ASPEN, Colo.—Snowmobiler Colten Moore reached toward the sky and stuck three fingers into the air on one hand and his index finger up on the other.
That number—”31”—belonged to his brother, Caleb. As far as Colten is concerned, No. 31 picked up another victory Thursday night.
Returning to Aspen a year after his older brother’s death, Moore rode to victory in the freestyle contest during a touching, emotional evening at what used to be one of the Winter X Games’ most raucous events.
“I wanted to come out here and dominate for him. Not only ride for him but ride with him,” said Colten, whose score of 91.33 on the first run held up and allowed him to take a stress-free victory lap on his final pass. “I knew he was with me all night and just helping me be smooth and push hard. To come here and get gold for him, I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
About 60 family and friends, many from the Moores’ hometown of Krum, Texas, were on hand to watch Colten perform on a clear, crisp winter night in Colorado. They waved Texas flags and hollered whenever he landed tricks.
Caleb died last Jan. 31 from injuries he sustained in a crash during the snowmobile competition. Safety measures were tightened, and ESPN, which runs the X Games, decided to stick with the event.
After some soul searching, Colten also decided he’d return, too.
“I just knew he’d be riding with me every time I go ride,” Colten said. “He’s there with me and, if I tried to quit and he could, he would smack me.”
Moore’s father, Wade, watched with tears in his eyes.
“It’s tough. Harder to watch this year,” Wade said. “But his confidence is up. He just gets better and better. He just wanted to ride. That’s what he likes doing. He has fun doing it. That’s what him and his brother did. They’re still doing it together. I promise they are.”
The night before the race, Colten said everywhere he looks at Winter X, he sees little reminders of his older brother.
Some are subtle—Caleb’s number, 31, on a parking lot sign or a building—and some are heartfelt—Texas-shaped stickers plastered on windows and benches that read, “Ride in Peace.”
Returning to this venue a year after his brother’s death hasn’t been difficult for Colten.
No, it’s actually beneficial, because here, riding his snowmobile, he feels closest to Caleb.
“I’m riding better than I’ve ridden in a long time,” said Colten, who earned his second gold medal in the event. “I know it’s him helping me out.”
Caleb crashed on the night of Jan. 24 while attempting a backflip. His machine caught the lip of the landing area, sending him flying over the handlebars. The 450-pound sled rolled over him.
Later that evening, Colten wiped out, too, separating his pelvis.
At first, it appeared Colten might have sustained the more serious injury, especially since Caleb walked off with help from his father after suffering a concussion.
Soon after, Caleb’s condition worsened. He developed bleeding around his heart and was flown to a hospital in Grand Junction for surgery. He died a week later from internal injuries he suffered in the crash, the first fatality in X Games history.
“I just continue to push on,” the 24-year-old Colten said.
After taking his victory lap Thursday night, Colten drove his snowmobile to the peak of a slope and parked it. He climbed off and looked up toward the sky.
“I was thinking about my brother,” he explained. “To come here, do what we always came here to do—dominate—I know he would be super pumped.”
Colten hardly held back on his winning tricks, getting huge air on every pass. It’s a run he knew his brother would’ve liked.
“And then, he’d also go out there and try to beat me,” Colten said.
His mom, Michele, could hardly hold back tears as she posed next to her son for pictures in the victory celebration.
“Caleb was there with him every step of the way,” she said.