By Scott McDonald | March 10, 2017, 12:23 p.m. (ET)
Julia Marino competes in slopestyle snowboarding at the the FIS Snowboard World Cup during the Toyota U.S. Grand Prix at Mammoth Mountain on Feb. 5, 2017 at Mammoth Mountain, California.

 

Julia Marino once had a snowboard that did nothing more than collect dust. Then one day out of necessity during a family vacation, the teenager dusted off the piece the equipment she disliked so much.

And a path of greatness began.

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Marino was set in her ways. Her first love was skiing, followed by more skiing. She tried the snowboard when she was 8 years old but just flat out didn’t like it. Now, at age 19, she’s one of the top up-and-coming snowboarders in the world, and on the cusp of being the best just in time for next year’s Olympics.

All because of a busted ski in the woods one time at a mountain resort.

During a Marino family trip to Beaver Creek Resort in Colorado when Julia was 13, she broke her skis and asked her father, John, for another pair.

“Dad said he wouldn’t rent more skis because I had a perfectly good snowboard,” Julia said Thursday from the X Games in Norway, where she continues competing this weekend. “I was really mad because I had to spend the rest of the vacation on a snowboard.”

Julia, who usually goes by “Jules,” made ripples on the snowboard scene as an amateur while training with a local group in New England. She totally burst on the international scene last year when she showed up as an alternate in Boston for the FIS World Cup/U.S. Grand Prix big air event at Fenway Park.

Marino arrived late in the afternoon the day before the event, hoping to work on a jump for her next event. But when American teammate Ty Walker had to withdraw, Marino took the open slot.

“That was really crazy. I just went there as an alternate with a goal of preparing myself for the scaffolding jump because I had another event coming up,” Marino said. “Getting into that event was something I wasn’t expecting.”

Marino faced a dark, windy night at Fenway with little time to prepare at the venue. Then she stuck the scaffolding jump and soared to the podium as the champion. Not bad for an alternate.

“I felt prepared, and on the first jump I hit,” Marino said. “I hit it not thinking of anything else, kind of like there was a blank slate in my mind. I had never hit a scaffolding.”

Marino had been a rock star on the U.S. Revolution Tour the year before, winning big air and taking second in slopestyle at Mammoth Mountain, California. At after winning at Fenway, she went to the 2016 World Snowboard Tour world championships in China and took second in slopestyle and fifth in big air.

This season, she earned seven podiums at world cup and X Games events, often beating competitors with far more experience, including reigning slopestyle Olympic champion Jamie Anderson.

She understands her place in women’s snowboarding, and even hears whispers that she’s the next big thing.

“It’s cool to hear it,” Marino said of the praise. “It’s definitely a goal of mine to be the best I can and to get my name out there. This year that’s been happening to me, and it’s inspiring and motivating to me to make the best I can out of it.”

Marino said she doesn’t feel big pressure, but rather excitement and the assured confidence it brings.

Before turning to snowboarding, when she was still an avid skier, Marino liked to do jumps, moguls and anything adventurous — or anything that would take her airborne. That’s part of how she wound up in the woods with broken skis.

Shortly after trying snowboarding, she began entering competitions. Her father would take her to train on the weekends, often allowing her to cut class on Fridays to get a jump on the weekend.

She did slopestyle, snowboardcross and halfpipe before she got into big air, and now she competes in just slopestyle and big air, an event that makes its Olympic debut at the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Games.

“To have big air in the Olympics is another step for snowboarding and a chance to get the whole world to realize it,” Marino said. “To get into that event would be a pretty honorable experience.”

In January she won the women’s slopestyle event at her first Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado. With a bronze medal in big air, she became the first female snowboarder to win two medals at the same X Games in 14 years. At that event she landed the first cab double underflip in an X Games women’s slopestyle contest, and now she does the difficult maneuver on a regular basis.

It’s really not that difficult unless you have a fear of doing new flips,” Marino said. “At first it was scary and a little hard, but after a few it came to me fast. Now I’ve done it so many times that it’s in me. Now it’s more like muscle memory.”

And Marino looks like her accidental landing in the sport could have her aiming for the Winter Games in less than a year. The athlete could collect Olympic gold on something that used to merely collect dust.

Scott McDonald has 18 years experience in sports reporting. He was named the State Sports Writer of the Year in 2014 by the Texas High School Coaches Association. McDonald is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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