Dropping back in


Kelly Clark is back in her first competition since the Olympics, at the U.S. Open in Vail, Colo.

I’m in Vail, Colo. for the U.S. Open this weekend. My luggage, not so much. And since my snowboard is part of that luggage, I didn’t get to practice yesterday! Thankfully I just talked to a friend who happened to be at the Denver airport, and he dug through and found my bags. Realistically, a day off isn’t a bad thing. At least I’ll be rested!

It’s crazy -- I haven’t ridden pipe since Olympic finals on Feb. 12. To be clear, I have been on my snowboard even though I didn’t ride pipe. I was home in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., for three days -- the same three days they had the biggest snowstorm of the season. Four feet of snow made for some really fun powder days.

Peter Morning

Kelly Clark had some fun off the halfpipe at home in Mammoth Lakes, Calif.

A lot of my friends I normally go snowboarding with were out of town on trips or off doing their winter jobs, so I rode with some Mammoth locals. My buddy Gabe Taylor does marketing for Mammoth, and we went out and shot some photos and things for the Mountain.

It was great to be home, and while I was there to get some new content for the Mammoth website and for social media. During the Olympics there’s this thing called Rule 40 which is basically a blackout period written into all of our sponsorship contracts under which all rules are off and normal representation and rights are on hold. So I couldn’t tweet a shout-out to thank Burton for sponsoring me during the Olympics, for example. It’s not always ideal, but I understand why they have the rule.

The U.S. is one of the few countries that doesn’t have Olympic team funding under the government, and therefore they have to sell sponsorships to get us to Sochi. So instead of our usual sponsors, there are different sponsors you can pick up during that period. For me, Folgers and Uncrustables were my avenue for exposure. Both of those companies sponsored Team USA as well as me personally.

It’s not lost on me how lucky I am just to be able to make a full-time career out of my sport. So it’s good to be able to celebrate and give back to some of the longest-standing supporters of snowboarding, like Burton, who’s been sponsoring the U.S. Open for 30 years.

It would be easy to want to pack it in, now that the Olympics is over. But I think for me it really comes down to the motivation. If anybody should be burned out it should be me -- I’ve done more contests and put in more years than most anybody on the planet. But if you have your motives in the right place you can go through these crazy processes we do and find yourself on the other side, pleasantly surprised that you still love doing what you do.

Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

Kelly Clark won her third Olympic medal in Sochi. Though it wasn't gold, she's happy with her performance there.

I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on things in these past few weeks. Some people have expressed disappointment on my behalf, expecting me to be bummed that I didn’t win the gold in Sochi. The truth is I’m happy with my performance, and that’s what matters. If I did it for medals I would have stopped long ago.

I think having been in the game for so long gives you perspective. I look around now and see my younger competitors. The only competitive snowboarding world that they know has had the Olympics as a factor. (It was added as a sport in 1998.) The X Games has been around longer than some of them have been alive!

But I’ve grown up through it and for me it really does come down to identity. It sounds kind of cheesy, but it helps that I’m not looking for self-worth through performance or having to prove to people who I am through snowboarding. Having my faith has given me a good perspective to enjoy it. And not be in the position to do it because I have to, but because I love to.

This weekend’s contest at the U.S. Open is going to be business as usual for me. I’ll approach it just like I would the Olympics or the X Games. It’s a comfortable, familiar environment and everything is firing and ready to go.

The halfpipe here is known for being the best one we ride all year since the company they hire to build it, SPT, is the best in the business. As a rider, that makes everything simpler. There’s one less variable to worry about, whereas in Sochi we had no idea what the pipe was going to be like. You end up having better snowboarding, too, since the riders can really push themselves.

I have actually been in the gym with my trainer these last few weeks since the Olympics trying to figure out what I needed to work on to stay sharp. I don’t want to lose everything I have spent time building! I feel rested, ready, stronger and more prepared than I’ve ever been.

Except for, you know, my snowboard. And my toothbrush. But I’ll be ready to go by Saturday!