Smith hopes games spur Cup success
Basalt native Jason Smith used home-hill advantage to post a strong showing in the boardercross last year at the ESPN Winter X Games and earn an automatic return invitation.
He plans to do even better this year ” possibly using the X Games as a springboard to success on the FIS World Cup circuit.
Smith, 22, Basalt High School class of 2000, posted the third-fastest qualifying time then finished ninth overall in boardercross at last year’s X Games.
He said he definitely knows the hill well, having gone through the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club and growing up riding at Buttermilk. But that familiarity will have limited value once the course is set and the competition starts Friday.
Smith said he hopes for a course that will complement his strengths and provide more of a challenge for the racers crossing over from slalom and giant slalom racing.
“I definitely prefer something that’s straighter, less turns, bigger jumps,” he said. “Sometimes with the racers in the World Cup that throws them off a little bit, having to catch the air. Their big advantage is a course with a lot of banked turns. They can go through that course a lot faster.”
Smith picked up snowboarding when he was 7, following in the footsteps of an older brother. He started competing in giant slalom and slalom races with the ski club and eventually entered freestyle competitions. He’s been racing boardercross professionally ” and exclusively ” for four years.
He is one of 12 racers vying for what will likely be four to six positions on the U.S. team in the boardercross competition. (He said seven of those 12 riders are competing in the X Games.) The discipline was added to the Olympics for the 2006 games in Italy. That’s added urgency to performances over the next two seasons.
“Right now it’s kind of in a big transition. A lot of the racers from the FIS, the slalom and GS guys, are transferring over to boardercross,” said Smith.
He concentrates on boardercross rather than alpine racing, where the courses are essentially the same ” weaving in and out of gates.
“Boardercross adds a whole new element to it, especially with jumping. I like jumping, catching a lot of air. It adds the new element of having to turn and also having to jump at the same time.”
In the boardercross at the X Games, the riders take an individual, qualifying run down the course. Their times are used to seed them. Then they run in heats of six racers to determine the winner. The top three finishers in each heat advance until it gets down to the final six.
Smith said his key to success will be duplicating his strong qualifying run of last year.
“I’d definitely like to repeat that ” top five,” he said. “It makes it easier. You don’t have to take a second run and you’ve got a good seeding coming into the finals. Be as fast as you can, stick to your line and stay on your feet.”
In the head-to-head competition, the strategy is to keep advancing by placing in the top three until the finals. A second- or third-place finish is just as good as victory until that final round. Smith said it’s sometimes best not to take chances if you’re assured of advancing.
Placing strong in the heats requires a quick start.
“At this level a big part of it is getting the hole shot for sure, being out front,” Smith said. “It’s rare that people are going to make mistakes. Definitely knowing the course and where you can pass people is a big part of it.”
The X Games will provide a brief reprieve on home turf from the World Cup circuit. Smith has raced in recent weeks in Austria, California and Switzerland. His season hasn’t matched his expectations so far. A 14th was his best finish. A back injury has slowed him but shouldn’t prevent him from racing throughout the season.
Smith is awaiting word from the U.S. on whether he will head to World Cup races next week in Japan. The circuit then goes to Mount Bachelor in Oregon, then Italy.
He would like nothing more than to catch fire at Buttermilk and turn in a string of performances that land him in the Olympics. On the other hand, he’s got a good attitude if he doesn’t do as well as planned.
“Last week [in Switzerland] I didn’t do as well as I was hoping, but I was living the dream, you know. It was such a good time even though I wasn’t performing as well as I would’ve liked.”
[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com]
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Canadian snowboarding superstar Mark McMorris is the most decorated Winter X Games athlete of all time.