Our Road to Sochi series takes a look at the Aspen-area athletes training and competing this fall in hopes of making the 2014 Olympic team. Today, we take you to an extreme snowsports course, one with rails and big jumps. It’s new to the Olympics, but competing in Snowboard Slopestyle is something Jordie Karlinski has been doing for years. The petite 24-year-old is hoping this year, she’ll be throwing tricks in Sochi, Russia. Aspen Public Radio's Marci Krivonen reports.
Snowboard slopestyle evolved from skateboarding and it’s one of the most popular events at the Winter X Games held annually in Aspen. In these highlights from earlier this year, women snowboarders ride over a set of rails, then tackle big jumps. The judges watch for difficulty and variety of tricks. With the jumps, the higher the athletes get, the better.
Women’s snowboard slopestyle will be a first in the Olympics in 2014. Snowboard athlete Jordie Karlinski says the addition of her sport is motivating.
"Slopestyle’s always been around, it’s been in multiple X Games, it’s just never been on the Olympic scene, so it’s very exciting," she says.
Karlinski grew up in a family of snowboarders and joined the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club at age seven. Even though her older siblings challenged her on the slopes, she still struggled to embrace snowboarding at first.
"It was really hard for me and I hated it at first because on powder days, you’d get stuck in the powder and just cry and scream and it’s just aggravating, so it took me until I was about nine or ten when I really started doing it and enjoying it."
What started out as a fun activity became a serious endeavor, and in 2012 Jordie joined the U.S. Snowboarding Team. She’s raced in events like boardercross and half-pipe but, she prefers slopestyle because it’s a creative course.
"Every course you go to is different and that’s what’s so exciting when you compete in slopestyle. I love half-pipe but it’s always going to be a half-pipe wherever you go. But, slopestyle, on the other hand, is 100 percent different: the size of the jumps, the size of the rails, how high the jumps and rails are."
Travis McLain coached Karlinski for six years at AVSC. At the time, he says there weren’t many girls in the snowboarding program.
"She was always right there with all the boys, she was always the smallest one, we called her “Midge” and she was always riding and keeping up with the boys and charging it, and that’s where she got her technical skills," he says.
The events surrounding snowboarding, like slopestyle, are evolving and progressing for women, thanks to athletes like Karlinski and another Aspen athlete, Gretchen Bleiler.
"Gretchen Bleiler is one of the best riders in the world in half-pipe, she poineered some of the first, consistent inverted tricks in the half-pipe and she’s just led the way. And, Jordie was following in her footsteps here in the Valley," says McLain.
Still, McLain says most snowboard athletes he sees at competitions are men. But, he thinks the sport’s bound to grow with its exposure in the Olympics.
"This will bring that whole X Games audience into the Olympics, and I would say the Olympics need snowboarding much more than snowboarding needs the Olympics."
In order for Karlinski to score one of four spots on the Olympic women’s slopestyle team, she’ll have to outperform athletes like Tahoe’s Jamie Anderson, Ty Walker from Vermont and Idaho’s Jessika Jenson. She thinks she can do it.
"I do think I have a really good shot and these next couple of months will tell, December and January will be big months, but I’m looking forward to it."
Internationally, she says her competition will come from the likes of Norway, Finland, Austria and Switzerland.