Q&A with Joss Christensen
During the previous Olympic qualifying period before the Sochi Winter Games, Joss Christensen was something of an underdog, not even expected to make the U.S. slopestyle team by some. He ended up winning gold in Russia as part of a U.S. sweep and hopes to find his way back onto the podium in PyeongChang.
Earlier this year, we sent Christensen a list of questions. Here's what he had to say.
What's your earliest memory of freeskiing?
When I was about 11 years old, my brother's friend came over with a new ski movie, "Ski Movie III: The Front Line" by Matchstick Productions. This was the first time I really got to watch real "freeskiing" and skiers riding the whole mountain like a terrain park. I feel like I learned a lot about the culture and lifestyle in skiing from this movie. I saw how much fun they were having. From that point, I would secretly watch that movie over and over and fell in love with the dream of making a career out of skiing. It became my obsession.
What's your earliest or favorite memory of watching the Olympics?
In 2002 when the Olympics came to Salt Lake City, my dad bought us tickets to go see the slalom event at Deer Valley. It was the only event we went to, but getting to watch the best skiers in the world right in front of me in my hometown was unforgettable! I never imagined myself competing in the Olympics, mainly because our sport wasn't involved until the last Games. I always dreamed of it though.
What was the breakthrough moment in your career?
In 2011, I ended up second place at the Dew Tour stop in Utah. I had to work my way up from the last chance qualifier for athletes who didn't make it into the full tour that year. I won the qualifier, then won the semifinals and ended up second behind my good friend Alex Schlopy. That was my first pro-level podium and it opened up a lot of doors for me. With that result, I got my first X Games invite and was able to work my way into the pro contest circuit.
Who's your coach?
My coach is Skogen Sprang. We have been working together for about five years now. Skogen was one of the pioneers of our sport, he was the first to do many tricks that everyone does today. He understands our sport really well and knows more than we think. Our relationship is really relaxed and positive. Skogen knows when and when not to give me pointers and acts more like a friend than a coach. He never tells me what I "have" to do, but will suggest what he thinks would be good.
What's a typical training day like?
On a typical ski day, I wake up at least two hours before heading to the hill. I like to take my time to eat a good breakfast and do a good physical warm up. I hate to feel rushed in the morning, so I try to give myself enough time to get ready. I will then go skiing for 4-6 hours without stopping. I will then go to the gym and eat a good lunch before I start a mild strength workout. I then take the rest of the day to work on emails and other priorities I have before doing it all again the next day!
How and where do you train over the summer?
I spend a lot of time at the Center Of Excellence, the U.S. Ski Team gym. I also spend a lot of time on snow during the summer between the glacier in Whistler and skiing down south in New Zealand and Australia.
How do you work to achieve your daily goals?
I achieve my daily goals by making sure I don't have too many. I like to wake up and set my mind to 1-2 goals I have for skiing that day. I need to keep my mind clear and not clutter my thoughts with too many goals and ideas. I try to jump right into what I want to accomplish right away, whether that's in the gym or on the slopes. I have learned that when I procrastinate working towards my daily goal, I usually miss the opportunity and energy I need to accomplish that goal.
What would people be surprised to learn about training for the Olympics?
I would say that most people think that you need to spend all your time training in the gym and train sport-specific. However, I believe mental awareness and recovery are the most important alongside participating in many other sports. I feel that you learn so much from all aspects of life that translate in some shape or form to help you in your sport. I need to separate myself from skiing every now and then to help me remember why I love skiing so much.
There is no "true" way to do any tricks in slopestyle skiing.
What’s something about freeskiing that people don’t normally see?
I think the coolest part of our sport is the freedom we have to be as creative as we can. Originality and creativity go a long way for us. There is no "true" way to do any tricks in slopestyle skiing. This is also the hardest part of our sport, you really never know what the winning run will be. You need to commit to what you think will do best and go for it.
Who's your Olympic role model?
My Olympic role model is Ted Ligety. I grew up watching Ted dominate year-round and in the Olympics. I look up to Ted not just for his athletic success, but for being such a humble and cool guy.
Within freeskiing, who has been your greatest influence and why?
Henrik Harlaut. Henrik loves skiing probably more than anyone else in the world. He is able to stay positive and spread good energy everywhere he goes, and you really see it in his skiing. He's accomplished so much in our sport and still wants more. Yet he stays insanely humble.
Any pre-competition rituals?
Wake up early to watch old ski movies. Nothing else really.
How do you unwind after a competition?
After a contest, I typically love to go home and go skiing right away. Whether or not I do well at the contest, there is nothing I look forward to more after an event than going home and skiing the park at Park City. Getting to hot lap the park and not worry about doing my biggest tricks but doing all the fun smaller tricks is really grounding for me. I need to always remind myself why I ski, because there is nothing I really enjoy more in life.
Do you have a personal motto or inspirational quote?
You never know what you are capable of. I always have to remind myself this. I never saw myself making it to the Olympics, and I ended up getting a gold. I don't think you can ever dream too big. If you don't dream big, you'll never know what you can fully accomplish.
You never know what you are capable of. I always have to remind myself this.
Where do you keep your Olympic medal?
This might sound pretty bad... But at the moment I have my gold medal in a sock, inside a beanie and hidden in a box with all my other medals and important documents.
Tell us about your family.
I couldn't have asked for a better family to grow up with. My mom, Debbie, grew up in New York where she learned to ski down a 20-foot hill in her backyard. My father, JD (James Dale), grew up on a farm in Oregon and went to school in California for computer engineering. They both vacationed to Park City in the '70s where they then decided to bail on their lives back home to become ski bums. Luckily they met in the '80s and got married. Later on, my dad became a house-painting contractor and started his own business named Jupiter Painting. My mom started working as a travel agent, which she still does today.
I have one sibling, Charlie, who is four years older than me. Charlie loved park skiing and rode with the best skiers in Park City. He luckily let me follow him around the park and really got me hooked on slopestyle skiing. Charlie is now 29 years old. He graduated from the University of Utah with a master's degree in computer science. He now lives in New York and is self-employed. Charlie, myself and one other friend started an app company named "Create and Enjoy." Currently he has developed a skiing app similar to Instagram but solely for skiing called "SLAPP." It's really a blessing that we are able to work together.
During the fall of 2013, my father passed away from complications after receiving an LVAD pump put into his heart. My dad was born with a bad heart and had three open-heart surgeries and multiple other surgeries to keep him alive. Early in 2013, the doctors told him he had six months to live unless he got a new heart. However, they also told him he was too old to receive a heart transplant. So his only option was a heart pump. The surgery went well, but slowly over 2-3 months, things got progressively worse. I would visit my dad every day, but about three weeks into recovery, he became unconscious. His vital organs were slowly failing. This was really hard for us and we didn't know what the right decision would be. Mid-September, he passed away. This threw my whole family into turmoil and I wasn't sure I would be able to ski or support my mother if I didn't get a real job.
Anywho, I'm so lucky to have grown up with such an awesome, supporting and loving family. I currently still live with my mom at the same house I grew up in. I couldn't ask for a better roommate.
What's been the most moving place you've traveled to?
One of the most moving places I've traveled to is Sarajevo, Bosnia. I went there for about two weeks after the Sochi Olympics. We traveled there to ski and film in and around all of the Olympic venues that became ruins from the 1984 Winter Games. Shortly after the Games, there was a massive war that destroyed the whole city. Seeing all the venues riddled with bullet holes and destroyed from battle was an eye-opener. The locals were so nice and helpful to foreigners. It was inspiring to see them make the most of their lives and to be so happy in a city that is still destroyed from a war over 30 years ago.
Have you been to South Korea before?
I went in February of 2016 for the Olympic slopestyle test event. It was a really cool experience. It was really awesome to ski the course and really get a good feel for the terrain there. It's nice to know the climate and experience how the snow is there. A lot of manmade snow, but we are used to skiing that almost everywhere. We got to go and check out some temples not too far from the mountain venues. It was a really cool experience to get to venture away from the resort and see something with so much culture and history. We usually get stuck up at the resorts without much opportunity to experience much of the culture.
Hopefully I make the Olympic team and get to go back. If so, I really want to go check out the coast and some of the bigger cities!
What will success look like for you in PyeongChang?
My goal for PyeongChang is definitely to defend my gold medal from Sochi. First goal is to make the U.S. team so I can give myself the chance to defend. You never know what's possible, I proved that to myself in Russia. So, to leave Korea healthy and with a gold medal would be the best feeling ever!!!!