After ‘a long go,’ Park City snowboard racer Abby Champagne considers retirement
February 5, 2019
Abby Champagne stood at the top of Picabo's run, and her memories of the mountain came rushing back to her.
The steep hill that runs to Park City Mountain Resort's base was one of her training venues close to 10 years ago.
Since then, Champagne, a Parkite of 17 years, hadn't set foot on the slope until two days before the 2019 FIS World Championships.
Tuesday's parallel slalom snowboarding race might have been her last on the hill, but she's OK with that.
Champagne, 33, said she has largely achieved what she set out to do.
Her snowboarding career started at Carrabassett Valley Academy in Maine, where she joined the collegiate snowboarding team because she wanted to compete in slopestyle.
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"They needed a girl on their race team," she said. "I wanted to do the jumps and rails and they said, 'Ok you can do that, but for every slopestyle event you do, you have to do a race.'"
But as Champagne competed, she started to succeed in racing, and began to prefer alpine events to slopestyle.
During her junior year of college, her coach moved to Park City to start a competitive team. Champagne decided to take her racing to the next level, and came out to join.
"They hired a full-time race coach and started traveling to all the NorAms," she said. "I was a junior at that time, so I was fighting to go to junior worlds and get a junior national title, then trying to make it to the U.S. team."
She didn't make the cut before the U.S. national alpine snowboard team was disbanded in 2010.
"I was on the cusp of it, and just never could push past it," she said.
When the U.S. team dissolved, Champagne, frustrated and suffering from a hip injury, decided to hang up her board and go to nursing school.
After graduating, she took a job at Snow Creek Urgent care and rose to the position of head nurse.
"I assumed I was going to come back right away," she said of snowboarding. "That did not work out."
She worked as a nurse for four years before the call to competitive snowboarding became too strong to ignore. Having traveled for races for so long, she said she wasn't happy with a 9-to-5 lifestyle.
"I worked for about four or five years, and was just bored," she said. "Bored with living everyday life. I guess I'm not the type of person to just wake up, go to work, come home and do chores, and do it all over again.
"I need to be working at something and proving myself at something," she said. "I think I was missing that. I was missing going out on the snow every day and working toward something and being able to see my results."
So, in 2014, she started racing again, competing in NorAms and FIS Cups, eventually working her way up to the World Cup circuit in the 2017-2018 season.
"I did the World Cup for the whole season, and that was the best thing," she said. "I was excited to come back and be able to do that, especially in an Olympic year, because everyone was so serious. Just getting to go to all of those and see everybody working so hard and race next to everybody, it was a really amazing experience."
On Monday, Champagne dropped into the home course she hadn't trained on in a decade — she doesn't train anywhere anymore, just competes — and finished 27th overall.
"I was the top U.S. finisher and got the U.S. national title," she said. "I didn't even know they were giving that out."
On Tuesday, she took 33rd overall after struggling to find a good line around the gates.
"I almost (disqualified) about five times," she said, recalling how she collided with hardpacked ruts as she came around the gates. "I did fight down it, but it was very slow by the time I got down."
Those runs might have been her last.
"It's been a long go," she said. "Everybody is trying to tell me I'm not (retiring)."
If she does retire, she will likely contribute her time to a private organization that funds U.S. snowboard alpine racers, the independently owned and operated U.S. Snowboard Racing Team, in addition to working as a nurse.
But she's not ruling anything out.
"I might do a couple of races here and there," she said. "If I get a World Cup spot, I will probably go race. I mean, if I have one I might as well use it."
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