‘The Palm’ making a run in Aspen | VailDaily.com

‘The Palm’ making a run in Aspen

John Marshall
AP Sports Writer
Vail, CO Colorado
Shaun Palmer sits and studies the course at the starting gate at the men's Skiing Skier X on Friday, Jan., 25, 2008, at the Winter X Games at Buttermilk Ski Area near Aspen, Colo. (AP Photo/Nathan Bilow)

ASPEN, Colo. ” The incarnations of Shaun Palmer seems almost endless.

Troubled youth and lead singer of a punk band. Successful entrepreneur and binge drinker who nearly killed himself. World-class snowboarder, world champion mountain bike racer, average motocross rider. Nearly an Olympian.

And now, elder statesman.

A little less rough around the edges and a lot wiser, Palmer is still relevant in the world of action sports, a 39-year-old former bad boy who uses guile and a still-incredible athletic ability to compete against riders half his age.

“Everybody roots for ‘the Palm,'” X Games general manager Chris Stiepock said. “You want ‘the Palm’ doing well and in a great frame of mind, so it’s great to see him back on track and healthy.”

It’s been a long trip.

As a teenager, Palmer was an innovator on a snowboard, pulling off amazing tricks in the halfpipe, smoking everyone on slalom courses, nearly unbeatable for several years. He had just as much success as a mountain bike racer, winning a world championship his first season.

Palmer wasn’t quite as successful as a motocross rider, but he certainly was as a businessman, becoming one of the first video game action stars and creating Palmer Snowboards, a company that’s still going strong today.

But Palmer also had a rebellious side, brewed from abandonment by his father and a mother who wasn’t around all that much. He had his share of run-ins as a kid and later became the lead singer of a band called Fungus, adopting the punk world’s me-against-the-world attitude ” and the drugs and alcohol that went with it.

The party lifestyle caught up with Palmer in 2005, when a combination of binge drinking, cocaine and pills put him in a coma, nearly ending his life. The incident shook his world, forcing him to slow things down.

“I’ve partied a few times, but I know it’s definitely a battle and a problem for me,” Palmer said.

His latest passion is boardercross, a rough-and-tumble race over humps and kickers.

Naturally, he was good at it right away, putting himself in position to make the Olympic team for the 2006 Turin Games. But just a month before the Olympics, Palmer hit a hole and tore his Achilles’ tendon, dashing his hopes and shelving him for a year.

“I got a really good doctor and he said your tendons are going to weaken, no matter how strong and how fit you are, with age,” Palmer said. “It’s just the way it is. In the wrong spot at the right time for the thing to tear.”

Palmer didn’t let the setback deter him. He worked hard at rehab and was back in time for last year’s Winter X Games, finishing fourth in Snowboarder X. He started this season by winning the Jeep King of the Mountain event in Telluride, Colo., and was second at an FIS World Cup race in Switzerland earlier this month.

And, get this: The once anti-social Palmer is a member of the U.S. Snowboarding team ” and loving every minute of it.

“Back in the day you’ve got a little attitude, when you’re younger,” Palmer said. “I grew up listening to a lot of punk rock, so I’d never be part of a team like that with coaches. I was always against that. But with these guys it’s so not like that. It’s really like a team. It’s a great deal to be around all of them.”

Matured? Mellowed? It sure seems that way.

OK, so maybe he needs to do extra stretching before he hits the hill, has to take a little better care of his body, watch his drinking. But Palmer is still spry, enjoying the fact that he’s an elder statesman, a legitimate contender to match skier Tanner Hall’s career record of seven Winter X golds.

“I have fun with it,” he said. “Age is all in your mind. It’s just a number. I wish I was 40 this year because it sounds better. It doesn’t matter to me.”

And fun could be Palmer’s lasting legacy.

In a world of cutthroat competition and multimillion dollar sponsorship deals, Palmer still finds a way to enjoy himself on the mountain, to crush the field, yet not make it personal. He was like that even back in his rebellious days and still carries that torch as he gets into the twilight of his career.

“The reason why everyone gets into it is to have fun with the sport,” Stiepock said. “In Shaun, you see him apply his incredible athleticism very diligently, but you also see him having fun still. I think it reminds the younger kids coming up why they got into it in the first place.”

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