Aspen’s Chris Klug isn’t quitting any time soon
Vail, CO Colorado
ASPEN, Colorado ” After more than six months spent living out of a suitcase in places like Austria, Japan and New Zealand, Aspen’s Chris Klug was happy to be in familiar surroundings this past weekend.
The 35-year-old snowboarder returned to Oregon, a place he and his family moved to from Vail in 1976, for the NorAm Finals and U.S. Nationals at Mount Hood Meadows. There, Klug added another chapter to a snowboarding career that began in the Pacific Northwest nearly 25 years ago.
As 40 friends and family members watched, Klug capped his 17th competitive season with two podiums and captured the NorAm overall total – guaranteeing his spot on the World Cup circuit in 2008-2009.
“It’s always special to go back to Oregon,” Klug said Wednesday. “That’s where I got my start.”
Nearly three decades have elapsed, but Klug’s memories of growing up in Bend linger still. He remembers first laying eyes on a snowboard at age 10. He still remembers the intrigue.
“I went down to a local bike shop my friend owned in Bend and rented a new Burton board,” He said. “I threw on some moon boots, got out there and went for it. … I haven’t looked back since.”
He still remembers days spent negotiating the slopes of Mount Bachelor on a Burton Backhill, a wooden board with a bungee strap for a binding, a leash attached at the nose he used to steer and boots secured with layers of duct tape.
As equipment evolved, so did Klug. He and his friends used to load into the back of his family’s wagon and drive all night to Mount Hood, Mount Ashland and other skis areas to compete in Northwest Series events.
“It was a pretty special time in the history of snowboarding,” Klug remembered. “We all thought we were part of something.”
That something blossomed into a decorated career replete with a well-publicized liver transplant and a bronze medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
Over Easter weekend, Klug produced another high point. Saturday, under clear blue skies, he took second in the parallel giant slalom, narrowly missing out on a 10th national title.
Climbing the podium was far from a sure thing, as Klug went head-to-head with accomplished riders Matthew Morison and Jasey Jay Anderson in the early rounds; Morison won the World Cup finals and Anderson took home a gold in a World Cup earlier this season in Korea. Still, Klug managed to advance to the final and a matchup with teammate Zachary Kay.
Klug had a 1.34-second advantage after the first run and was riding strong in the second when, halfway down the course, he leaned too far into a heel turn and fell.
“It was a classic spring race; the line was fast, but the side of the race line was slushy and soft,” Klug said. “I was in position to win the race, but I made a stupid error, so that’s a little frustrating.”
A similar gaffe cost Klug the chance to compete for gold in Sunday’s parallel slalom. He led teammate Tyler Jewell by a comfortable margin after one run, but hit soft snow on the second run and couldn’t maintain his balance. His consolation was a matchup with Justin Reiter to determine third and fourth.
“I could’ve easily been disappointed after that loss in the previous round, but I bounced back strong,” Klug said. “I was really focused and beat Justin, one of the fastest slalom riders there is.
“It’s always nice to be on the podium for sure, but I was very close to winning, so I’m a little disappointed I didn’t.”
In many ways, Easter weekend epitomized Klug’s entire season. While he did climb the podium five times, he never finished in the top three on the World Cup circuit despite reaching the finals on three occasions.
“I was close many times. I was riding fast and would make a mistake here and there,” he said. “For whatever reason, the [World Cup] podium always alluded me.”
He won’t stop trying. Sure, after six months spent standing sideways on rutty courses and sitting on airplanes, Klug admits his body is a little out of whack. Still, he feels healthy, strong and, most important, determined.
His 17th season was marred by inconsistency, but Klug said making equipment adjustments was part of the reason. He switched boots for the first time in 15 years and said he is still trying to tweak his gear.
“It takes a while to dial those things in, but if you’re going to makes changes, this was the year to do it,” he said. “Next year is a world championship year, and the following year is an Olympic year.”
Klug is back in the valley to host this weekend’s eighth annual Aspen Klug Snowboard Camp at Buttermilk. The event that attracts snowboarders from 10 to 65 years old as well as a world-class coaching staff that includes Travis McLain, Reiter, and Basalt boardercross Olympian Jason Smith, among others.
After that, Klug said he’s ready for shorts and warm weather and a few bike trips to Moab. Then, the pursuit begins for an 18th time.
Ask him why he keeps coming back, and Klug doesn’t hesitate.
“I still love it,” he said. “I got into 25 years ago, and I’m still hooked. Racing at this level is so much fun.”
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