Nagano, Japan, home of the 1998 XVIII Olympic Games is situated in the central part of the Japanese mainland and covers the Central Highland also known as the Roof of Japan. From San Francisco it takes a 12-hour flight and 6-hour bus ride to get there. I left California on February 28th, and didn't arrive at the Hotel Selan until Monday March 2nd.
When I arrived, the hotel lobby was packed full of goggle-tanned snowboarders with their bulging snowboard bags and duffels. I found myself surround by not only the familiar U.S. halfpipe riders (including USASA PacSun riders Faye Gulini, Brett Esser, Kaitlyn Farrington, and Broc Waring), but also the United States’ finest junior alpine racers and boardercrossers.
The best part of the trip to Japan was the sense of pride and unity I experienced while representing the United States. Halfpipe snowboarding is such an individual sport that it was refreshing to compete for a bigger cause and share that privilege with the US Alpine racers and boardercrossers. I was delighted that the entire boardercross and racing team showed up to watch the men and woman's halfpipe finals. The US boardercross boys even cheered us on with USA taped to their chests! The team spirit made me fell like more of a football player than a snowboarder.
After our second practice day, the men and women's halfpipe team took cabs to go visit the Japanese snow monkeys in the rock bathes at Jigokudani Yaen Koen, a Wild Monkey Park about a half hour from our hotel. These animals, who all look just like the baboon from the Lion King (Rafiki!), provided entertainment for hours. They hot tubbed in the hot springs, ate chips from Dylan’s hand, and climbed intense ropes and cliffs. I wish we had ended up with a day to tour Tokyo or some other interesting cultural immersion, but since we competed on our last day in Japan we had no extra days to explore.
Before the halfpipers got their stage time, the PGS and PSL racers got their chance to shine. It was my first ever Parallel Giant Slalom spectator experience and I learned that the complicated racing format takes a PHD to master. The best thing about being there was the newfound respect I gained for the hardbooters. To win the event, a competitor needs to essentially stick 10 clean runs at high speeds. I only have to land one to win a typical no finals halfpipe competition! We also got to visit the boardercross course where I rode my first ever one-person chair lift. Being a part of one group of snowboarders representing our country, The United States, in a variety of disciplines is a memory that will stick with me forever.
Finally it was our turn. The boys competed first and a majority of the US Boys qualified into the finals in high placing including my USASA PacSun Teammate Broc Waring. The pipe was good and the boys were riding smoothly; I could see all sorts of good visions for the finals.
One the girls side, both Kaitlyn and I made finals with two backside spins a piece (I landed a back 5 and a back 7 while Kaitlyn landed a back 5, a front 5 and a Mctwist to qualify first). Faye Gulini, a friend and USASA PacSun teammate, threw a great run with front and back 5s and front 7, but had minor speed issues which put her just out of finals reach.
By finals time, the halfpipe began loosing its shape. These imperfect conditions seemed to be especially challenging to us Americans since we are more accustomed to the well-maintained U.S. halfpipe. Despite the challenges, I was thrilled with my 4th place finish in the Ladies Division, and to be sharing the podium with 6th place finisher Kaitlin Farrington. Dylan Bidez also took home a silver and Matt Ladley rounded out the boy’s podium in 6th.
Overall I am happy with my riding this trip, but am more importantly ecstatic with the memories and experiences I gained in Nagano, Japan.