Maddie Bowman, a five-time X Games Aspen champion, announces retirement from competition at 26

A five-time X Games Aspen gold medalist, Maddie Bowman’s favorite medal might actually be silver. She won it in 2012, her first of an eventual seven medals won in the Buttermilk superpipe in what was always her favorite event of the season.

“That’s what really slingshot my career,” Bowman told The Aspen Times Monday afternoon via phone from her home in Tahoe. “I’m actually sitting here looking at my X Games medals right now. X Games was the highlight of every season for me. It was everything.”

With X Games Aspen set to get underway for the 19th consecutive season this week at Buttermilk, Bowman’s absence is sure to be noticed. The freeskiing pioneer, who is only 26, announced Monday she was retiring from competitive halfpipe skiing. She won’t make the trip to Aspen, a byproduct of having her tonsils recently removed, but wanted to make sure the announcement was made before this week’s contest.

“It’s going to be the hardest event not to be a part of anymore, for sure. X Games was always my favorite event, no matter what. It is the heart and soul of what we do,” Bowman said. “I kind of came to this conclusion that I had met all my goals I had set out for myself. I had done that.

“I felt like halfpipe skiing is going in such a great direction and I don’t know if I can continue to contribute to that. And I also have so many other fun things happening in my life besides halfpipe skiing, so I kind of saw this as my moment. I’m happy with what I did and I’m ready to step away.”

A native of South Lake Tahoe in California, Bowman made her X Games Aspen debut in 2011 when she subbed in as an alternate, finishing eighth. A year later, she won that coveted silver and went on to re-write the record books. She won Aspen gold in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2018, with a 2017 bronze thrown into the mix. Bowman also won bronze at X Games Tignes (2013) and silver at X Games Oslo (2016).

Her other big claim to fame was winning 2014 Olympic gold in Sochi, Russia, the first time halfpipe skiing was an Olympic sport. She also competed in the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, finishing sixth. U.S. teammate and close friend Brita Sigourney won Olympic bronze that year.

“Maddie has been a huge influence, not only to me, but to the entire sport of women’s halfpipe skiing,” Sigourney said in a U.S. Ski and Snowboard news release. “She led us to where we are now with her constant progression of technical tricks years ahead of the rest of the game. She was a fierce competitor and always fun to watch, even when she was beating me at every contest.”

Along with that first silver medal, Bowman said she covets her X Games gold from 2018. After winning four straight contests in Aspen, she settled for a mere third in 2017 and claimed she wasn’t skiing at a high level well into the 2017-18 competition season. Getting back to the top of the X Games podium in 2018 was a big deal for the Californian and will be a memory she carries fondly into retirement.

Bowman finished fifth at X Games Aspen 2019 in what looks to have been her final time dropping into the Buttermilk superpipe in a competition.

“It’s way more than I ever dreamed of. I’m super thankful for the time I’ve had in my career. It really is my favorite event and to be able to win it so many times was pretty awesome,” Bowman said. “It was not a light decision (to retire), but I know I made the right decision for myself.”

Among those who inspired Bowman was the late Sarah Burke, the Canadian who won X Games Aspen gold four times, including in 2011, the year Bowman first competed. Burke died a year later in a training accident in Utah.

One reason Bowman is willing to step away from the sport is she feels women’s halfpipe skiing is in good hands. Young stars like Canada’s Rachael Karker, China’s Kexin Zhang and Estonian superstar Kelly Sildaru have her excited for its future.

“I definitely trust those girls to take care of it and I’m excited to watch young girls like Kelly take that challenge on,” Bowman said. “When I think about Kelly, in a lot of ways I think about Sarah and I think about how humble Sarah was and how humble Kelly is and that just makes me happy for the future of halfpipe skiing.”

As for Bowman’s future, she isn’t going to stop skiing. She’s become close with Hazel Birnbaum, a professional big mountain skier, and wants to endeavor more into that sort of terrain. Bowman has long loved the mountains of Chamonix, France, which is notorious for its big mountain backcountry, and plans to spend the remainder of this winter exploring what it has to offer.

Her and Sigourney would spend a week there most winters. Now, Bowman hopes to make it more of a second home, at least for the next few months.

“I told myself someday I would live there and I think this is my moment to do that,” Bowman said. “I just have learned so much from (Birnbaum) about skiing in the bigger mountain aspect and in the backcountry and I’m really excited to continue to explore that. I thought what other place besides Chamonix?”

Bowman also is working on finishing a degree in biology from Sierra Nevada College, with intentions of one day becoming a high school science teacher.

While she won’t make it to X Games Aspen 2020, despite Sigourney competing, she plans to return in the future as a spectator.

“It’s going to be hard not being there and Aspen is such a wonderful place to have it,” Bowman said. “I did want to make the announcement before X Games. That was really important for me. X Games was everything.”