Aspen’s air Jordan
The nerves were understandable.
Last January at Winter X Games Nine at Buttermilk, against a field of the best female snowboarders in the world, Jordan Karlinski of Snowmass Village made a rookie mistake in a semifinal boardercross heat.
“I totally barged the gate before it dropped,” said Karlinski, who was just 15 when she made her X Games debut. “I was really nervous and I wanted to get [the gate] right when it dropped. I totally messed up and it set me out in back.”
Because of the miscue, Karlinski failed to advance to the six-rider final. She rode strong in the consolation final to a fourth-place finish, which left her 10th overall. The result guaranteed her an invite back to Buttermilk next week for Winter X Games Ten, where she hopes to earn a spot in the finals.
She first has other obligations. This week she’s in Mountain Creek, N.J., for the final U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix of the season where she’ll compete in both halfpipe and slopestyle. At the previous Grand Prix stop in Mount Bachelor, Ore., she finished third in slopestyle, after waiting out a four-hour delay for wind and continuous snowfall.
Karlinski shrugged off the result, noting that the course was designed for male riders and that most of the girls in the field couldn’t clear the huge jumps. The difficult conditions only made things tougher.
“I didn’t do anything special,” she said. “A lot of the girls fell.”
Modesty aside, here’s what is special about Karlinski: Unlike most of the riders on the national snowboarding team, for which she qualified last spring, Karlinski doesn’t specialize in one discipline. She’s a member of the C team for boardercross, but she trains and competes in all three disciplines. And, as the Grand Prix result in Oregon illustrates, she doesn’t do halfpipe and slopestyle just for fun.
“Jordie has a natural style and grace in her riding,” said Miah Wheeler, Karlinski’s head coach at Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club. “She makes it look easy. She’s such a strong all-around rider.”
The versatility comes from nine years riding with her older brother, Teddy, 18, and his pack of friends. Ever since she first strapped on a snowboard at 7, she’s been trying to keep up, Karlinski said.
“It totally makes a difference riding with boys,” Karlinski said. “If you look at it, they have so many more technical tricks, and they’re so much more advanced in most areas of snowboarding. It’s just more fun riding with them because they totally push you. They want you to be the best girl there is.”
She was pushed to do rails and hit jumps, she said, because that’s what everyone else was doing. The same went for trying to soar out of the halfpipe, or go as fast down the mountain as possible – the one imperative for boardercross.
Four years ago, after a string of podium finishes at USASA nationals in all three disciplines, it finally clicked that snowboarding could be a career, Karlinski said.
She started dreaming about competing in the Winter X Games and winning an Olympic medal. While the first dream has come to fruition, the second has been deferred for another four years – the result of disappointing finishes in her only World Cup starts this season in December in Whistler, British Columbia.
Karlinski finished 35th in boardercross, then was 32nd two days later in halfpipe. The experience was a wake-up call.
“As soon as I went to Whistler, and saw how it’s going to be at the Olympics, I was just blown away,” Karlinski said. “Everyone is so good. I was like, ‘I still need to get better. I should probably start kicking ass in these World Cups if I even want to think about the Olympics.’ “
Still, at 16, Karlinski appears to be on track to the Winter Games in 2010 in Vancouver. This season she opted to withdraw from Aspen High for home-schooling with her mother, Suzy, so she could spend more time riding. The selection to the national team also helps, since she gets feedback from both U.S. snowboarding coaches and her coaches at AVSC. The national team also helps offset some of her travel expenses.
Trying to juggle school with all the training and traveling has made her grow up fast, Karlinski said. She insists, however, that she’s not much different from other girls her age.
After winning $1,000 at the Grand Prix in Oregon, it’s been a daily battle trying to decide what to do with the money, Karlinski said.
“I won $2,500 at Gravity Games last year, and it kind of just went whoosh,” Karlinski said, with her finger gesturing toward the sky. “I spent it on clothes and a bunch of unnecessary stuff that girls my age want. This time I want to save it and keep it for stuff like Christmas presents and birthdays. But I don’t know if it’s going to happen.”
Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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