The fun is starting again for snowboarder Kelly Clark.
After 12 years of elite competition in international snowboarding, after winning three Olympic medals in four trips to the Winter Games, after winning nine gold medals at the Winter X Games, Clark is still passionate about her sport.
“Yeah, I think a lot of people look to my accomplishments and all that I’ve achieved in the sport,
she said. “It’s easy to look at the medals and the X Game wins and all those sorts of things…
“For me, perhaps one of my greatest accomplishments is that I still love the sport and that I’m still out there every day challenged. Challenging myself and learning new things. I love that. I love it more today perhaps than I ever did.”
And that means you can expect to see newer snowboarding tricks from Clark, a bronze medalist in women’s halfpipe at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, who won the season-opening halfpipe snowboarding competition Saturday at the Sprint U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain, Colorado. The grand prix has later stops in Mammoth Mountain, California, and Park City, Utah.
“It’s exciting,” said Clark, whose international dominance includes a No. 1 World Snowboard Tour ranking the last two years and X Games gold medals the last four years. “I’m looking forward to the next few years because it’s time to work on my snowboarding again. It’s time to progress and learn new tricks to raise my own bar.”
Among those joining Clark in the chase for pulling off new tricks this season is Kaitlyn Farrington, who won the halfpipe competition in her Olympic debut in Sochi.
And at some point in the season, two-time Olympic gold medalist Shaun White is expected to join in. An eight-time Winter X Games superpipe champion and three-time Olympian, White competes individually. But with his music interests, which included a recent European tour, his winter snowboarding schedule is not yet set.
“I’m kinda winging it,” White told USA Today in a recent interview. “I’m pretty indecisive. I’ll walk into something and be like, ‘Ah, I should totally also do this.’ I just don’t want to throw my name on the list as a contest, have a bunch of fans buy tickets and then say I’m not going. … I definitely want to compete. I definitely want to film some things. I want to write some music."
Competing on the men’s side is Louie Vito, a four-time grand prix halfpipe overall champion and 2010 Olympian.
Other members of the U.S. halfpipe team include the sister and brother combination of Arielle and Taylor Gold, Ellery Hollingsworth, Chloe Kim, Matt Ladley, Hannah Teter, Greg Bretz, Ben Ferguson, Chase Josey and Maddy Schaffrick.
Arielle Gold and Teter joined Clark on the women’s halfpipe podium at Copper Mountain for a Team USA sweep. On the men’s side, Taylor Gold won the event while Ben Ferguson was third.
The snowboard (and freeskiing) slopestyle season opens this week with the Dew Tour in Breckenridge, Colorado, Dec. 11-14.
The grand prix is at the very beginning of the new four-year cycle that will end with the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games.
“I’m excited heading into this season because we all have time,” Clark said. “We’re not under a time schedule any more. We have four years. The clock got reset.”
Olympic champions Sage Kotsenburg and Jamie Anderson lead the slopestyle team into a new season, beginning with the Dew Tour stop in Breckenridge. He is coming off a memorable 2014 season in which he landed a 1620 “Holy Crail” trick on his first run in the Olympic finals. His first-place finish in the grand prix stop at Mammoth Mountain clinched his spot on the Olympic team.
Anderson, who competes independently, is seeking her fourth Dew Tour overall championship. She has won seven events on the Dew Tour and three times on the grand prix tour. Including her victory at the Winter Games, she had won 21 of 25 events.
Top contenders also include 2014 Olympians Chas Guldemond, Ryan Stassel, Jessika Jenson, Karly Shorr and Ty Walker. Guldemond is a four-time grand prix gold medalist and a 2012 world champion. Walker is a rising talent who placed 14th in the women’s slopestyle in Sochi at age 16 despite suffering from a bruised heel during the competition.
Other members of the slopestyle team include Nik Baden, Eric Beauchemin, Brandon Davis, Kyle Mack, Eric Willett and Jordie Karlinski.
The snowboardcross team includes Alex Deibold, who won a bronze medal in the men’s competition at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. Originally a halfpiper, Deibold was a member of the inaugural U.S. Snowboarding Snowboardcross Team and won his first world cup medal, a silver, in Sochi in 2013.
Also chasing after snowboardcross podiums this season will be Olympic medalists Seth Wescot and Lindsey Jacobellis, and 2014 Olympians Nick Baumgartner, Nate Holland, Trevor Jacob and Faye Gulini.
Justin Reiter, a parallel slalom/giant slalom snowboard racer who made his first Olympic team in 2014, is hoping for a podium finish in the FIS World Snowboard Championships in January in Austria. The world cup season opens Dec. 13 in Carezza, Italy. Winning a world title is definitely within reach for Reiter. He won a silver medal in the parallel slalom at the 2013 World Championships. He was the only snowboarder from the United States to compete in Sochi in the parallel slalom and parallel giant slalom events. He placed 24th in the parallel giant slalom in Sochi but was disqualified in parallel slalom.
Four Things To Know
GIVING BACK: Snowboarder Kelly Clark’s foundation (kellyclarkfoundation.com) is expected to hit the $100,000 level this season in grants that were awarded to snowboarders. The foundation benefits competitive snowboarders, including some of those on the Grand Prix circuit, as well as kids just starting out in the sport.
“I was never the best snowboarder nor the most talented athlete,” Clark said. “I just made the best of the opportunities that I had. That’s what we aim to do at the Kelly Clark Foundation. We create opportunities to help youth be successful through snowboarding.”
SIMPLY GOLD: Arielle Gold won the gold medal in women’s halfpipe at the world junior championships in 2012 and the senior world championship in 2013. She earned silver in both halfpipe and slopestyle at the Innsbruck 2012 Winter Youth Olympic Games and made her first Olympic team in 2014 but had to withdraw from the halfpipe competition after dislocating a shoulder. Her brother, Taylor, also made his first Olympic team in 2014, competing in the men’s halfpipe.
CHAMPIONSHIP WRESTLER: Two-time Olympian Nick Baumgartner was winning wrestling matches before he turned to snowboardcross. A native of Iron River in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Baumgartner won a state championship in wrestling (189 pounds) at West Iron County High School in 2000. Four years later, he won a national championship in snowboardcross. He made his Olympic debut in 2010 in Vancouver.
RISING TEENAGER: Fourteen-year-old Maddie Mastro is the youngest snowboarder on the rookie team. She is part of an impressive group of young snowboarders rising in the national program. Mastro won a gold medal at a 2014 U.S. Revolution Tour stop in Idaho.
Paul D. Bowker has been writing about Olympic sports since 1990 and was Olympic assistant bureau chief for Morris Communications at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games. He also writes about Olympic sports for the Springfield (Mass.) Republican. Bowker has written for TeamUSA.org since 2010 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.