Steamboat Springs The catch is it’s your view of Taylor Gold that’s changed in the last four months.
For Taylor himself, Sunday was filled with a few calls from media, with sponsorship obligations and with planning for photo shoots and events later this month. On the whole, however, the day wasn’t much different for the newly minted U.S. Open champion than last Sunday, or Sunday, Dec. 8, when Gold still officially was on the outside looking in at the top tier of snowboarding. It wasn’t even much different than the Sunday following the U.S. Open half-pipe competition a year ago.
“I’ve been doing this for so long, it’s all very familiar,” he said. “I just love snowboarding. I’m still doing it, and I’m happy.”
It’s different for the wider world, which only was introduced to Gold since his from-the-shadows drive to make the Olympic team. On Saturday, that world got another big dose of the 20-year-old Steamboat Springs rider. Maybe life hasn’t changed very much for him, but to everyone else, in four short months he’s become one of the most accomplished snowboarders in Steamboat Springs history.
A new perspective
Gold has been competing at the U.S. Open since he was 12, then just a young rider who’d finish his open competition before rushing to find a great spot from which to watch the main show, the men’s half-pipe.
He didn’t think he could win that event, but not because he thought he’d fail on any sort of quest. Rather, he simply didn’t consider the possibility. Then as now, Gold was wrapped up in the moment, in loving snowboarding and being happy on the side of a mountain.
“I never really thought it about it,” he said. “I always wanted to do well at the U.S. Open, but I never thought I would win it.”
He did, with a roaring first run Saturday that serves as a highlight for a brilliant season. He didn’t go all-out on what would be the winning run. Instead, he simply was hoping to land something safe. He did as much, scoring 87.63.
“I expected to be bumped out,” he said.
But he wasn’t, even when he tried to put down a bigger run with new tricks and couldn’t better his own score.
He was the last rider to take to the snow on the third and final run, and for the first time in his career, he didn’t need to move up. He was already at the top.
“I just chilled, took some straight airs and had fun,” he said.
“Fun” was a defining element of this final hurrah for the 2013-14 season that’s been so sweet to Gold, and "fun" was exactly what he needed after a grueling season and disappointment at the Olympics.
When it started, in November, he was on the U.S. Snowboarding Team’s half-pipe rookie squad, buried behind a wall of some of the best snowboarders in the world.
He quickly jumped front and center, however, placing third at the Dew Tour in Breckenridge, the first of five qualifiers for the U.S. Olympic Team.
Gold went on to get one win, a second and another third in those events and became the first person to qualify for the U.S. men’s snowboard half-pipe squad.
It wasn’t all smooth riding, however.
He said fatigue from the grueling qualifying process weighed on him when he got his first X Games start in January and failed to make finals. As for the Sochi Olympics, he said Sunday, it was an amazing experience, “everything except for the half-pipe riding.”
He made it through his qualifying round in good shape but couldn’t lay down a good run riding in the semifinals. In his final attempt, he was clean all the way through to his last trick, seemingly a lock for finals and a shot at the medals. But he landed at the far end of the pipe, his butt touched as he rode out of his last hit and his chance to advance was ruined.
“I was just really frustrated,” he said Sunday. “I knew I rode my best and I just had some bad luck.”
The conditions of the half-pipe were a major factor at the Olympics as riders complained about a ground-up, slushy center that limited their tricks and caused a string of otherwise inexplicable falls.
Gold said after he’d qualified for the semifinals that he hadn’t been able to practice his tricks all that week, and he saw that as a factor in the outcome.
“I just ran out of half-pipe,” he said. “Practice is when you usually found out how many hits you can get in. I just had to guess because on the three days of practice, the pipe was unrideable.
“I had doing that last hit and landing really close to the end in qualifying. I thought I had room but I obviously didn’t.”
The more things change
That disappointment is part of what made the trip to Vail for the U.S. Open so sweet.
The Olympics were an experience Gold said he’ll never forget and always treasure, but the chance to ride with his friends — most of whom didn’t make the trip to the Olympics — and simply relax was just the right thing to help him forget about that slushy day in Sochi.
“I was looking for a little redemption,” he said. “I just wanted to prove to myself I could do it when it counted, I could get on the podium again before the season was over.
“Just to do that was a huge weight off my mind.”
Only one event remains, a dual-half-pipe competition later this month in Aspen sponsored by Red Bull. After that, it’s those photo shoots and onto the summer.
A year ago, Gold spent his summer refining the run that helped catapult him to the elite of U.S. snowboarding ranks. This summer, he hopes to do the hard work he needs to do in order to stay there.
It may seem like a different world, but for Gold, his life one summer to the next it will feel very similar.
“Certainly there are aspects of it that are a little different, more media attention, more sponsors attention, which is all great,” he said, “but really, I’ve been doing this for the last 10 years of my life. It doesn’t feel like very much has changed.”
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9