In 1996 I was invited to a Chilean resort to coach a group of athletes that had formed a snowboarding "Club", The La Parva Snowboard Team that wanted a coach from the US to train them and travel around Chile with them to a series of events. It was an incredible invitation and I was so happy to get to go do that. As I traveled to Chile, Olympic Gold was far from my mind.
Unfortunately, it was a terrible snow year and our training was a difficult undertaking to say the least. With little snow and a lack of snow making and materials to create training venues, we did not get to ride as much as we intended.
That did not stop it from being an educational trip for me, full of adventure from the moment I was picked up at the airport straight into a white knuckled and terrifying grand prix kind of race through the city of Santiago in a young athletes VW coupe. The experience was full of fun people, a focused but weak effort to speak Spanish, fun riding on a variety of mountains and smoking Volcanoes, a wild night in a seedy Santiago Strip Club and even my first earthquake. The snow was bad enough that we decided to take a few days and head to Zapellar, a beach town on the South Pacific shore where I was presented with my first attempt at surfing in the ocean.
Of course it was winter in August, I was wearing a borrowed wet suit that was 2 sizes too small and my shoulders were painfully trashed and loose from snowboarding crashes. That being the situation, paddling into the surf as a beginner turned out to be a monstrous challenge. So after I managed to catch a few waves, I returned to the shore to take photos and enjoy the moment in this cool far away beach town.
2 days later, I returned to my little tiny downstairs apartment in Farellones, a small village at the top of the 40+ U turns of a very narrow mountain road. The turns would take you from Santiago up to my place at the foot of the 3 main resorts, La Parva, El Colorado and Valle Nevado. Laying just 36km (22.3 miles) outside of the city, the elevation gain is over 6000 vertical feet. Upstairs was a retired German soldier who lived with his younger Chilean wife. They made my room mate and I dinner a few different times. It was really great. With lots of good food, story telling and wine. The German was very cool and had a lot to share with us. He was mildly interested in our snowboarding, but I think we were more interested in his stories of traversing the world and ending up there in the Andes.
That night I made myself a Piscola and turned on my little TV as I started to work on my board since we were going to train at La Parva again the next day. I was delighted to realize that even though I had not been thinking about it, just by a stroke of luck I turned on the beginning of the Opening Ceremonies of the 1996 Olympic Summer Games in Atlanta Georgia.
Here I was, sitting up high on a mountain side watching the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics that were being held at home in the US. Anyone who has ever watched the Opening Ceremonies of any Olympics knows how dramatic and incredibly big it can feel. It is so powerful. The emotions in the stadium, the colors and the performances that are put together with great creativity and ridiculous expense to symbolically represent the Olympic Spirit. It kick starts the greatest concentration of global talents, athletic skills, astounding competition and mind blowing achievements by men and women, some of which are still just teen agers. We thirst for it. Not as a nation, but as a global community.
It was that night that it hit me. The Olympics are not about skin color, gender, religion, politics or borders. Even though athletes qualify for a home country and under rules and politics governed by their sport, they arrive at the games as athletes whom have achieved there dream to be there with the rest of the world. To put themselves in that outstanding moment in life when they get to stand in the start gate and compete for Olympic Gold.
As the parade of nations began I felt an amazing rush of endorphin's coursing through my body and could not help but giggle and cry as the light in the athletes eyes rocketed through the TV cameras and all the way to my little place way up in the Andes.
Olympic Gold is an elite lifetime goal that a small handful of the athletes will ever achieve. However I believe that that night I recognized for the first time that the Olympic Goal itself is an incredible and astounding motivational force that brings the world and its people together in a way that nothing else can.
That moment of tears and realization were a major moment for me in my life.
The trip to Chile was really special, spending those days with my Chilean friends and the adventures we had. The daily exploration along with time spent spectating the games from so far away and feeling such excitement for the American athletes as well as the other international competitors that dug deep throughout the games to perform at their highest levels had my passion fueled up.
Leaving the tears behind, the snow improved and I committed to take the 6 hour train ride south to meet up with some pros from the US and head to Termas de Chillan to go shoot video and photos for a few days before a Big Air and Boardercross competition I would coach and compete in that were coming up there.
It was about 4 weeks through the 6 week trip. We had had a great first day on the Volcanic mountain complete with significant steam vents, good snow and fun terrain with windlips all around. That night we went to a local Disco a mile down the road from our hotel for some fun with the crew. When I let the others in my group head back to the hotel because I was having fun with the Chileans and they said they could give me a ride back I did not foresee the events of the next few hours.
When it was time to go just half an hour later, the guys decided they needed to go down the mountain instead of up towards the hotel because they needed gas for their truck. They talked me into jumping in back with one of the other Chilean guys even though I could have walked home in around 15-20 minutes.
Now in the back of back of the tiny Toyota pickup in sweaty disco clothes with a Chilean stranger as we drove down the mountain to find gas for an unknown distance, I became aware that I may have made a bad choice. I ended up having to drunkenly snuggle my new friend so we could both stay warm as the freezing winter air flew over us.
When we found the station it was closed, so we went another 20 minutes further. By the time we got gas, our Chilean driver and his passengers where having a good laugh about the frozen American guy and their buddy that lost a coin flip to end up back there with me. We flopped around like a pair of fish, trying to hang onto the shallow water of a retreating tide.
By the time we got back to the hotel, hypothermia was setting in and I nearly missed getting dropped off at the hotel where the rest of my group was and recovered with instant soup and half an hour in a hot shower, only to exit the bathroom to signs of daybreak.
Of course 2 hours later our photographer shot photos of me swan diving into the unheated pool in back of the hotel that was full of the old leaves left over from the South American fall. It created a great photo that ended up being published in Japan. Haha. Wow, those were some crazy days.
After having survived nearly freezing to death at 5AM, we had a another good day ripping around the mountain shooting photos, building jumps, crashing, laughing and getting the shot. The next day I competed in the Big Air event with my group Chilean riders and pros from the US and Europe. I took 2nd with some 7s, 9s and a 10 that had much of the same maneuvering I had used in the Disco 2 nights earlier. Disappointed that I did not win, I approached the next days Boarder-Cross fired up inside to take the Gold. That being the case, after a couple warm up runs on the course I decided to test the Triple Jump that looked to be the key challenge in the track. I did not like the take offs' kinked transition and lack of much of a landing, but I had talked to park crew about it and they told me they would not change it.