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You can't spit in Mammoth, Calif., without moistening the Quiksilver duds of a world-class snowboarder. In addition to Danny Kass, riders like Kevin Jones, Tara Dakides and much of the Grenade Posse live here, and it seems like everyone you meet on the lift line has a story about Mammoth's celebrity riders. Turns out, the best story I found was off the mountain. Go figure.
After a hard day gathering information for the story I was writing about Danny Kass for The Magazine, I headed down to my Holiday Inn bar to check out MNF and test my expense account. The place was empty except for the bartender, a swarthy dude named Lucky (the nickname was coined by friends in San Diego to describe his basketball game) -- a.k.a. Jose Antonio Lopez.
Lucky, 26, was a rider, which was no surprise. The twist was that Lucky was waiting to hear whether he was going to the Olympics -- for Mexico. See, Lucky grew up a surfer in San Diego and in Guadalajara, Mexico, where his father was dean of the University of Autonoma of Baja, California. (Lucky has dual citizenship because his parents are from Mexico but he was born north of the border.)
A few years ago, Lucky dropped out of college and moved to Mammoth. "That was the first time I had seen snow," says Lucky. "I didn't have any money so I lived off cornflake sandwiches."
Lucky gave snowboarding a try, and went from novice to expert in a flash. His specialty was the halfpipe and he even entered a few local contests for fun. Then last February, the Grand Prix circuit stopped in Mammoth. Lucky entered the halfpipe event and finished 21st. He'd forgotten that he'd listed Mexico as his country of origin on the entry form, so he laughed when he was asked if he would be riding for Mexico in the Olympics. But at the urging of friends, Lucky called the Mexican Olympic Committee several months later. He found out that he was indeed Mexico's best rider. One problem: Mexico hadn't qualified for an Olympic snowboard spot.
The Mexican Olympic Committee has been trying to find a loophole to get Lucky into the Games, but Lucky's luck appears to have run out. And that suits Lucky fine. If he can't compete in 2002, he'll keep riding until 2006, when the Olympics touch down in Turin, Italy.
And as far as Lucky is concerned, that's a great excuse to stay in Mammoth, snowboarding and tending bar for four more years.
Scott DeSimon is a frequent contributor to ESPN The Magazine.