Future of women’s halfpipe looks bright
VAIL — One is a four-time Olympian and the first woman to land a 1080 in competition. The other recently became the youngest snowboarder to win gold at the X Games. Together 31-year-old Kelly Clark and 14-year-old Chloe Kim have been dominating women’s halfpipe for the last year and a half — with their teammate Arielle Gold, 18, not far behind.
Since the Olympic qualifiers last winter one, two or all three of them have been on a podium for every major women’s snowboarding competition, with Clark generally setting the bar. It’s a streak bound to continue this weekend with Kim, Clark and Gold finishing first, second and third in the qualifying round of the Burton U.S. Open at Vail on Thursday. They’ll face off in the finals today in the halfpipe at Golden Peak.
But don’t call it a rivalry.
“I’ve never really loved the word rivalry,” said Clark, who has more major-event podium appearances than any snowboarder in history, male or female. “It’s not about pitching against one or the other. It’s about doing our best. I think that’s what you want your friends to do, and that’s what I want to do. I want to do my best when everyone else is doing their best. That’s great for the sport.”
For her, it’s not as much about the wins as it is about moving women’s snowboarding forward, and as the eldest of the trio she’s come to embrace the mentor role.
“I want to see them take the sport — whenever I do step away from it — I want to see them carry it forward,” she said.
Just don’t expect that to happen anytime soon. While Kim unseated Clark at the X Games for her first major win, Clark has no intention of slowing down.
“I look to head into the next few years and keep my foot on the gas,” Clark said. “As long as I’m healthy and motivated, that’ll be the direction. I don’t see myself taking a step back.”
‘COULD BE MY SISTER’
With two Grand Prix wins, a win at the Burton Euro Open, a Dew Tour championship and a second place at the X Games this season, behind Kim, there’s every indication Clark will continue on that course. In fact, if the halfpipe had been a little longer Clark may have held onto her 2014 X Games title. She missed the end of the halfpipe on the last trick of a six-hit final run that looked like it could top Kim’s.
“I ran out of halfpipe. It just wasn’t quite long enough to get the tricks in I wanted,” she said recalling the fall. “In my mind there wouldn’t have been a dramatic jump in my score if I had not done that last hit. I knew going into it I had a 10 percent chance of landing. If I have a 10 percent chance, I have to try. So I did. It didn’t work.”
For her part, Kim credits Clark for helping her become the rider she is today and handling the nerves that come with being new to pro-level competition.
“I guess Kelly could kind of be my sister,” Kim said of their relationship. “We’re at all the contests together. She helps me out so much. She’s an amazing mentor and an amazing snowboarder. She always inspires me.”
Kim likely would have joined Clark at last year’s Olympics in Sochi, Russia, but didn’t meet the minimum age requirement. Both have the 2018 games in Korea in the back of their minds.
Taking after her older counterpart, Kim has a similar approach to contests, not surprising since the two call Mammoth Mountain, California, their home resort and now ride together regularly.
“I don’t really see it as a rivalry,” she said, echoing Clark’s approach. “I always just want to stomp my run and do the best I can. The results come later.”
Recalling their introduction at Mammoth, Clark smiles, “I got like a … I think a shoulder tap in the lift line. This little tiny kid asked to ride up the lift with me. She was probably 9 years old, something like that.”
For Kim it was almost a nerve-wracking experience meeting one of her role models. “I was standing like right next to her and I was freaking out. I think her snowboard was touching mine. I was like, ‘Oh my god, this is unreal.’ I just remember meeting her, she was so calm and collected. I think that inspired me.”
Now, along with Arielle Gold, the three are pushing the boundaries of women’s snowboarding, encouraging rather than competing against one another.
And while Clark may be the elder statesman of the group, she said she’s pushed and encouraged just as much by the two younger riders.
“Last week at the Grand Prix, I fell so hard in practice, chipped my tooth and got super rattled. Arielle was the first one to be like, ‘Hey, you’ve got this,’” Clark said. “That’s what you hope it’s like.”
Clark went on to win the competition; Gold took second. Kim still doesn’t meet the age requirement for the Grand Prix series. She will when she turns 15 next month.
With the three continuing to do well, Clark is excited about where women’s snowboarding is headed.
“I think it’s really good for women’s snowboarding, for halfpipe snowboarding, to have such a broad spectrum of age, and people relate to such different personalities, such different styles. I hope it inspires young (riders) — 30, 14, everywhere in between. I look at us doing so well consistently and I think it’s good for the sport.