Exclusive: Freeskier speaks with Joss Christensen, Olympic gold medalist in slopestyle
Photos by Nate Abbott. Click above to view full screen and captions.
A blue, miniature, backpack-style tote bag is slung over Joss Christensen’s shoulder. His is a normal shoulder, sinewy and strong but nothing obviously extraordinary—he’s no Adonis, muscles do not fill out the US Olympic Team t-shirt enough to smooth out its fresh from the packaging creases. But during the men’s debut of freeskiing slopestyle as an Olympic event, and over the last month, Christensen’s skiing was extraordinary, golden even.
Where does your most valuable possession live? Well, at least for the time being, Joss Christensen’s is tucked safely into a 4bi9 beanie, inside that bag. It’s perhaps the perfect spot for the first freeskiing Olympic gold medal—on the shoulder of one of the nicest men you might ever meet, and not swaddled in anything other than the protection of a piece of swag that shows support for an independent and true freeski film company, that is a fitting spot for the sport to perch.
I’m not going to delve deeper into the history of the sport, or try to explain the process of getting here for Christensen (one hell of a contest, an amazing day for a sport, new tricks, long history and new names). Rather, in the lobby bar of a ski resort hotel anonymous enough to be mistaken for any ski town from his home in Utah to Canada or Japan or central Europe or to this newly built resort high above the Black Sea, we talked about the skiing and the day and the ways that freeskiing remains free.
Below are some cherry picked and condensed quotes from Joss Christensen, the gold medalist in ski slopestyle at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. If you want to hear more, play the recording for the full conversation.
Click to listen: Joss Christensen re: Olympic slopestyle gold.
“I just learned an unnatural double cork earlier this season, so that was huge. But I knew triples were going to be what you needed to have to make it on the podium. And coming here I was lacking that.”
“Even through the first few practices I’m just thinking to myself, this is so insane I’m even here.”
“I was just trying to come out here, think of it as a normal contest and try and just have fun and put on a good show.”
“We had one really long practice day, the first day it really got warm and the course got comfortable for everyone. After lunch break it got flat light, but the jumps were so good still. I did a bunch of switch dub nines. I’ve been thinking about learning a triple for a while but I didn’t think my brain could fathom flipping three times. It was such a spontaneous decision, just halfway up the lip of the jump in practice I just went for the triple and came to my feet. At that point I knew I might have a chance to do well.”
“I knew [my first run score] was definitely beatable.”
“Everyone deserved the fourth spot equally. Once I got the fourth spot I knew I couldn’t just ride it. Originally I was just hoping to make the Olympics and have fun. That’s still what I did.”
“It can be a curse to qualify first. People think it jinxes yourself. It was just Andreas and I at the top. We were talking, hanging out, giving each other props. Andreas is one of my biggest idols. I wanted to watch his run, but once the person drops you’ve got to get straight out. There’s no screens at the top and I’m sitting there waiting. Skogen [Sprang, US Freeskiing slopestyle coach,] had it in his earpiece from the bottom. It took a while to get a score in. If I needed to try and step something up there wasn’t much I could do, I was just thinking to do it as clean as possible.”
“I’ve never had a victory lap before. We’ve been working so hard this year, and skiing so hard, it’s been non-stop. I thought to myself, hey, everyone’s watching you. You can’t calm down. I just wanted to go have fun and do what we’ve been working for. I’m glad I didn’t biff it on that last run, that would’ve been pretty embarrassing.”
“That’s what is so cool about freeskiing. You can do anything you want to do. It’s up to you.”
“I knew I didn’t have the most technical jumps and I might not be able to push away in the jump sections. I didn’t want to cop out and just hit the same rails as everyone else. I wanted to be unique and try something else different.”
“Skogen’s always backed me. We’ve never sat down and said this is what you’ve got to do, this is what you need to do.”
“If you have access to a ski hill and you have skis, you don’t have to have a terrain park at your mountain. Growing at Park City, it was just shredding the whole hill, doing everything you can. We had a bunch of jumps hidden around the mountain.”
“When we first got here, we looked up top and saw it was cold and had just snowed and there were no tracks, it was literally just the ski and snowboard slopestyle teams.”
“We were jumping off cornices, cat tracks. I actually took a cat track like 40 feet, quite too big on a flat three. I thought I was going to land bolts, but since we were on park skis I double ejected, lost my hat and goggles, lost my poles, tomahawked pretty far.”
“It’s just so cool that everything helps us [with our skiing]. It’s not just a specific jump you have to practice on. Everything works together and I think that’s what makes us such good skiers, is that were able to adapt to any scenario and any course.”
“I was going to try and ski this morning but I finally had the opportunity to get some sleep. I think it’s going to be a few of weeks before I get back on my skis. I can’t wait to get back on my skis; that’s the first thing I want to do. [The media appearances are] a huge opportunity for us so I guess I’m going to take them and see what happens.”
“I just hope we’re going to be asked the right questions. We did the Today show and some NBC stuff [where] they focused on the skiing.”
“It could be easy to be straight away and we could be turned into these different people. I don’t want to be just a personality, I want to be known as a skier. I think we all need to be known as skiers because that’s what brought us here.”
“I didn’t really see this coming. I’m excited, I’m going to love every second of it.”
“My mom would sit at her computer all night just watching live scores if that’s all she could get to.”
“It was really hard to lose my father, he was my biggest supporter. When [freeskiing first got into] the Olympics, he said, ‘When you make it, there’s no doubt you’re going to make it, we’re going to have the closest hotel room and the closest tickets to watch, it’s going to be a good time.’ I’m bummed that this all happened, but my family has been so supportive and everyone in Park City has been showing us so much love and helping us stay positive, so it’s good to have a great family and have everyone behind me on this.”
“It’s been a pretty insane 48 hours… [this] didn’t actually seem real until we were up at the awards ceremony, and I saw them pull the medal out and give the bronze to Nick, and I was like, holy crap. When they gave me the medal and put it around my neck, it seemed way more real… I think it still hasn’t fully hit me.”
“For a while, triples were the big air trick, or just film tricks, like you did a triple once or twice a year. I never thought I was going to do a triple. I think without the Olympics our sport would still be in a good spot, I think there still would be these big tricks, but [Olympic inclusion] has really been the catalyst to push us to these new levels, to see what we can reach. It’s given us a lot of confidence.”
“I’m glad it stayed to where it was. It was some of the gnarliest tricks that people have ever thrown in a contest, but I think we still were able to do it in control and with style.”
“I originally thought maybe [the Olympics] was not going to be too good for our sport, I thought it was going to be pushing people to do things that shouldn’t be done yet, and I think overall it was a great showing, and people weren’t chucking too hard.”
“It was one of the craziest contests and I’m glad to see where the sport is going.”
“Thank you to the U.S. Ski Team, and Skogen Sprang, for the most part, I wouldn’t be here without his support, it was crazy that people believed in me… I can’t thank them enough.”
About the author:
Nate Abbott is a photographer and man of mystery. Most likely to be found in Boulder, CO or New York City, he spends winters chasing skiers and snow around the world with hundreds of pounds of cameras and lights in tow. Nate is a Senior Contributor with Freeskier.