Queen of the halfpipe: South Lake Tahoe native Maddie Bowman dominates the competition on skis — and loves her craft
December 1, 2016
Maddie Bowman loves skiing. And in the halfpipe, the sport loves the South Lake Tahoe native back.
"Skiing has been a huge part of my life, it's something that I love and I love skiing with my friends," Bowman said. "That's the most special part, being able to share that with other people, experiencing adventure on the mountain, making yourself uncomfortable, going new places and trying new things."
Bowman has won four straight gold medals in the X Games Aspen superpipe, and is the reigning Olympic gold medalist in the halfpipe. The 22-year-old freeskier enters this winter with a stranglehold on the sport — a giant in the discipline despite only standing 5 feet 1 inches tall.
"It's not always about beating another person — because we all have such different runs it's not really something you can beat someone at," Bowman said. "You're just going out there, doing your best and your run will fall where it will."
“I think that making yourself uncomfortable is good, and being able to do that with skiing and have it be rewarding is really nice.”Maddie Bowman
For Bowman, many runs have landed her atop the podium on the world's biggest stages. It's also led her to push boundaries in the halfpipe, including becoming the first-ever female to land a switch 900 in competition — a backward takeoff with 900 degrees of rotation — as part of a gold-medal run at last year's X Games Aspen.
"When I try something new in the halfpipe, I'm not thinking about being the first person to do it," Bowman said. "I really enjoy pushing myself. I think that making yourself uncomfortable is good, and being able to do that with skiing and have it be rewarding is really nice."
NOT HOLDING BACK
After a knee injury that led to surgery in February 2015 and required months of rehab, Bowman was simply happy to be back on skis last winter — and back in competition. This past offseason, she put more work into her body in the gym while perfecting her craft on trampolines and water ramps and enjoying an active summer in Tahoe.
"I definitely try not to hold back anything while I'm training or skiing," Bowman said. "Sometimes an injury can affect you that way, and that's definitely something I try to really avoid."
Bowman didn't spend her offseason trying to learn new tricks to throw down in the halfpipe. Instead, she put an emphasis on refining the electrifying array already in her arsenal by focusing on grabbing and style.
"That's never been the strongest point in my skiing, and it's something I really worked on," Bowman said. "I'm hoping to really improve in that way and hopefully incorporate that into those harder tricks."
While taking her skiing to a new level, Bowman is continuing to raise the bar in the halfpipe. When asked what has made her so successful over the past half-decade, she initially couldn't come up with a specific answer.
"There's so many great female skiers that I compete with, and I think what's made me good is just having that technical run," Bowman said. "It's something the judges have been rewarding really highly and now there's things that I need to work on in other aspects of my skiing — not just being technical."
FROM TAHOE ACROSS THE GLOBE
Bowman's first time on skis came on her second birthday at Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort on Tahoe's South Shore. Two decades later, she skis professionally for her home resort — and her hometown.
"I love where I come from — it obviously had a huge influence on who I am and it taught me so much about skiing and life," Bowman said. "To be able to represent Tahoe to the rest of the world has been a really cool opportunity and I'm super excited to have it."
Growing up a ski racer, Bowman eventually made her way to the park scene. Even as she started to land tricks, Bowman never expected to be a professional — she was "just trying to hang" with the more advanced skiers.
"We always really enjoyed going out and jumping off of stuff, so when all of my friends started switching over it was something I really wanted to try," Bowman said. "I went and spent a season with that team and it was incredible. It was so much fun, and from that point on I was glued to it."
The Sierra-at-Tahoe skier wouldn't reveal her favorite spot on the mountain, insisting that it depends on the day. Bowman did share that on powder days Sierra's gates that access backcountry terrain are where she's likely to be found.
"It's such a fun mountain — you can follow pretty much anyone anywhere," Bowman said.
LOOKING AHEAD TO SOUTH KOREA
Bowman lives in Utah during the ski season, where she is pursuing a biology degree at Westminster College. Skiing has taken her all around the world, a perk of the job she doesn't take for granted.
"I've got to go to some pretty incredible places and ski some great powder, see some cool things — and meet some really awesome people," Bowman said. "I'm so thankful because not that many people get the opportunity to do that and do what they love all the time. It's pretty amazing."
Among her travels, Bowman counts Russia as the most surprising locale. She had no idea what to expect when skiing at the test event a year prior to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi — where she eventually delivered a gold medal.
"You think Russia and you think Siberia up there in the frozen tundra, but really it has some of the biggest, coolest mountains I have ever seen and skied," Bowman said. "You can ski something like 4,000 vertical feet — it's unreal."
The defending Olympic gold medalist is looking forward to the 2018 games next winter in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Bowman will get her first look at the terrain during a test event in February — and can't wait for her latest adventure.
"I'm looking forward to seeing what South Korea is like," Bowman said. "It's going to be fun and it's definitely a special time in one's life — I'm excited for the opportunities and adventures that will go along with it."
For the queen of the halfpipe, it's as much about the journey as the destination. Even if the destination is typically at the top of the podium.
This article is adapted from the upcoming winter edition of Tahoe Magazine, which is available at area newsstands. Be sure to pick up a copy!