Snowboarding found a way to break the winter barrier and flourish in the summer.
In New Zealand, Aug. ’13, snowboarders from around the world dropped into the famous Cardrona half pipe. With the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, just around the corner, the competition intensifies and the tricks get bigger and better. The town of Wanaka became flooded with ambitious boarders hoping to get some training in before the Olympics in February. Among them are some of the greats, including Luke Mitrani, Kelly Clark, Louie Vito, Elena Hight, Ellery Hollingsworth, and Shaun White.
Every morning, snowboarders pile in vans to take the hour-long ride up the mountain. By lunchtime, they were all back down in the village, eating and hitting the gym. The Oracle had the chance to interview Shaun White, snowboarding Olympic gold medalist. He commented on the competition of the Olympics: “Snowboarding is an individual sport and [the Olympics] is one of the only times that it has the sensation and camaraderie of a team sport.”
Wanaka is a tiny town in the Otago region of an island off of New Zealand. The town is located on the southern end of Lake Wanaka. It is a popular area for skiing and snowboarding from June through September. The most popular ski areas are Treble Cone, Alpine Resort, Snow Park, Snow Farm, and Cardrona. This half-pipe is used for Olympic training during the summer.
Standing at 6.7m (22ft) high, 18m-wide, and 160m long, the Cardrona half-pipe is one of the only Olympic sized half-pipes in the world. It is the center of the freestyler’s world. While the 40 foot tricks seem fun and fear-defying, they can be quite the opposite.
On New Years Eve 2009, professional snowboarders Kevin Pearce and Luke Mitrani were snowboarding at Park City Resort in Utah. By the flip of a coin, Luke Mitrani determined who went down the half-pipe first. Pearce lost and dropped in first. In the midst of doing a trick he knew by heart, he over-rotated a bit too much. He landed square on his face and neck, resulting in a traumatic brain injury that was nearly fatal.
According to his website, Pearce was airlifted to a hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah, where friends and family awaited news. Although he doesn’t snowboard much anymore, he and his organization— The Kevin Pearce Fund— are major advocates for traumatic brain injuries.
In Wanaka, New Zealand in Aug ’13, Mitrani had a fall that left him
fully paralyzed for a few minutes before being airlifted to a nearby hospital. Unlike Pearce, Mitrani did not have a traumatic brain injury but did injure the C-5 of his vertebrae and was in a neck brace for 12 weeks. He will be making a full recovery and hopes to get back on a snowboard soon.
Despite the dangers, snowboarders continue to do what they love. When they aren’t snowboarding, competitors enjoy the other activities that Wanaka has to offer. According to the New York Times, Louie Vito goes bungee-jumping, and Elena Hight kayaks and paraglides while visiting the little town on Lake Wanaka. Kelly Clark used the activities to bond with the other teams, like when she went horseback-riding with members of the Swiss team.
Wanaka is a place where international camaraderie and fierce competition merge. Riders from all over the world share a “playground,” as the New York Times puts it. Competitors not only share the slopes, but an undying love for the sport.
“My favorite style of snowboarding is free-riding with my friends and family,” says Shaun White. “Of course, winning half pipe and slopestyle competitions is a pretty insane thrill.”
The XXII Olympic torch will be lit on Feb. 7 in Sochi, Russia.
Feature Image: Louie Vito at U.S. Grand Prix qualifiers in Park City. Used with permission Photographer: Sarah Brunson/USSA