Hailey Langland never anticipated 2015 to be as monumental as it was for her slopestyle snowboarding career.
Langland began the year as a 14-year-old Californian who had yet to compete in any major events and was a relative unknown in her sport. That all changed in a year’s time.
Langland, who is from San Clemente, caught the slopestyle snowboarding scene by surprise by winning her first major event, the U.S. Grand Prix at Mammoth Mountain in California, in February. That was just the start. She continued her success throughout the year while competing and often finishing on the podium on the U.S. Revolution Tour, Dew Tour and Winter Games NZ.
“Just overall, crazy, I didn’t expect it to go that way,” Langland said by phone recently during a day off from her training with the U.S. Snowboarding slopestyle team in Colorado. “It was a really awesome surprise. I really wanted to have (that type of success). I didn’t think it would come that fast.
“I was just pretty amazed at how well I did in almost every contest that I was in last year. It was super awesome; I pretty much podiumed at every contest except for one. It was definitely one of my best seasons.”
Now as she enters 2016, Langland, who has since turned 15, is unsure how she can trump last year.
“I don’t think anything can top how 2015 went,” Langland said. “If there’s any way 2016 could top that, it would be huge and awesome in every way.”
Langland will certainly have her share of opportunities to make 2016 even more memorable. She was one of six U.S. snowboarders recently nominated to compete in the 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games next month in Lillehammer, Norway. She will also take part in her first Winter X Games later this month and will attempt to defend her Grand Prix title at Mammoth Mountain.
While Langland certainly has a lot more eyes on her these days, her goals haven’t changed.
“For 2016, I definitely want to stay consistent and have as much fun as I can,” Langland said. “I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
To have fun is Langland’s objective in all that she does. She will train hard, put in the time to get better and is focused when she competes, but it all begins with her positive attitude.
“I think that’s the key to everything,” Langland said. “When you’re having fun, you just have good energy going into everything. Just being grateful I get to snowboard.”
With Langland’s success last year, snowboarding has changed for her in one way. There are now expectations when she hits the snow. She’s expected to perform at a high level.
Langland can feel that pressure, but she’s learning how to manage it. She is still only 15.
“There’s definitely pressure,” Langland said. “I try not to think about that. It’s another day I’m on my board riding with cool people. I try to block that part out. Again, it’s all about fun.
“It’s definitely kind of a love/hate thing. I think it’s super awesome people are looking at me and saying, ‘Oh, she’s good.’ Sometimes it’s tough everyone expects this. That kind of sucks. It goes both ways.”
Scott Harris, who has coached Langland the past five years, isn’t worried about her getting too caught up with what’s going on around her. She’s always been an easy-going person since he’s known her.
“I don’t think that’ll ever change her,” said Harris, who runs the Tahoe Select Snowboard Team. “She’s still a kid. Change is hard when you’re young. She might feel the obligations, but I don’t think she has too much weight on her shoulders.”
Harris plans to work with Langland in the coming weeks leading up to X Games and the Winter Youth Olympics. It’ll be time they spend mostly on fine-tuning everything. Overall, there’s not much Harris believed Langland needed to get better at going forward. It’s more about maintaining for her.
“There’s not much to improve,” said Harris, who could tell Langland had the potential to be a special snowboarder at an early age. “She’s pretty well rounded. It’s just staying on track with what she’s doing. Keep having fun and progressing. … This should be a fun season for her.”
Scott Powers is a sportswriter based in in Chicago. He previously worked at ESPN, where he covered the Chicago Blackhawks. Powers is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.