Pipe princess – Clair Bidez
MINTURN – Clair Bidez is looking for her McTwist.She’s got her huge straight airs, her frontside 720s, and she’s working on stomping her backside 540s consistently.The McTwist, though, like Austin Powers’ mojo has gone missing.”I lost it at Western regionals two years ago in March 2003,” says Bidez. “Every time I tried it, I would deck out or fall. Somehow, the technique has left me.”It’s not that Bidez necessarily needs the McTwist, considering the 17-year-old snowboarding prodigy is the second-youngest female on the U.S. Snowboard Team and appears to be on course for the 2006 Olympic Games in Torino, Italy.This weekend, she’ll soar above the walls of the superpipe in Breckenridge with the biggest names in her sport at the first U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix of the season.Last season, she was fifth at the U.S. Snowboarding Open at Stratton Mountain, Vt., and eighth at the World Superpipe Championships in Park City, Utah.Her upside seems limitless.Still, Bidez obsesses at times about the void that remains from losing one of her signature tricks. She talks modestly about much she has accomplished in such a short time, but when it comes to the subject of something she is lacking, there is a businesslike tone to her voice. “For some reason I haven’t been able to get (the McTwist) back since, and I’ve tried over and over again,” she says. “It’s hard. I think about it a lot, and I think about trying it again sometime soon.”
A different breedFor Bidez, stomping big tricks is more important than having a boyfriend or being a high school socialite – pretty unusual traits for a 17-year-old who is as attractive and as engaging as she is.It’s not that Bidez doesn’t act her age, necessarily. She was on the high school dance team for three years. She is still deeply connected with the group of friends she has grown up with in the valley. She dresses the part.It’s just that, aside from a profound love for her family and friends and a lifelong hobby of dancing, her No. 1 priority is snowboarding. Or, more specifically, her main objective in life is to get better at snowboarding.It’s been this way since she was 9 and watched her younger brother, Dylan, compete at the United States Ski and Snowboard Association nationals. After that, she dropped skiing and has diligently been competing against Dylan and herself to be the best snowboarder she can possibly be. She rode on the defunct Vail team for a year when she was 10, then latched on at Team Summit when she was 12, and from there has progressed to the sport’s highest competitive level in just five years.There haven’t been many bumps in the road. Bidez currently has a big red cast on her left arm – the fourth time she’s broken the appendage – but it hasn’t kept her from continuing to ride since she fractured two bones nearly a month ago.”I took a few days off,” she says.
She’s also broken her right arm once. She talks about the brutal injuries plainly, making it sound as if breaking an arm is comparable to having a nasty cold or a bad bruise.”This is actually my first injury in a couple of years,” she says. “Considering what I do, it’s not that bad. I know a girl who has broken her arm 17 times, and she’s my age. Most of my breaks have been pretty minor.”The obvious next stepBidez’s selection to the U.S. Snowboard B Team last spring was more of a foregone conclusion than a surprise after she turned in seven top-10 finishes in the 2003-04 season.She admits that when she started riding at 9, she didn’t have a grandiose vision of becoming an Olympian someday.”It was kind of like a dream, but I didn’t think it was going to happen honestly,” she says. “I love the sport so much that it just became that way. I just was doing it for the love of the sport, instead of trying to make it to the Olympics.”There’s no denying, however, that she has made mature decisions to put herself in a position to drop into the pipe in Torino on the world’s biggest stage.She graduated from Battle Mountain two trimesters early this fall – with a 4.25 grade-point average to boot – so that she can focus on riding full-time every day.”It was hard,” she says. “It was kind of like an on-off switch. With school, I knew it had to get done, so I just kind of plowed through it and did my best. It’s definitely like a dual life kind of thing.”She and Dylan also work with a personal trainer from Howard Head Sports Medicine to improve their balance and their core strength off the hill.
Aside from hanging out with her friends on the weekend, Bidez is pretty much all business during the week when she is at home. After a full day of riding, she spends her time in the evening helping Dylan with his homework, working out and eating dinner with her family.She also still has some homework of her own since she is taking two independent-study courses – both of which she doesn’t need since her graduation requirements are already fulfilled.There’s no time for boyfriends, or excessive talking on the phone, or too much TV.”I think the longest relationship I ever had was two months,” she says. “I just don’t have the time.”Clair’s mom, Patty, says though her daughter may be modest about her accomplishments, she is head and shoulders above other kids her age when it comes to employing self-discipline.Admittedly, Patty says that she and her husband, Earl, have made sacrifices to move along their children’s fledgling careers. But, in Clair’s case, the biggest sacrifices have come from Clair herself.”She’s the only kid on the U.S. Snowboard Team, and pretty much the only kid up until last season that did Grand Prixes, that actually did well that went to public school,” Patty says. “The rest of the kids were actually home-schooled or they go to private school.”When she leaves this winter to compete in Europe with the U.S. Team, Clair’s day-to-day life will become even more regimented.And that’s the way she likes it. This summer when she was at a team camp at Mammoth Mountain, Calif., she admits that she did get a little homesick but says the experience of riding with the best female snowboarders in the country continued to be invaluable – just as it has been since she started competing against the same girls during her sophomore year in high school.”It’s so much fun,” she says. “All the girls on the U.S. team this year – Hannah Teter, Tricia Byrnes, Lindsey Jacobellis, Elena Hight and I – I think we’re all just really good friends. It’s been so much fun because we already spend so much time together. We just push each other to do better, and it’s really supportive.
“There’s been jokes about me being the rookie, but nothing really. I don’t know some of the inside jokes that they have yet. (The age difference) isn’t a big deal. Tricia just had her 30th birthday, but it’s not awkward in any way. We’re all friends.”Turning the glass upside downThe one thing Bidez says she is trying to work on more than anything else is improving her mental outlook when it comes to working on new tricks and competing outside of the pipe. She sheepishly calls herself a “pipe jockey” because away from the steep, icy walls of her favorite freestyle discipline she is not as dominant on her board. She wants to get better at riding rails and competing in slopestyle events but says that to remain at the level she is at in the pipe takes so much effort already.And, some of the urban elements involved with slopestyle make her mind conjure up nasty scenarios.”Something that I have to definitely overcome is a lot of times if I’m trying something new, I imagine the worst possible outcome,” she says. “I was talking to Hannah Teter this summer, and she was trying to get me to try a box and I was like, ‘No, I can’t do it.’ It had a big gap on to it, and I just kept saying, ‘I keep imagining my nose getting caught under there and me just flipping over it.’ “She just looked at me like she was shocked that I would even think about that. She doesn’t ever think about what’s the worst possible thing. She doesn’t think about falling. She only thinks about making it. I think that’s something that I have to overcome.”The injuries, she says, have very little to do with the negative mental mindset. She said she still gets nervous about her backside 540s in the pipe because it’s the same trick she broke her arm doing. She doesn’t think her negative visions are at all unusual, however.
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“I just think that’s kind of the natural way to think,” she says. “I just think that’s what you think about when you’re trying to do stuff. It’s natural when you’re trying skydiving to think, ‘What if the parachute doesn’t come out?’ I think you just really have to block that from your mind and get over it.”With the way Bidez has attacked everything with her snowboarding career, the evidence suggests that she will get over it. She knows where she wants to go and knows that to get there – just as she gotten to where she is now – she is going to have make sacrifices.In her mind somewhere, along with the McTwist, her other career goals are hiding behind images of self doubt.The competitive instincts, she says, however, should be able to push those images aside.Hopefully.”I think I’m a competitive person,” she says. “Not in a bad way. I don’t really get jealous of other people. I just try to push myself. I compete with myself, I compete with my brother a lot, and I’m really determined. If I set a goal, I go for it.” Staff Writer Nate Peterson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 608, or via e-mail at email@example.com.Vail, Colorado