It’s good to be Bobby Brown. At the tender age of 20, the freestyle skier has won two X Games gold medals and the Dew Tour, thanks to his skill at landing tricks with unholy spin-and-flip combinations and puzzle-your-parents names like the Triple Cork 1440 and the Switch Double Misty 1440.
Plus, he has a home in the posh ski resort of Breckenridge, Colorado, and a new black Chevy Silverado with some sweet aftermarket rims. By all accounts, that’s an ace action sports career. But the two-word text Brown got on his iPhone last summer while he was skiing the glacier at Whistler, B.C., took everything to another level.
“It said, ‘It’s in!,” Brown says. “And I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh! I called everyone I know and said ‘Yo! It’s in! How crazy is that?’”
The “it” is his favorite discipline, slopestyle skiing -- a test of amplitude and adrenaline where tricks are performed off of jumps, rails, and obstacles -- and, as the text to Brown revealed, starting in 2014, it’s “in” as an official sport at the Winter Olympics.
“It’s kind of crazy that I’m on the U.S. Ski Team now. It just doesn’t make sense.”
The addition of slopestyle is a nod by the International Olympic Committee to the multifaceted nature of snow sports, where displays of technical trickery can gain just as big of an audience as the downhill speed demons who compete in alpine skiing.
“In a lot of ways, this is kind of overdue,” says X Games Senior Director of Content Strategy Tim Reed. “It’s so relevant to winter sport -- there is a lot of participation by kids in these sports in a lot of the winter resorts globally. It just makes sense that it would be part of an event that showcases the premiere athletes in the world.”
Brown, for his part, is having a tougher time with the idea. “It’s kind of crazy that I’m on the U.S. Ski Team now,” Brown says. “It just doesn’t make sense.”
For all his success at freestyle skiing, Brown has to thank one team: The Colorado Avalanche. Inspired by the 2001 Stanley Cup-winning dream team that featured players like Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy, in sixth grade Brown tried out for his local kiddie hockey team in Denver.
He didn’t make it. But he had a backup: After having fun trying to pull tricks on his skateboard, his bike, and his inline skates, he decided, what the heck -- I’ll try it while skiing.
Flash forward 10 years and Brown is in the middle of preparing for his fourth Winter X Games, which will be held in Aspen from Jan. 26-29.
Brown is sly as to what Breckenridge-honed trick he’s going to unleash at Winter X, but he is concerned that the direction of the sport is for bigger tricks at the expense of safety. “It’s gnarly now,” he says. “If you go down on the tricks these days, chances are it’s going to go bad. It’s cool to see a huge trick out of nowhere, but if you don’t have it planned, then you should do a smaller trick.” He smiles, and then adds, “In my opinion.”
Brown knows he doesn’t precisely practice what he’s preaching -- at the 2010 Winter X Games during the Ski Big Air competition he debuted the Switch Double Misty 1440, an insane trick that closely resembles an out-of-control satellite falling back to earth. After taking off from the jump backwards, Brown completed four revolutions while grabbing his crossed skis -- and then landed backwards. The judges gave him a perfect 100 score, the first-ever in Big Air. “If I didn’t have that trick, I don’t know what I’d be doing,” Brown says.
Last year, in Alaska, Brown became the first to land a Triple Cork 1440, another monster four-revolution stunt. “Every trick you do is based off the pop of the jump,” he says. “How you set it determines how it’s going to go. When I did the Triple Cork 1440, my mind went in slow motion because it’s a pretty gnarly spinny-flippy thing.”
To pull it off, he launched from a 100-foot jump that propelled him high enough in the air to safely complete all the turns. Since then, two other freestyle skiers, Switzerland’s Elias Ambühl and Australian Russ Henshaw, have landed the trick -- and they have done it off of smaller jumps. “That’s having a good day,” Brown laughs. (Yes, Brown does online video opposition research on his competitors -- in turn, he releases videos online knowing full well that they are checking him out.)
So will the Triple Cork be the one trick to rule them all at the upcoming X Games? “What I want to see is that if you have a trick and you can really do it clean and smooth, then you should do it,” Brown says. In other words: Yes.
Now with Sochi on the horizon, Brown has prepared an innovative training strategy in the build-up to the Olympics: don’t do anything different. “It hasn’t changed my attitude towards anything,” he says. “It seems like what I’m doing is working.” It helps that Brown already has a rigorous routine in place -- one that may have backfired last year when he suffered a series of injuries, including a creaky back and sore knees. “I’ve been limiting my time on skis, just so I can be fresh throughout the year,” he says. “Last year, I overdid it. I skied every day that I could. This year I’m trying to chill out and take it easy.”
When he is on the slopes, he does morning sessions at Breckenridge either alone or with his friends -- “although there aren’t too many around right now, because they’re back in school,” he sighs -- working on finessing the technical aspects of his tricks and smoothing out his landings. During the offseason, he does trampoline work to mimic the feel of coming off a jump.
For the first time, Brown is spending serious time at the gym, working on his core and trying to build muscle around his knees. His diet is sane and not overly restrictive. “Half the fun in life is eating,” he says. But what sets Brown apart may be his mental strength. He’s already anticipating the pressure of the Olympics -- the billions watching, representing his country -- and has a response: Just chill. “That’s what I’ve come to realize—when you’re having a good time and you’re happy, then everything starts to go your way,” he says.
With his family two hours away in Denver and his crash pad two minutes from the main lift in Breckenridge, Brown is definitely the tony mountain town’s local hero. Does he get recognized? Sure. Is he embarrassed by it? Totally.
“Hey Bobby!” an adult, tentative on his snowboard and wearing blaring plaid snowpants, yells over from the line of the bunny slope lift. “Woooo!” Brown raises his ski pole in acknowledgment and immediately ducks his head to the ground, a bit abashed. He didn’t get into freestyle skiing for the fame, after all -- he got into it because as a kid he wasn’t afraid to take a tumble in the name of fun. “It’s cool seeing kids on the hill and they’re all stoked to go shred,” he says. “I remember when I was that age, and if someone were to go with me, I’d be so stoked.”
As he reminisces, Brown looks over the slopes, resplendent in bluebird conditions -- blue skies, no wind, the cold crisp but not bitter -- and ponders what a perfect day on his mountain would be like. “It would look like today,” he says. “It is today.”
Check out the February 2012 issue of Red Bulletin magazine (on newsstands January 10) for more. To read the magazine on your iPad, download the Red Bulletin iPad app.
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