6 Homegrown Athletes to Watch at the 2019 World Championships
Approximately 1,200 elite athletes from 40-plus countries will invade the Wasatch Mountains for the chance to rip and flip their way onto the podium during the 2019 FIS Snowboard, Freestyle, and Freeski World Championships this February. Here are a few of our favorite local stars to keep your eyes on during the multi-day sporting spectacular.
Deer Valley Resort
Brad Wilson, Freestyle Moguls
Champion, that “gnarly, steep course with massive jumps, does feel as intense as it looks,” says freestyle moguls skier Brad Wilson. The two-time Olympian returns to the steepest, longest, “in one word: legendary” course as a local favorite, ripping through bumps on genuine home turf. He has called Deer Valley (and Snowbird) Resorts home since his family moved from Montana to Utah a decade ago so that he and his brother, Bryon (also an Olympian), could pursue freestyle skiing. For Wilson, that state of “being on the edge of out of control and in control” is what makes his sport fun, “and playing around with that edge is kind of addicting.”
In addition to Sochi and PyeongChang appearances, Wilson earned a silver in the non-Olympic event of dual moguls at the 2017 World Championships, took the gold in the 2016 World Cup (after bouncing back from a torn ACL), and racked up a slew of additional near-podium finishes over the past five years. Coming off a strong 2017–2018 season, Wilson’s gearing up for his run on Champion, eyeing a double full (a backflip with a 720-degree spin) on the top jump and a cork 7 lead tail (an off-axis 720-degree spin with a grab) on bottom air—a nod to the grab trend in moguls that’s “adding a little pizzazz” to the runs.
Fun fact: Wilson has an artistic alter-ego, replacing poles with paintbrushes in the off-season. Check out his ink-and-watercolor, nature-inspired works and portraits at bradleywilsonstudios.com.
Ashley Caldwell, Aerials
Reigning world champ and boundaries-smashing aerialist Ashley Caldwell comes at the 2019 competition with her trademark “all or nothing” spin. The three-time Olympian holds the all-time record for landing what no other woman in her sport has accomplished thus far: “The Daddy,” a quadruple twisting, triple backflip.
That massive jump, she says, is her motivation as she defends her title. “I don’t want to go out there and try to win again with an easier trick,” she says. But weather conditions, physical conditions, and fear certainly play into her decision to revisit such a monumental feat. The 25-year-old Park City resident is no stranger to White Owl and its double and triple kickers, (three and four meters, respectively).
“[On White Owl], I’m either on top of the podium or I’ve done a really big trick and I’m really proud of the big trick, but I got last place,” she says. “That Deer Valley atmosphere just instigates me. I’m naturally all-or-nothing, and then, with a super-motivating and excited hometown crowd cheering in your own language, you’re like, man, I have to go for this.” And what’s the ultimate beauty of bringing her “go big or go home” mentality to her own backyard? “Luckily, I am home. So, I can go big and be home,” she laughs.
Fun fact: Aerialists can hear their coaches’ instructions while in the midst of a jump and adjust their acrobatic movements accordingly. As Caldwell says, “three seconds in air can be really fast or really slow, for good and bad reasons.”
Park City Mountain
Joss Christensen, Slopestyle
Last season was rough for slopestyle skier and Parkite Joss Christensen. The underdog-turned-gold-medal-winning Olympian—who helped Team USA sweep the podium at Sochi—was sidelined by ACL surgery in May 2017. That spring, with PyeongChang in his sights, he tried to fast-track his recovery but ended up instead with a broken hand, a reinjured knee, a half dozen surgeries, and no place on the roster.
Now, he’s looking for redemption.
Christensen, who grew up skiing “just for fun” on this very hill, relishes the challenge of being ready to adapt to new set-ups at each event. “Courses change everywhere you go, which is one thing I love about slopestyle,” he says. “You can put your own flavor, your own style into the course.” That quest to “do something a little different” is getting more challenging, since the triple cork (three off-axis spins)—which helped him top the field in 2014—is now the norm. So, he’s developing new jumps that will let him shine in a discipline that’s progressing at an insane rate.
Given that he took down two World Cups right here in 2014 and 2015, he’s planning to tap into that confidence and comfort level, even though Park City’s past slopestyle competitions have taken place on Kings Crown, rather than 3 Kings.
“I’ve had pretty good luck [competing] here in Park City,” he says.
Fun Fact: Christensen spends much of his off-season time mountain biking, which, he says, mimics slopestyle. “Your reactions have to be quick,” he says, “and I just really like going fast and letting my subconscious take over.”
David Wise, Half-pipe
David Wise is “the kind of guy who takes the difficult route.” He hunts with a bow instead of a rifle and pulls off a backflip on a trail bike rather than a hardtail. Conquering fear is his “obsession,” and when he first met the half-pipe, overcoming the scariness of the daunting sport was alluring. Then, the sensation of “incredible weightlessness”—going up a vertical wall and experiencing midair suspension before gravity takes over—sealed the deal.
“I used to struggle with competition,” says Wise, who has won the X-Games thrice, taken home the gold at both the 2014 and 2018 Olympics, and racked up two dozen elite titles and podiums. In other words, once he figured out his mental game, the 29-year-old, Reno-based family man dominated half-pipe, and still does.
His sport, he says, is in the best place it’s ever been. Rather than skiers emulating one another, rehashing the same runs and just trying to do it better than the next guy, there’s variety and personality in the pipe. “Everybody’s just embraced the fact that we’re all different,” he says. “When somebody approaches the half-pipe differently than I do and does it really well, that’s something I can still get excited about.”
And though Wise isn’t letting anyone in on the tricks he’s preparing for Worlds, rest assured, he has a calculated plan. “I certainly have some things up my sleeve, for sure.”
Fun Fact: David and his wife, Alexandra, are working on their second children’s book, a follow-up to Very Bear and the Butterfly.
Solitude Mountain Resort
Alex Deibold, Snowboardcross
In 2014, Alex Deibold picked up an Olympic bronze medal in snowboardcross, and the success continued with several podiums in the ensuing years. But then, last season, he came up short, failing to qualify for PyeongChang. “It was pretty heartbreaking and eye-opening for
me at the same time,” he recalls.
As “motivated as [he] has ever been,” the Salt Lake City–based Deibold has the opportunity for redemption in his own backyard. He took third at Solitude in the 2017 World Cup and his goal for World Championships is simple: “To win.”
“When you’re going 30, 40, 50 miles per hour, inches from another racer, it’s really exciting, and it’s really
terrifying,” he says. And no, snowboarders are not throwing elbows as they jostle for position, he says; that would be counterproductive, given that contact causes deceleration and potential crashes. Deibold’s take on the best plan of attack: get out front and stay out front and, if you can’t do that, take advantage of drafting.
“My game plan is always to put blinders on,” he says, regarding his rivals on the track. “I just have to focus on my own race. And I know that if I execute what I plan to do, I can be one of the fastest men in the world.”
Fun fact: Deibold cross-trains on a mountain bike, racing and just riding for fun. You might just catch him and his cattle dog mutt, Stella, out on the trails.
Whitney Gardner, Skicross
Whitney Gardner, an official Solitude athlete, is raring to go. Seriously. At one point ranked no. 1 in the US (and currently at no. 3) in skicross, she’s spent the past two years on injured status. And now Gardner’s making her way back to the slopes where she participated in Nationals in 2017.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” she says with palpable enthusiasm, “to compete in a World Championships—not only in my home country, but on my home mountain—is unreal.” A former Alpine racer, Gardner followed in her big brother’s tracks and picked up skicross at 16. She was hooked. With so many elements in the race dictated by the natural terrain and course build—bumps, jumps, rollers, and cambered turns—every run is different. While it may look like the skiers are “just flying through the air” it’s a really tactical sport, she says; speed comes in the details, a little ankle or hip move, or approaching the small rollers just right.
Given how tough skicross can be on the body and mind, Gardner has turned to yoga. She instructs and does her own yoga practice while attending the University of Utah. The books and yoga serve as a counter-balance to the relative bedlam of her sport. “It looks really chaotic and it feels really chaotic sometimes, but every move is as calculated as it can possibly be,” she says. “You have to roll with the punches—literally and figuratively.”
Fun Fact: Speed is in Gardner’s blood. Her dad, aunt, and all three siblings have dipped their ski tips into racing and/or skicross.