BY BRAD BOTKIN I AUG. 20, 2013
|Seth Wescott celebrates winning the men's snowboardcross gold
medal during the medal ceremony at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic
Winter Games at BC Place on Feb. 16, 2010 in Vancouver, Canada.
Seth Wescott swears he's not an adrenaline junkie.
Every year, when he's not off surfing in Peru or Fiji or Costa Rica, he ventures into the teeth of the Alaskan mountains to snowboard some of the biggest, most treacherous terrain in the world, his quest for the extreme taking him to areas so remote, so severely inaccessible, that he has to be dropped in from a helicopter. But he’s not an adrenaline junkie.
“That’s not why I go up there,” Wescott says. “It’s not about getting a thrill. I learn something about myself every time I go up there, and I love that. It’s about getting better at what I do.”
For the record, Wescott is pretty good at what he does. He’s the only man in history to win an Olympic gold medal in snowboardcross. He’s won two of them, in fact, first at the 2006 Winter Games in Torino, Italy, the event’s Olympic debut, and then again in Vancouver in 2010. Indeed, not many people can say they’re the only person in the world to have done something, but Wescott, who’s been on the snow since he was eight years old growing up in the shadow on Maine’s Sugarloaf Mountain, is one of them.
“And I’d like to keep it that way,” he laughs.
If you’re not familiar with snowboardcross, think motocross, but, obviously, on a snowboard. It’s a surprisingly high-contact race down a narrow, cramped course that leaves riders not only jostling for precious real estate, but also, with obstacles ranging from gap jumps and drops to alternating sections both flat and steep, tests just about every skill in the boarding book.
The development, maintenance, and certainly the enhancement of those skills is another matter entirely, as the time riders get to spend on actual training courses is remarkably limited. They’re expensive to build and there just aren’t that many around, so guys have to go outside the box to find creative ways of staying sharp. Surfing helps, Wescott says. But it’s not enough. A great athlete is always looking for that edge, for that one training technique that his competitor isn’t doing, and that’s where Alaska comes in.
"Outside of competition, in my opinion, there's no greater challenge for a skier or snowboarder than big-mountain free riding,” Wescott said. “Just being up there and having to develop a game plan and execute it, to put myself in these situations where I’m in such a heightened state of awareness, it has definitely helped me to progress as an athlete.
“But there’s no doubt it can be dangerous,” he continued. “It can be a fine line up there. You have to challenge yourself, but at the same time you have to stay within your bounds. The second you push too hard, that’s when you get hurt.”
|(L-R) Seth Wescott leads Alex Deibold of the U.S., Italy's Emanuel
Perathoner and Mateusz Ligocki of Poland in the USANA
Snowboardcross World Cup on Dec. 14, 2012 in Telluride, Colo.
The unfortunate irony of Wescott saying this is that he’s doing so from the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association’s Center of Excellence in Park City, Utah, where he’s been recovering for some 14 weeks from the broken tibia and torn ACL that he suffered this past April. As it happened, Wescott, who has been participating in ski and snowboard films for the past three years, was shooting a scene for one of Warren Miller’s upcoming features. They were in the Chugach Mountains, Thompson Pass to be exact, where avalanches happen all the time due to the fact that no place in Alaska gets hit with more snow. Almost every year at least a few people die. Not exactly the type of place for a mistake.
“On the ride up, we were on the wrong side of the helicopter to see the terrain, and I got some bad information from the guide,” Wescott said. “There ended up being a crack in the glacier that I wasn’t expecting. I basically ended up hitting a wall at 40 mph, and when I got to the bottom I knew right away that something was very wrong. The ACL was just gone. Not exactly the way I wanted to start my summer training.”
The good news is that Wescott does everything fast, and so his rehab is ahead of schedule. He’s passed the 14-week post-surgery mark, clearing him to get off the stationary bike and move back outside where he can ease back into his cross-training regimen. And boy is he ready for that.
“The timing of this injury has been a little frustrating,” Wescott said. “As a winter athlete, I really look forward to the summer months and getting to do my cross-training outside. I can’t say enough about my time here in Park City. The doctors, the physical therapy, the gym, the staff, everything has been first rate. But I’m definitely excited to be getting back outside.”
Wescott’s date to return to competition has been pushed up to September, and the next world cup event isn’t until December. But the real target date, of course, is February 6, 2014. That’s the first day of Olympic competition in Sochi, where Wescott has a chance to become the first American man to win gold in the same event at three straight Olympic Winter Games. Snowboarder Shaun White and speedskater Shani Davis have that same chance, and Wescott, for one, believes that type of past success gives you a definite advantage over your competition.
“To have been there before, to have succeeded on the world championship and X-Games and Olympic level, yeah, I think that matters,” Wescott said. “There have been a lot of times when I’ve seen guys who I was expecting to be a factor in these bigger events, really good athletes, just wilt under the pressure. Especially at the Olympics. It’s so intense, and there’s something very tangible about all the stimuli and the big stage. Some people thrive under those conditions. Some don’t. Right now, I’m the only one in the world who knows what it’s like to win on that level.”
And like he said, he’d like to keep it that way.