moments, staring at it, wondering why she hadn't thought of it before.

"Say," she finally said to the woman at the desk. "You rent out ski equipment, right?"

The woman nodded. "Sure do. Poles, boots, gloves, everything you'll need."

"Well, what about snowboarding equipment?"

That was the day that Allegra discovered that her true sport wasn't skateboarding after all. It was snowboarding.

She rented out snowboarding equipment on her first day at the Grey Wolf Lodge, and she knew the moment she had strapped the board to her feet that she could do this. That she was born to do this.

That afternoon she tore up the slopes practicing, feeling happier than she had in a long time, and she promised herself that she wasn't going to let anyone take this joy from her. Not even her dad. There wasn't a doubt in her mind that he wouldn't be happy when he found out, since snowboarding was basically the equivalent of skateboarding on snow, but she didn't care. He had said that she could choose any other sport but skateboarding.

So there you go, Dad, she thought. You wanted a compromise? You got it.

In the months that followed, she found that her instincts hadn't been wrong. She was an exceptional snowboarder. She knew this by comparing herself to other first time boarders she saw out on the slopes. She could do so many of the things they couldn't, and she was confident that she would only continue to get better, as long as she made her practicing habits consistent.

Allegra spent the next year and a half working hard to improve as a boarder, and made trips up to the lodge so often that it drove her dad crazy.

"When I said find a new sport," he said to her, "I didn't mean that you should obsess over it."

But she did. She worked harder than she'd ever worked for anything in all her life, and became so skilled that one day, while she was out showing off a few new tricks she'd learned on the back country slopes, a man approached her and complimented her on her many talents.

Allegra quickly stopped on her board so that she wouldn't run into him. Bits of ice and snow sprayed everywhere as she regarded him cautiously. He was wearing jeans, a black parka and dark tinted sunglasses—normal everyday attire, though to Allegra he looked very out of place walking around in the mountains. Too casual. And where was his ski equipment?

"Uh, thanks?" she said, frowning. "Um, are you lost or someth-"

"I believe I'm looking for you," he quickly cut her off. "That is, if you happen to be Miss Allegra Sauvagess."

Allegra arched an eyebrow. "That's me."

"Well, I'm Scott Speirs, an event organizer for the SSX snowboarding league. Have you ever heard of it?"

Allegra shook her head. "Uh, no. Are they a big deal or something?"

She could've sworn she saw him roll his eyes a little as he explained, "SSX is a professional snowboarding league consisting of 15 competitors. It's one of the most watched snowboarding tournaments in the world. So yes, I would venture to say that we are kind of a 'big deal.'"

Allegra said nothing, letting him continue. "Once selected, the 15 competitors participate in a host of contests that take place on some of the newest and most advanced venues in the world. This year the SSX circuit happens to be short by four competitors, and my sources have told me that you would be a good candidate to fill one of those spots."

Allegra froze, feeling dazed at this wealth of new information. She couldn't believe what she was hearing, and instantly she found herself wondering if the man in front of her might be a scam artist.

Me, in a professional snowboarding league? Pfft, I'm no dope. This guy can't possibly be for real.

"So…," she began, not even attempting to hide her suspicion. "You want me to join this…uh, SSX?"

He gave a curt nod. "Yes. My sources have told me that you would make an excellent SSX competitor."

Allegra took a moment to digest everything. If this guy was telling the truth...no, she refused to let herself become hopeful. This was way, way too good to be true. She had to figure out if he was sincere before she agreed to anything. But how was she going to go about doing that?

"This isn't a joke," the man interrupted her thoughts, as if he knew exactly what she was thinking. "I've got papers and everything for you to fill out. The woman at the ski lodge is holding them for me. That is, if you're interested."

Allegra nodded, deciding right then that she would go with him back to the lodge and consider his offer, though she told herself that she wasn't going to sign anything until she knew for sure that it wasn't all a trick.

"All right," she said. "You've piqued my interest. Want me to meet you down at the lodge?"

"Yes, that would be great," he said. "I have a snowmobile waiting around the corner. Would you like a ride back down?"

"Uh, no thanks." Allegra quickly shook her head. "I'll just board down, if that's cool with you."

When she made it back to the lodge, she learned once and for all that Scott's offer was indeed legitimate. A quick Google search on her phone confirmed his identity and his role in the SSX league. The woman working at the lodge was absolutely ecstatic when she learned what was happening.

"Oh, this is so exciting!" she kept saying as Allegra sat down at a table and begin to fill out the paperwork Scott had given her. "I can't believe an SSX competitor is being drafted in my ski lodge!"

Allegra stopped writing for a moment to stare at her. She's wild about this. This really must be one of the most watched snowboarding tournaments in the world, she thought, grinning to herself.

"She hasn't been drafted yet," Scott quickly corrected her. "She's just signing up for tryouts. By the looks of it, though, she's got a very good chance of making it."

When Allegra was finally done filling out everything, Scott told her that she would be getting a phone call in the next 24 hours from another event organizer.

"They'll tell you when tryouts are," he said. "Also, you should probably know that there's a camp beforehand that aims to train and prepare you for tryouts. The camp lasts three weeks. You don't have to go, but if you want to be seriously considered, then I suggest you do." He closed his folder before standing to shake Allegra's hand. "Well, I've done my part. Good luck, Allegra. I'll be hoping to see you on the circuit this season."

He took his leave then, though before he could exit through the door Allegra stopped him. "Wait!" she exclaimed, holding up a hand. She just couldn't let him leave without asking. "Before you go, I'm curious…who, exactly, called in and told you that I would make a good SSX competitor?"

She'd been wondering this for a while, though hadn't thought to ask until now.

Scott gave Allegra what she had to figure was probably a rare smile. She thought this because it was by far the happiest he'd looked in the hour or so that she'd known him.

"That," he said, "is something I cannot tell you."

Allegra furrowed her brow. "Oh? And why not?"

He was still smiling. "If whoever it was wishes to tell you one day, then they will. Otherwise, I'm not at liberty to say." He tilted his head in farewell. "Good luck."

Then he was gone.

Feeling somewhat irked, but giddy, nonetheless, Allegra had flipped open her cell phone and called her dad at work. "Dad," she said, barely able to contain her excitement. "You are not going to believe what just happened!"