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On occasions, an excited fan will approach snowboarder and Sandy native Louie Vito and ask the 19-year-old to do the one thing that is considered the universal sign of reaching celebrity status.

"I find it fascinating that they want me to sign their bodies," he said.

He does it, of course - mostly out of kindness.

It's all part of being an action-sports athlete, the kind that the world will get to know a little more as 12th Winter X Games start today. The annual event hits Aspen, Colo., for the next four days with 17 events and some 200 athletes.

As Vito, who competes in the superpipe, gains more attention - in 2007, he had four second-place finishes in the process - so do many of his peers.

That means it's not all about Shaun White.

"Shaun White tends to get all the attention these days," said Steve Fisher, the defending superpipe champion. "But the list is like 22 deep [of good athletes]. I'd compare snowboarding to the PGA, where anyone of these guys can win a contest on any given day . . . the media has turned Shaun into the Tiger Woods of our sport."

On that "list" would be Gretchen Bleiler, the Aspen native and ESPN Magazine covergirl who hopes to execute a backflip back-side 540 off the front side wall (called the Michalchuk), a trick no woman successfully has completed.

At the same time, the Winter X Games is not as prestigious as the Olympics.

It's just laced with a little more fun.

"It's a different type of pressure for the riders than at the Olympics," U.S. halfpipe coach Mike Jankowski said. "They feel like they can squeeze out a bit more trickery. That's not to say there's no pressure at the Winter X Games. It lets them get a little loose."

The difference doesn't stop there, as the X Games is more about sponsorships, individual recognition and the TV coverage.

"There's a ton of people watching, tons of media all around and the best snowboarders around," Sandy's Vito said. "It's the best event outside of the Olympics."