Steamboat’s Taylor Gold ready for Dew Tour’s modified pipe at Copper Mountain
BRECKENRIDGE — What does it feel like when, after three years of chronic knee problems, a snowboarder lands a transcendent trick in Laax, Switzerland, wins an X Games gold and takes a silver medal at Mammoth Mountain in three consecutive weekends?
“Like redemption, honestly,” Taylor Gold said Saturday. “I’ve been working on this knee thing for basically three years. I (injured) it in 2016 and, since then, up until sort of part of last season and then through the summer, I couldn’t really ride the way I wanted to. It would always hurt with the big impacts and stuff I needed to take riding the (half)pipe. So it was really validating.”
If the past three globe-trotting weeks were full of redemption for the Breckenridge resident, a podium at Sunday’s Dew Tour modified superpipe event would make for a resounding statement after putting the final touches on his physical therapy at Howard Head Sports Medicine in Breckenridge in the summer.
Five years after he last podiumed at a World Cup event, the Steamboat Springs native reached the podium at Laax last month on the strength of landing his double Michalchuk 1080. It was a never-before-landed trick that combines the flat-spinning, on-axis backflip-like element of a Michalchuk, with Gold inverting it twice while going for three 360-degree spins.
“Without having ever seen anybody do it, I didn’t know if it was possible,” Gold said.
A week after Laax, Gold landed the new trick on the first hit of his final run at X Games in Aspen. And it came despite the pressure of fewer than two minutes remaining on the clock at the X Games’ first snowboard superpipe session competition. The trick bumped Gold from bronze-medal position to his first X Games gold. Then in Mammoth, Gold again landed the trick.
Whether you watch Gold going for the trick on the Laax, Aspen or Mammoth pipes, it’s clear it is a terrifyingly blind toe-edge landing. Through his goggles, Gold’s eyeballs come inches from the halfpipe’s icy walls immediately after he torques his core enough to add a backside 180 to get the trick around.
After all his knee issues — including breaking his kneecap into six pieces — why would the now-veteran 26-year-old snowboarder conceive of a new trick that is so blind, so dangerous, so scary?
“I consider myself a very calculated risk taker,” Gold said. “So I felt I took all the proper steps. I was talking to my coach (Rick Bower), and he thought it would work. And at a certain point with any new trick, you’re going to have to say ‘screw it’ and just try it. … I just figured if I was going to go through the trouble of learning a new trick, might as well be a trick I am the only one doing.”
The trick, which Gold said he landed only about seven times before hucking it at Laax, is one that combines the snowboarding style of the Michalchuk with the kind of spin-it-to-win-it element that has taken over the sport in recent years. In a way, it’s a perfect trick for halfpipe snowboarding in an era when more athletes and fans want to see less of the spin tricks and more flair on more inventive courses, such as Woodward Copper’s modified superpipe at this year’s Dew Tour.
But is the new trick something Gold can see himself doing on the atypical Dew Tour course, which features mirrored transition elements above 300 feet of a 22-foot-high superpipe?
After Gold landed it in December on Woodward Copper’s standard superpipe during Grand Prix practice, he’s focused on figuring out a way to land it on the modified pipe course. If he does, it’ll put him in ideal position to podium against a group of the world’s best halfpipe riders, including American fan-favorite Danny Davis, dominant Australian star Scotty James, Japanese high-flyer Yuto Totsuka, snowboarding elder statesman Louie Vito, Swiss stars Pat Burgener and Jan Scherrer and U.S. Pro Team teammates Chase Josey, Jake Pates and Toby Miller.
“It’ll depend on the conditions, but I really want to do it,” Gold said. “I’m still not totally satisfied with the ones I’ve done in contests so far because there’s always this asterisk next to it. In Laax, it wasn’t quite as clean as I wanted. The one at X Games, it wasn’t like a full competition pipe run, more of a style run. The one in Mammoth, I didn’t land the full run. So I really want to put one down in one of my best runs and land a really good one. That would feel really good.”
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Maytham is one of a handful of local skiers to have joined Peter Olenick’s P.R.O. team, headed by the Carbondale skiing icon. That group has spent a lot of time this year holed up at Copper Mountain, and Maytham believes that is paying off.