Ending the season with a bang

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After early falls in Sochi, Kelly Clark was encouraged by a solid runs at the U.S. Open.

I’ll always have a special place in my heart for the Burton U.S. Open. Until two years ago when they moved it to Vail, Colo., it was only nine miles away from where I grew up in Vermont. So I think it’s safe to say I have more appreciation for those podiums than anyone. And winning my seventh title -- more than any other rider, male or female -- was about the best way I could imagine to end my season.

It was a perfect week of riding all around. The pipe was edge-able, but not too icy or too slushy. As far as halfpipes go, it doesn’t get any better. Combine that with a progressive three-run format (you get three runs and your best one counts) and the fact that by March everyone is at the top of their game and has all their tricks dialed in, and it was some pretty awesome riding.

And not that I’m trying to prove anything to anybody else other than myself, but it was refreshing to look back and realize that I didn’t fall once in any of my practice runs, my warm-ups or my contest runs. After falling six out of seven runs in Sochi, that was personally pretty encouraging!

It was a little strange because for once I didn’t have either of my two coaches there with me. One coach, Tommy Czeschin, was a contestant a few years ago on “The Amazing Race” (with fellow snowboarder Andy Finch) and one of his prizes, a trip to Dubai, was about to expire. He booked the trip with his wife ages ago, not anticipating that he’d be going to the U.S. Open. My other coach, Ricky Bower, ended up not coming because his wife was three weeks from her due date and they wanted to play it safe. Good thing he did, because the contest ended Saturday and baby Noah was born Sunday!

Luckily I know most of the people at the top and they’re all pretty helpful and knowledgeable. So I was asking questions (like what kind of runs to put together) of the rookie coach, Spencer, or my friend James, who is a long time industry guy. Typically I have a plan as far as the run I want to do but I warm up gradually, doing bigger and bigger tricks as I see how the pipe rides, and I like to check myself and make sure I have another set of eyes to double check my approach. There was only one panicked call to Ricky, who was glued to the webcast!

My first run was solid but I was carrying a bit too much speed halfway down and thought I was close to the line of in control vs. out of control. I was planning to do a front 9 but I backed off and did a front 5 instead. It was too good of a run to throw away, and I knew if I could put up a good score it would relieve the pressure so I could get the run I really wanted in the end.

It was funny, when I got to the bottom my friend Tricia Byrnes, who I competed with for years, was announcing the webcast. She said to me, “Good call switching it up mid-run and ditching your front 9. That was too good to throw away.” She’s the ultimate competitor and a legend in the sport of snowboarding and she identified my exact thought process!

For the second run I went and put down that run perfectly again, but that time I did the 9 and did it right, which gave me the score I wanted and also the last drop position -- meaning I could see what everyone else did before I took my third run. But even though I knew I had it won, I’m not one to go out there and throw away a contest by just doing a victory lap. I’m trying to reach my own goals and push the boundaries of what I’m capable of.

The first night I got home I slept for 14 hours straight. You don’t even realize how geared up you are until you don’t have to be geared up anymore. It just takes so much of my brain space to stay focused like that, to stay on target and make sure I’m setting myself up for success in contests. It’s not something you think about every day but it’s the driving force in your motivation. Every single year it surprises me! But that’s what it takes to be excellent at what you do -- that kind of commitment and investment. That said, this is the first time I came home where I didn’t rush up on the mountain again right away. I stepped back and said, wow, I’m really tired!

Still, I’ve been in the gym running and biking every day, and next week I’m psyched to be headed on a powder trip Burton put together for us. I’ve got plenty of real life stuff to catch up on too: stacking wood, cleaning my salt water fish tank, hanging photos, taxes -- all this stuff that’s been put on hold for the last four months.

But I’m flipping through Netflix every night. Right now I’m hooked on this BBC documentary “Long Way Down” with Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman. And I’ve got to say it’s nice to go to bed without setting an alarm!