Fourteen years after winning Gold in the 2002 Olympic Halfpipe, the most decorated shredder of all time, Kelly Clark, is still pushing the limits of snowboarding—and landing atop podiums. This January she’s throwing her support behind the non-profit foundation Learn to Ski and Snowboard to inspire the next generation of snow riders. We caught up with the 32-year-old pro between competitions to talk winter travel, “investing” in snowboarding, and what’s next in the halfpipe.
Are you riding any new mountains this winter?
I will get to go to Northern Norway’s Sunnmøre Alps to visit some friends and ride a place called Stranda. I’m looking forward to that trip the most this year! Otherwise, my winter’s pretty booked with seven events in the U.S. and Europe, including the X Games Aspen and the U.S. Burton Open in Vail.
Tell us about your last snow-free vacation?
I love a good surf trip. Last summer I took a camping trip up the Central California Coast—I really like to camp because you can turn off your phone and check out for a little bit.
This February marks 14 years since you won Olympic Gold at the Winter Games in Park City, Utah, and now you’re regularly competing against 15- and 16-year-old riders. What’s it like to compete against shredders you inspired and what does it take to beat them?
I love getting to inspire people through what I do! My hope is that I can carry the sport forward and have my ceiling be the next generations’ floor. I honestly don't think of competition in terms of "beating" someone. I try to reach my own goals and do well at the events, regardless of what my competitors are doing. In snowboarding you get out what you put in and it takes continual personal investment.
Speaking of investments, you’ve started a non-profit foundation to help youth use snowboarding as a medium for success. Tell us about the foundation and its recent success stories?
I wanted to invest in something that would outlive my ability to compete, so I started The Kelly Clark Foundation to help youths learn to snowboard and learn to be successful at life through snowboarding. The foundation awarded $25,000 in scholarships in 2015, and we’ve awarded more than $95,000 in scholarships since 2010. We’ve been able create opportunities for kids to get on the hill for the first time and we’ve also been able to support kids with competitive dreams across the country, from Carrabasset Valley, Maine, to Mammoth Mountain, California. In fact, one of the girls the foundation supports is from my home resort of Mammoth Mountain, and will be competing against me at X Games Aspen this year—so guess my plan is working!
And now you’re also partnering with non-profit Learn To Ski and Snowboard to inspire first-timers to get out and ride during the month of January.
Snowboarding has given me so much and I want to give back to the sport. Creating access and inspiring people to get out on the hill is something I am passionate about, so partnering up with the Learn to Ski and Snowboard was a no-brainier for me. The first step to learning to snowboard is just to get out on the hill and take a lesson! If you’re brand-new to snowboarding, check out the Burton Learn to Ride program—Learn to Ride centers even have specific beginner gear designed to help you learn and progress in snowboarding.
When it comes to halfpipe, you have to start small—even I worked my way up. Get into your local park rather than dropping in on a 22ft pipe like the one I ride. Start with a mini pipe and work your way up to a 10 to 12-foot halfpipe. The Burton Feather is a good snowboard for women to get started on. It is forgiving, stable at speed, and a great all-around board that will grow with your skills.
How much do you think about your legacy as snowboarding’s G.O.A.T.—greatest of all time?
I take things one day at a time. I never started snowboarding to be “great”—I started because I loved it. I am thankful that I still love snowboarding, and that is why I still compete today.
That’s the plan. See you there!