SOCHI, Russia -- Sue Bowman thought it strange when riding a gondola late last year with her daughter and her biggest competitor at the first Olympic freeski qualifying event in Colorado.
Maddie Bowman of South Lake Tahoe and Brita Sigourney of Carmel didn't find it strange at all. America's top freeski halfpipe riders are roommates and best friends.
Sigourney laughed when Sue Bowman mentioned the tension in the gondola.
'Well, Maddie and I just going and everybody else is battling it out for the other spots," she told the mother.
The woman had a pact they would make the U.S. team together for the new sport that debuts Feb. 20.
"We're always trying to tie for first," Bowman said Friday before Opening Ceremony of the Sochi Games.
"We take turns winning," Sigourney added.
Bowman: "I honestly don't feel an ounce of upset if she beats me."
Chalk it up to the casual vibe of freeskiing, the first cousin of snowboarding.
But Bowman, 20, and Sigourney, 24, also are fierce competitors who have become stars on the action sports circuit. Bowman is a two-time reigning X Games champion, who also won a silver medal in 2012. Sigourney is a two-time X Games medalist.
They grew up skiing on opposite sides of Lake Tahoe -- Bowman at Sierra-at-Tahoe, Sigourney at Alpine Meadows. But they got to know each other while rising through the freeski ranks.
"We've been together longer than the U.S. team has," said Bowman, whose parents were ski racers.
They share the same mentor in Ben Verge, U.S. freeski team development coach. They also attend Westminster College in Salt Lake City and travel together to competitions.
"They can support each other and it helps them ski better in general," Verge said.
While the Northern Californians have formed a team, the concept of skiing for their country is taking some adjustment. Sigourney, who played water polo at UC Davis before devoting her energy to reaching Sochi, hasn't "quite processed the competitiveness between countries" because some of their best friends represent Canada and France.
"This is the first time I'm wearing my flags," Bowman added.
But they appreciate the broader reach of the Olympics where they can introduce the public to what they do on skis.
"Most of the world doesn't know it exists," Sigourney said.
The ski halfpipe is similar to the snowboard version that crossover star Shaun White has made so popular. The main difference is the skiers go higher than the boarders.
"It's easier to get speed when you have four edges than one," Sigourney said.
The death of freeski pioneer Sarah Burke of Canada two years ago after a training accident has led to questions about the sport's risk. Burke was a four-time X Games winner who lobbied the International Olympic Committee to add the ski halfpipe to the games.
The California skiers try to keep serious injury out of the equation. The feeling of executing all those flips and turns above the pipe is one of control, Bowman said.
"It's more fun than scary," she added. "It's a moment where you know you have pushed the limits and you are in the limit."
A year ago in Sochi, Sigourney pushed too hard and fell. She broke her collarbone and suffered a shoulder injury. She also re-injured a knee that had been surgically repaired in 2012 after a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Sigourney said successfully doing her tricks these days has made all the injuries worth it.
So were the five-hour drives to Tahoe every weekend from Carmel, where parents Thad and Julie Sigourney are educators and coaches.
Sigourney skied through high school and college but eventually she had to choose. She picked skiing when she began to do well at the Winter X Games.
Bowman entered all the youth ski programs at Sierra-at-Tahoe, where her mother was an instructor. At 13, she decided to quit racing and join the free ride team. Her parents didn't initially endorse the move.
"Eventually they were OK with it when they realized that we think before we jump off of things," Bowman said.
"Sometimes," Sigourney quickly added.
Bowman also helped South Lake Tahoe High to win state soccer titles in her junior and senior years. Both skiers missed the camaraderie of team sports. So they found each other for support.
"She can ski very well under pressure," Bowman said of her teammate.
"I can?" Sigourney asked.
"That's their secret weapon," Sue Bowman said.