Jason Smith is ready to deliver
ASPEN ” Jason Smith has been hitting the books more than he’s been hitting jumps on his snowboard lately.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, according to the Basalt local, who finished sixth in the inaugural Olympic boardercross last winter in Bardonecchia, Italy.
The cancellation of a string of World Cup races in Europe for unseasonably warm weather has allowed Smith, 25, to work on his art degree at Fort Lewis College in Durango.
His first boardercross this season ” and for the rest of his U.S. Snowboarding teammates ” was Jan. 15 at the FIS Snowboard World Championships in Arosa, Switzerland, where he finished eighth.
“It’s definitely a bummer not having snow elsewhere, but as far as this year, it’s been good to be able to finish up school,” said Smith, who hopes to complete his degree this spring.
There is snow here in Colorado, of course, and Smith has certainly been taking advantage of it when not doing work for his courses. While in Durango, he took a number of trips to Telluride to freeride and also ventured into the backcountry.
He enjoyed his beloved local mountains for three weeks over the holidays before leaving for Switzerland. His riding hasn’t suffered, he said.
“Going into the X Games, I feel super-confident,” said Smith, who crashed in a quarterfinal heat last year at Buttermilk when up-and-comer Jonathan Cheever clipped him from behind.
It was a disappointing finish for Smith, who has competed at the Winter X Games since the event debuted at Buttermilk in 2002. Smith said he covets a gold medal in the Winter X Games boardercross more than any other, save the Olympics.
“It definitely would be above a World Cup,” said Smith, who picked up his first World Cup gold last January in Kronplatz, Italy. “On a competitive level, all the World Cups are super-competitive, but X Games is the biggest event for snowboarding in the U.S.”
It also takes place right in Smith’s backyard.
“I consider myself lucky to have been able to compete in them since I’ve been here,” he said. “It’s been great to have the support of all the local people and to be able to compete on a home mountain.
“It’s usually one of the best events we have all season, because the X Games in the past has been really about pushing the sport. It’s been about bigger jumps, and harder terrain, which really caters to my riding style.”
Smith grew up riding for the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club, and was the club’s snowboarder of the year at one of its end-of-season awards banquets. Last year he was the guest speaker at the same ceremony, when 17-year-old Jordan Karlinski received the award.
Karlinski, also a member of the national team, is now entering her third Winter X Games.
“I’m still friends with all the coaches over there, and I still see a lot of the kids when I’m on the hill,” said Smith, who added that it’s important to him to remain close with the program, which helped him develop as a young snowboarder. “I try to talk to them and see what’s going on.”
Smith credits the club with providing him with the building blocks to achieve his Olympic dream. The experience of competing in Italy was the most “surreal” of his life.
It’s something he hopes to experience again in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2010.
“Definitely nothing can prepare you for that,” he said. “I still remember how insane everything was the day of the event. There was just a huge crowd, and it was so loud you could hear it from the top of the course.”
Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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