Home and away
VAIL – The dream, like most everything in Sabrina St. Marie’s life, comes in multiple parts.It goes like this: At the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, St. Marie makes history by accomplishing something no Olympic snowboarder has ever done when she competes in halfpipe, boardercross, and the alpine events of parallel giant slalom and parallel slalom.The feat is considered heroic and revolutionary. It is one of the biggest stories of the Games.And, if everything goes to form, just as St. Marie has envisioned, she will take gold in at least one of the four disciplines, if not more, and wrap herself in an American flag on the winner’s podium.She will quietly mouth the words of Francis Scott Key while the national anthem of the United States – the anthem of her adopted nationality – plays overhead on the loud speakers in the country where she was born.It’s true – most everything in the life of St. Marie, who was born in Quebec, is multifaceted. “My goal is to progress equally at all the levels,” says the 17-year-old local. “To make it to the 2010 Olympics in all three, that would be amazing.”She appears to be right on course.This weekend she will compete in the USSA Eastern Regionals in Killington, Vermont in boardercross and halfpipe before she heads to Lake Placid, N.Y., to compete in a World Cup halfpipe competition March 5.This summer, St. Marie was the only female snowboarder to attend each of the camps put on by the various factions of the U.S. Snowboard Development Team at Mt. Hood in Oregon. Between a boardercross camp in June and a halfpipe camp in August, St. Marie spent a week training with the best alpine snowboarders in the country – including Edwards’ Stacia Hookom, an 11-year veteran of the U.S. Snowboard Team, and Aspen’s Chris Klug, a bronze medalist at the 2002 Salt Lake City games.”That was kind of crazy because I don’t practice a lot on my alpine setup,” St. Marie says. “It was a great experience.”
Spliced between her three stays in Mt. Hood were two weeks in Whistler, British Columbia, training with a contingent of Ski and Snowboard Club Vail coaches and athletes, and a few days soaking up sun on the Oregon coastline.In assessing her summer vacation, St. Marie admits that, “It was a lot – a lot of snowboarding and a lot of traveling.”It was exactly what she needed, she says.After blowing out her knee in January 2004 at an X Games qualifier, St. Marie missed the rest of the 2004 winter season and didn’t get back on snow until June. When she was able to strap on her board again, after surgery and months of grueling rehab, she found salvation in carving turns and soaring above the walls of the halfpipe. Snowboarding had new meaning after it had been taken away from her. And her resolve, which had been tested during the setback, only grew stronger.
The void in St. Marie’s life from not being able to glide down a mountain after the injury was something she’d experienced before as a young girl.Born outside of Mont St. Anne Resort in Beupré, Quebec, St. Marie learned to ski just after she learned to walk at 2. It would be five years before she would get back on snow again, however, when, at the age of 4, St. Marie moved with her family to Florida.The pull of the mountains and of the snow and trees was offset by distance and climate. It eventually become too much to resist.”We missed the snow so much coming from Quebec,” St. Marie says. “We decided to come some place where it snows a lot so we came to Vail. Both of my sisters had tried snowboarding before, so when I moved to Vail at 9, I decided to do that.”Three years after the move, 12-year-old Sabrina started competing in boardercross in local snowboard competitions like the Snowboard Outreach Society Series.
At 13, she started competing in the halfpipe. At 15, she moved into USSA competitions and competed in her first USSA Western Regionals where she finished second in boardercross and eighth in halfpipe.That same year, she also began honing her alpine skills and integrating alpine events into her competition schedule. To ask St. Marie as to why she never chose just one discipline upon which to focus, in retrospect, is to be asking the wrong question.The better question, St. Marie says, is to ask why more aspiring snowboarders aren’t doing the same thing as her.”(Norway’s) Terje Haakenson has been one of my influences,” she says. “He used to do the slalom and he used to do the halfpipe. I really respect those guys that could do everything. It’s cool to do one discipline, but when you do all of them you really get all the aspects of snowboarding and that’s just really exciting for me.”St. Marie’s coaches at Ski and Snowboard Club Vail have embraced their young pupil’s ambitions, and haven’t tried to steer her in one particular direction. At least, not yet. “She’s committed to being the best all around snowboarder,” coach Nathan Park says. “That’s just one of the goals she’s always had. She’s told me herself that she doesn’t want to just focus on halfpipe. She wants to do everything and be known as a great all-around snowboarder.”
It’s possible that St. Marie’s commitment to being a complete snowboarder stems from a larger commitment to being a complete person. The multi-tasking goes beyond the mountain. Even though she grew up in a French-speaking household, St. Marie speaks English flawlessly without even a tinge of an accent – something even her older sisters have.She also skipped a grade in middle school and finished high school at Battle Mountain this fall two semesters early so that she could focus on snowboarding even more. There is also a quiet, creative side to match the go-for-broke competitive attitude.
St. Marie’s other passion is art and she says it’s what she would be pursuing if not for the opportunities she has lying ahead of her in snowboarding.”I hope to go to art school someday,” she says. “Snowboarding isn’t a very long career.”For a 17 year old, St. Marie doesn’t carry herself like many of her peers. There is the giddiness of an adolescent, but in a snap she can become very serious and introspective.One such example is her explanation of why she chose to become a U.S. citizen. She says that the process to attain her citizenship kept her from attaining FIS points for nearly two years – something that would rub most up-and-comers. She also freely admits that she would likely be on the Canadian Snowboard Team, instead of hunkering in the developmental ranks of the U.S. squad, if she had decided not to become an American.She says she’s never regretted the decision to follow through on changing her nationality.”I love America,” she says. “I like Quebec, too. My mother lives there now, and my family is all back there. I go back every summer – but (Vail) is home.”There are layers on top of layers on top of layers.The dream seems elaborate and unattainable. But, then again, St. Marie – with all of her different facets as a person – is elaborate herself.And, what is a dream anyway if it isn’t wild and exotic and full of impossible ideas? Staff Writer Nate Peterson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 608, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado