Speak softly and carry a big medal: Joss Christensen’s humble rise to recognition
Joss Christensen is your 2014 Skier of the Year — Riders’ Choice award winner
How it worked: We called upon the sport’s biggest names and asked them to rank the 10 skiers they felt had the best 2013-14 season. We left the definition of “best season” open to interpretation but asked the pros to consider all factors from film parts, to contest results, online edits and overall impact. More than 100 top-name pros cast their votes, securing this award as one of the greatest distinctions in skiing.
Announcement: The 2014 Skier of the Year winners are…
It’s one of the most well-known musical themes in TV history. It begins with a booming and stately kettledrum soon joined by that distinctive bold trumpeting. The iconic Bugler’s Dream snaps us to frothing Olympic attention, usually followed by a familiar broadcaster’s voice leading directly into a heartwarming story or pulse-pounding competition showing how an Olympic champion is made.
It’s irresistible. The road to winning Olympic gold is retold every two years. Skiers and the general public alike schedule life around bearing witness to this pinnacle of athletic achievement. In fact, 242 million people in the USA alone tuned in to last winter’s go-round in Sochi, Russia. The ratings tell us that a total of 26 million people watched Joss Christensen win a gold medal in slopestyle’s big debut.
“It’s like the ring,” Christensen nervously says, referring to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Hobbit ring of malevolent power. “It was like I was given super powers with the medal. But it’s weird too. All of a sudden I had thousands of random fans on social media. People would walk up and just grab [the medal], like, ‘Let me see it.’” The 22-year-old Park City, UT, native tells me this over the phone from his room at the Village Hotel in Breckenridge, CO. It’s almost Thanksgiving 2014. Training season. And Joss is in good spirits. As always, he is humble and polite to a fault but genuinely excited to talk about the half acre of land he just bought above Park City, a new snowmobile plus a truck to haul it. “I have everything I need,” he says, and I can hear him smiling through the phone.
Rewind one year to this same hotel. The prospect of qualifying for the Olympics had the entire lot of competitive freeskiers more focused and stressed than ever before. It was a brutal time for the athletes who were working to garner points and podiums in hopes of meeting the qualifying criteria. Joss’ roommates, Alex Schlopy and Sammy Carlson, also Olympic hopefuls, had decided to go back to their families for the holiday. Joss opted to stay and ski. While it was a rough time for many athletes—battling injuries, each other and the somewhat cryptic qualifying rules—Joss was dealing with much more; he was in the middle of mourning the death of his father.
He sat in a quiet hotel room on Thanksgiving, alone. Unsure of himself, the fun sucked out of the sport he loved more than anything, he doubted if he even wanted to ski anymore.
The months after JD Christensen’s passing, in the late summer of 2013, seemed to bring one body blow after another. Joss’ mother Debbie, who was understandably devastated by the loss of JD, needed assistance with odds and ends. They had to sell JD’s truck, motorcycle and other equipment in order to help keep the family afloat. And if that wasn’t enough, in the midst of it all, Joss and his long-time girlfriend went through a harsh breakup. It was the darkest time in his life. “I thought, well, it’s just survival mode now.”
In that deep hole of loss, Joss didn’t want to go home and do the turkey-holiday thing. He told himself to stay—train.
He sat in a quiet hotel room on Thanksgiving, alone. Unsure of himself, the fun sucked out of the sport he loved more than anything, he doubted if he even wanted to ski anymore. He questioned his determination to achieve a goal that seemed distant and unattainable. Especially for a skier, who in his entire career, had never won a major tour event. Joss’ father died at 67. It had been a lifelong battle with his heart, and the family was well aware of the condition. The raised scars of multiple open-heart surgeries running the length and width of his chest told the whole tale. Joss spent much of the summer in 2013 at his father’s bedside, along with his mother and brother. This was the most important time in his career, and it was a constant emotional pendulum. He struggled to balance skiing with being present for his family and his father.