Ross Powers is no stranger to competition, or to winning. He holds an Olympic Halfpipe Gold and four Winter X medals -- three in SuperPipe, and one in Slopestyle. Powers missed the U.S. Olympic Halfpipe team cut in 2006 by a small margin and decided to step back from his competitive halfpipe career. Then, out of seemingly nowhere, he came back in 2009 to prove that he's not done shredding yet. He went from dabbling in boardercross racing to missing the cut for the 2010 U.S. Olympic snowboard cross team by one point. Always humble and positive, Powers is taking it all in stride. ESPN caught up with the Vermont native to talk to him about his new focus.
So you already have an Olympic Gold medal in your pocket. Give us a quick background on that win...
I'd say that the 2002 Olympics was the biggest win of my career. It was the most amazing competition for me, one of those days where absolutely everything came together. The weather was perfect. It was the best halfpipe I'd ever ridden. It stayed firm and fast. There was a humongous crowd. My family was there. Then to do the biggest air I've ever done -- a lot of people still say it was the biggest air to be done in the halfpipe -- and to finish up with a wining run. And to have Danny [Kass] and JJ [Thomas] come down and sweep the podium... That was amazing and perfect. The best day ever snowboarding.
How was the competition running up to the '02 games? This year it seems really tough.
I made the Olympic team in '98 and '02. There were so many good halfpipe riders. There were like 10 to 12 guys who could've won, so it kept it interesting. Now you've got Shaun White, and if he's on his feet it seems like he's going to win.
So you just missed the cut for the 2010 U.S. Olympic Boardercross team? What happened?
Three of us -- Nick Baumgartner, Shaun Palmer, and myself -- all had third place finishes, so they [made the decision on who would get the fourth spot based on our] second best result. Baumgartner had an eighth place, I had a ninth place, and Palmer had something in the teens. So I missed it by one placing. But for taking it seriously for only one year, I've surprised myself, and a lot of other people I think. I'm happy with how far I've come in that amount of time.
I just missed out on the halfpipe team in '06, but in '06 I was expected to go. This year I was kind of the dark horse, so it was fun. I had a good year.
Where did the idea to get into boardercross come from? Did you have Olympic aspirations in your mind from the beginning?
It was actually at that '06 Olympics, when Seth Wescott won an Olympic medal. Watching those guys ride, I thought it looked fun. He and I used to compete back in the day. Every weekend we were racing, doing halfpipe and GS. So I had a little bit of racing background from them, and I got out in a few boardercross races, and in '07 at the X Games for fun. But I wasn't ready. I didn't have the wax tech, I had one board, and I was so used to hitting jumps and trying to go as high as I could that flying low was something new to me. And then last January I decided that I wanted to take it seriously for a year and see if I could have a chance at making it to the Olympics.
Any reactions from other competitors, when they figure out who you are and your background?
I think the guys are psyched to have me there. I think it brings a little tension to their sport. A lot of the top guys -- Westcott, Nate, Palmer -- have been really cool to me. When I was getting into it, they'd let me follow them. One of the reasons I've come so far in a short amount of time has been the support of the team I'm riding with.
Do you think your competition and podium experience is a benefit over younger kids that are fresh to this level of competition?
Yeah, I think so. Competitions have been my life, and I've done them since I was a little kid. I have learned how to deal with pressure and try to always have a good mindset, and I've experienced a lot of big wins before. So I think that helps me out compared to some of the younger guys who get to a point where it's an all-or-nothing thing. I'd say it definitely gives me an advantage over some people.
After you missed the halfpipe cut for Torino, what was the point where you decided to take a step back?
Right around that time I finished off my Burton deal. I was still having fun riding the halfpipe, but didn't know if I wanted to do it full time. And at that point I had my first daughter, Victoria, and me and my wife decided to have another child. I started working with Okemo as a snowboard ambassador, which has been great, and did some other random stuff. I got my real estate license.
I heard something off about your exit from Burton, that they offered you a receptionist job for eight dollars an hour. Is that true?
Well, a little bit. My Burton deal was up, and I talked to the team managers about doing some job within Burton, helping the team out or doing R&D. Certain people that work there hadn't been there as long as me, and they asked me to send in a resume. Then they got back to me and said that at that time, the only job they had was a receptionist job. They weren't saying, 'ok, this is all we can offer,' they were just saying this is all that we have right now.
So after being with Burton since fifth grade, it was hard to go out without even a phone call to say I was done or thank you or anything. I thank them for all the support they did give me over the years, and the good times, but that's about it.
What do you think about how snowboarding treats its icons and legends compared to other sports like skateboarding and surfing?
Snowboarding is kind of weird with their pros and where they go. I think in certain sports they stay on and have all kinds of opportunities. In snowboarding you've got Richards who does his TV commentary, but legends like Palmer and Brushie... it's just funny that they are not involved more, or have more support within the industry.
Now that you've got two kids, what are you thinking about the 2014 Winter Olympics?
I haven't fully decided where my boardercross will go, and I still feel like I'm learning and getting better and better by the race. I've got to work on getting some sponsors and that kind of stuff. Maybe I'll get Russia in 2014, but you never know.