Now based in Park City, Utah, Bowman was raised in South Lake Tahoe by two skiers—her dad, Bill, raced in college against the Mahre brothers and went on to race professionally, and her mom, Sue, is a former gymnast and coached the high school race team. They started Bowman on skis when she was two years old, in the yard and at nearby Sierra-at-Tahoe. The family’s lively lifestyle bred activity addicts. Even now, Bowman will fit mountain biking, water skiing, hiking and a session at the skatepark or a soccer game into a typical summer day. Growing up, she found success as a ski racer, but always liked skiing powder better. Last season she took an Avalanche 1 course and Bowman eagerly awaits the week she spends freeskiing in Chamonix between contests every winter.
“If it was a powder day, and we didn’t get out the door quick enough, she was hitchhiking to the mountain,” remembers Sue. “I planned a family Thanksgiving trip to Hawaii in high school, but it turned out to be the snowiest November in years. Four days before the trip, she said ‘Mom, I just don’t think I can miss those school days’ and stayed home and skied powder while we went to the beach.”
By the age of 14, Bowman had found her groove in the halfpipe and started winning local contests. Sierra-at-Tahoe’s general manager noticed Bowman’s potential and offered to send her to some bigger competitions, like The North Face Park and Pipe Open Series. In 2011, as a junior, she competed in X Games as an alternate and placed 8th. In 2012, her breakout season, the high school senior and placed 8th. In 2012, her breakout season, the high school senior podiumed at almost every major event she entered, winning a Dew Tour stop and also earning a silver medal with “X Games Aspen” etched on its front side. She still managed to graduate high school with a 4.35 GPA.
Maybe a high pain tolerance has helped Bowman develop a thick skin. In high school she placed third at U.S. Nationals, 10 days after a meniscus trim on her left knee. When she “decked out” at an event in December, 2013, months before the Olympics, she refused an MRI and fought swelling through the conclusion of the Games. After winning Olympic gold, she discovered a kissing contusion had knocked the cartilage off her knee—an injury most people can’t walk with. The following year, Bowman’s doctor dismissed what was a torn ACL when she was able to perform one-legged squats.
“Injuries teach you a lot about what you can handle,” says Bowman. It’s a grounded perspective that is admirable, as it is essential; for as Bowman continues to set the bar high for halfpipe skiers, she’s sure to face more adversity. An alleged lack of style is hardly the only missing ingredient in a recipe for women’s pipe skiing earning the respect it deserves.
Almost two years after his commentary on X Games ruffled feathers, Abbott lives and works in New York City, generally removed from the skiing industry. He owes some of his departure to those insensitive words he regrets writing. Abbott even asked to shoot Bowman’s invitational event as a peace offering.
“Dudes aren’t nice to girls in these sports,” says Abbott, admitting to be part of the problem. “Sexism is a real thing. I saw [women’s freesking pioneers] Kristi Leskinen and Sarah Burke battling it and it still exists.”
Abbott is, in fact, a huge fan of halfpipe skiing. And he’d like to see the women’s side of the sport progress and gain popularity.
“We need to examine if it’s worth changing the size of the pipe or the way the women are training or the judging criteria,” he says.
For now, Bowman is focusing on what’s going right. She acknowledges that women’s freeskiing has come a long way, citing equal prize money and a Friday primetime spot at X Games Aspen for women’s halfpipe finals.
“Some positive encouragement goes a long way,” says Bowman. “Not just women’s skiing at the X Games level, but just encouraging young women to go ski in the park. Getting more girls involved can only make skiing better. I’ve had skiing better my life in so many ways, I would love for girls to have an opportunity to have that same experience.”