Steamboat Springs Part of Maddy Schaffrick’s charm is the understanding she has about the world around her. The 17-year-old Steamboat Springs snowboarder fully realizes the unique place she is in.
Always a prodigy, Schaffrick looks poised to be America’s next great female halfpipe snowboarder, if she isn’t already there with her recent finishes at the U.S. Grand Prix and Dew Tour.
It’s been a trying couple of years, but Schaffrick has broken down her next big goals into two simple things.
First, she wants to finish high school — and if she can wrap up three months of school work, she’ll do so in January.
The second goal is a bit more ambitious.
“My focus is the sport of women’s snowboarding and how we have to step it up,” Schaffrick said. “It only takes one of us to step out and try something new. Then everyone will start following. It just needs to be one person to lead the way and everyone will start following. They’ll have to. My goal is to be able to evolve the sport.”
Schaffrick has started to reshape a sport dominated in recent years by American women Gretchen Bleiler and Kelly Clark.
Now Schaffrick is right there with the two most recognizable women in the sport, doing things on a snowboard that no woman ever has.
“The women’s halfpipe is exciting, maybe more so than the men,” said Jon Casson, the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club’s snowboarding director and a coach who has worked with Schaffrick for years. “I mean, the top five men are doing a lot of the same tricks. It hasn’t progressed. So many girls are taking it in a different direction now.
“Maddy is adding to the excitement. She’s going big and increasing her amplitude. She’s stomping everything so cleanly. She’s doing harder tricks and making these technical tricks look smooth.”
Not just a snowboarder
It’s been a defining three years for Schaffrick. She always identified everything she did with the sport of snowboarding, while having anything but an average teenage life. By the time she was 13, she was traveling the country and the world with riders mostly five years older. It forced her to grow up fast.
“I was 15 and all my friends in Steamboat were going to high school every day and having boyfriends and stuff like that,” Schaffrick said. “I was in another country trying to qualify for the Olympics. It was like, ‘What am I thinking?’ I was doing well in the competitions but not well enough to make the Olympics. I was like, ‘What’s the point of this?’ I did get frustrated. I was like, ‘I never want to snowboard again. I never want to ride halfpipe again.’”
In August 2010, she blew out her right knee in New Zealand. She was on a groomer run when an inexperienced skier cut her off. She flew off the run and smashed into some rocks. The nose of her board was ripped into four parts and her board split apart.
She shredded an ACL and MCL and also tore her meniscus.
The next 11 months were the most telling of her young life.
“It was extremely frustrating,” she said. “I kind of lost my mind. All professional snowboarders, and I think they would agree with me, are adrenaline junkies. The reason we snowboard is because it’s fun and kind of scary. All of a sudden to not have access to that adrenaline on a daily basis, it becomes like a drug. I was freaking out. I had no way to release any emotion.”
She came back to Steamboat and went to high school for a sustained period. She started writing poetry and short fantasy stories to express the emotions she used to get from snowboarding. She helped direct a high school musical. For a period, she became a regular teenager again.
“It gave her some perspective,” said Ashley Berger, who has worked with Schaffrick since she was 10. “It helped her remember why she does it. She does it because she loves it and not because people expect it.”
Changing the game
In her first competition back, Schaffrick painted her face like a tiger and stomped a run with tricks no other woman in the world is doing.
The paint was a nod to her youthful exuberance, style and love of snowboarding.
Having sat out for almost a year, Schaffrick gained an education in what she wants with her life.
She’s conscious that in the not-so-distant future, she could be the face of women’s snowboarding.
She has leaned on coaches like Berger and former coach Jo Rolls as well as Bleiler to figure out how to deal with the added attention and the pressure of potential stardom.
“She has the amazing ability to be in the present,” Rolls said. “She doesn’t have to be the next big thing, but I think she can be if she wants to.”
Schaffrick realizes snowboarding doesn’t define her life. It’s certainly part of who she is and what she’ll do. But now she understands it’s not her end all, be all.
“It’s a cool life,” she said. “If you ask me, it doesn’t suck that much to be Maddy Schaffrick. I’m still having fun with it. But if it’s not fun, I’ll quit. Ever since I started competing when I was 9, I remember saying back then if it’s not fun, it’s not worth it.”
To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com