Greater Heights

Trevor Paulhus for ESPN Magazine

Colten Moore, at home in Krum, Texas in early December, 2015.

Colten Moore's big brother Caleb died after crashing in a Snowmobile Freestyle run at X Games Aspen 2013. Now, as Colten, 26, preps to defend Freestyle gold, he sits down to reflect on all that has passed.

XGames.com: A lot has been written about you and your family since Caleb's death, and now your autobiography, "Catching the Sky," comes out in January. When it was your turn to hold the pen, what did you want to say?
Moore: Most people ask me, "Really? Your parents support you through this, even after what happened?" That's one of the most important things in my life. It means a lot that my family has been behind me 100 percent. Another thing I wanted to get through was how important my brother was to me. Without him, I wouldn't be anywhere close to where I'm at today. I was always trying to keep up with him. He was fearless. He taught me and led the way. We were best friends.

In the past, keeping up with and beating Caleb was your motivation. What is your motivation to keep riding today?
Now I ride because I love it. My motivation is to push the sport and keep the sport alive. I also ride for my brother 
and to carry on his legacy. He taught me everything I know. Why would I throw that away?

What have you learned about yourself during the past three years?
I took for granted all the stuff Caleb did, from getting us into ride shows to teaching me to ride. If I broke something, he would fix it. He kept up with our taxes, our books, talked to our sponsors and our manager. I was that kid who was like, "I don't want to grow up. I want to be a kid forever." I used to be really shy, and I've broken out of my shell and learned to talk to people, to take care of business. Without him, I've had to grow up a lot.

Trevor Paulhus for ESPN Magazine

"Now I ride because I love it. My motivation is to push the sport and keep the sport alive," says Moore.

What perspective do you have about your brother's death that you didn't have before his death?
I tell myself to live every day like it's your last. You never know. We called Caleb a tank because nothing could bring him down. He would have crashes and get up and keep going. You never know when or who it's going to happen to, so now I try not to hold back. Before Caleb passed, I didn't have that perspective. I had another buddy who passed away while riding at our house, but I thought, "That won't happen to me. It won't happen to Caleb." When it hit so close, it opened my eyes. I try to set bigger goals to work for instead of sitting back and doing nothing.

How do you want your brother to be remembered?
As a badass, truly great guy. He walked in the room and lit it up. He could be friends with anyone or talk to anyone or talk you into doing anything. He was down to help anyone out, no matter what. Going into X Games, he would even help out our top competitor. If they were having trouble with a trick, he'd help them learn. That's how he was. He had the kindest heart.

Without him standing next to you saying, "You can do it, Colten," have you also had to take on some of his fearlessness?
I don't have him there in person, but whenever I get scared or have a moment of doubt, I always think in my head, "What would Caleb say?" I feel like when I'm riding, he's riding with me. I feel safe. When I first started riding again [after his death], I felt different, more confident. I don't have him right there saying, "Dude, you got this. Quit being a wuss." But I know that's what he would be saying.

What would he be most proud of you for having done?
That I keep going, keep my head up and keep riding, and that I'm not slowing down. And for winning gold. He'd be pumped about that.

When do you most feel his presence around you?
When I ride. I got hurt the same night he had his accident, so I wasn't able to ride for a while. I felt down in the dumps. The first time I got to ride and every time I ride, I pray to him and I pray to God. When I'm out there, I feel like we're riding together. That's one of the reasons I love to ride now, too.

His racing number, 31, was really important to him and you wear it on your hat and sled. How often does that number pop up in your life?
All the time. My dad says when he checks his phone, it's always at 31 percent. If he looks at his watch or the clock in his truck, it's always at 31 past the hour. Two years ago, we went to Vegas and I put 100 bucks on 31 at a roulette table and I hit and won 3,500 bucks right away.

You performed on Nitro Circus Live's 2015 North American Tour this year on both an ATV and a snowmobile. How much does riding in shows during the offseason help you as you prepare for X Games?
I used to ride X Games and then put the sled away and hop back on the quad because it's just easier to ride in the summer, obviously. But now that I've spent half the year on a sled, I think it's going to help a lot. Usually, I get back on the sled for the first time two months before X Games and am like, "This feels weird." I'd get all pissed off the first day or two because tricks aren't coming right back. No one likes hanging out with me those first couple of days. Then I get it back, same as every time. This year, maybe everything will start clicking a lot faster and I won't need those two days.

What do you like about riding in shows?
There's not as much pressure. You're not being timed or trying to put a run down. You're out with a bunch of your buddies, traveling around having a good time. When I'm home, I have one friend because everyone's spread out across the state. When I'm on tour, I have 20.

Nitro's tour was dedicated to Erik Roner, who died in a skydiving accident shortly before the start of the tour in September. Freestyle motocross rider Josh Sheehan lost his brother in a trail riding accident during the summer. You lost your brother. How do you turn your loss into motivation to perform?
I've never talked to anyone about it, but those of us who have lost someone so close, we know what each other feels like, but it's unspoken. We do it not only for ourselves but for them, in memory of them, in honor of them. It's to give back to them and carry on their names and what they all did. Nitro made a video of Erik and played it before the start of the shows. It wasn't easy to watch and go out and ride, but I was like, "Let's do this."

Trevor Paulhus for ESPN Magazine

"I hate losing," says Moore.

After Caleb's accident, X Games canceled the Snowmobile and Moto X Best Trick events and implemented more safety measures. What else could contests do to make the sport safer?
I think they're doing everything they can. The landings at X Games are the biggest and safest we jump to; the ramps are in pristine condition. If we have any kind of question, we ask and they fix it right away. They aren't skimping out on anything. All the events and shows now are safe. That is the No. 1 goal nowadays. How far can the sport go if you're not going to be safe? When I was 12, I broke both my femurs and my pelvis racing an ATV. People were telling my parents they needed to sell my quad. In the hospital right after surgery, I said the first thing I wanted to do is go ride. After Caleb's accident, I was worried [about X Games canceling snowmobile events] because that's not at all what I wanted or my family wanted, and I know that's not what Caleb would want. We take risks, but it's calculated risk. We practice all the time. We know what we're doing. Accidents happen. I would never want anyone to take this away from us.

How different is it to train in Krum, Texas [elevation 738 feet], when the other riders train year-round at altitude and on snow?
It's a little different, mostly on my body. I can't breathe! I'm kidding. At home, I train in the foam pit. I learn tricks here and then go to Colorado for a couple of weeks to ride at elevation in the snow and adjust before X Games. Elevation hurts the power, so in Texas I ride a 600 stock sled. In Aspen, I ride a 600 mod, which is a faster sled, but because of elevation, it feels the same.

Would you ever move closer to the snow?
I'm Texas born and raised. Can't take me out of Texas. I'm at home here. Most people move away from their parents and don't see them for a month at a time. I don't live with my parents anymore, but I still see them all the time. It's good for me to have my family around.

You used to be the underdog, the snowmobile rider from Texas, the little brother. How different is it to go into X Games as the guy with the target on his back?
I definitely liked being the underdog a lot better. There were no expectations. I don't like the pressure as much, people thinking I should be the top guy.

Where does that extra pressure come from, other people or yourself?
Me. I hate losing. Anything from video games to riding a bike, shooting hoops. As soon as it's a competition, all focus goes on. I have to win.

After being absent in 2015, Freestyle is back in X Games Aspen this year. You won gold in that event in 2014. How will you defend your title?
It's going to be interesting. All the guys were bummed to not have Freestyle last year, so now that it's back in, everyone's pumped. Without the other snowmobile events [including Speed & Style, HillCross and Long Jump, which were all featured in 2015 but won't be in 2016], everyone has more time to concentrate on this one Freestyle event. Daniel Bodin is back, Levi LaVallee, Joe Parsons, Heath Frisby. It's a stacked competition. I have to get to work. I want to learn some new tricks, ones that have already been done on a sled before but I haven't done. Possibly some others.

Like what?
Some top-secret tricks. I think people are going to have to take notes from my brother, from the past, and that's what I plan on doing. Hint hint.

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