At 105 pounds and five feet, four inches in her ski socks, the 24-year-old redheaded Argentinian Huere (pronounced whay-day) Darquier hardly cuts the figure of a typical big-mountain freeskier. Put her on skis, though, and she's anything but delicate. The only South American in a field dominated by gringos, Darquier placed second at last year's U.S. Freeskiing Nationals in Snowbird, Utah. She took 11th at Les Arcs, France, and was disqualified at the Freeskiing World Tour Finals at Kirkwood, California, when she botched a triple cliff drop, rotated her pelvis, and almost broke her neck. "I know if I don't fall this year, I can get a podium," she says.
Growing up in a cycle of endless winter-her ski-instructor mother and gondola-tech father bounced between Bariloche, Argentina, and Soldeu el Tarter Resort in the Pyrenees-Darquier clicked into her first pair of skis at age three. By 14, she had nabbed podium finishes in slalom and GS championships in Europe and Argentina.
In 2003, Darquier moved to Whistler on a ski-instructor exchange program. On a whim, she signed up for the last leg of the World Freeskiing Tour, where she won the second day of competition. She hit a 12-foot rock at full speed and got roughly 30 feet of air-the most of any female competitor. A fall on the final day sent the rookie to fifth place. Intrepid and tenacious, Darquier may find success in toning down her Latina fire, says boyfriend Joe Lammers, a sponsored skier. "Huere has a ton of drive," says Lammers. "That makes her go bigger than she needs to. She just has to learn to ski at 100 percent rather than 130 percent."
¡CUIDADO!: Tiny speed demon approaching! "I avoid super-technical terrain. You can't ski fast if you're in the middle of the rocks all the time, so I try to find open areas and big cliffs."
WHAT'S IN A NAME?: Darquier's real first name is Lia, but at age two she appropriated Huere-a Patagonian-aboriginal word meaning "tree of life"-when she heard the term dropped by an Argentinian presidential candidate.
NATIVE PRIDE: Argentina's recent economic problems may have tarnished its reputation, but Darquier's loyalty runs deep. "I love having my Argentine flag with me. I take it to the podium, and when I compete, I wrap it around my backpack."