Taylor Gold leads new generation in the pipe | ParkRecord.com

Taylor Gold leads new generation in the pipe

Tom Kelly, Park Record Columnist

Taylor Gold stood tall at the top, looking down into the Breckenridge superpipe, oblivious to the crowds. His mind was methodically clicking through each trick he was about to execute — Method on his first hit, frontside 1260, backside double Michalchuck, a new air to fakie he inserted to mix it up, followed by a cab 1080 into a frontside 1080. Starting number one, the result of having to scratch out a last-chance qualifying run to make the finals, he dropped into the pipe — systematically executing a technically sound, stylish run that would hold for his first Dew Tour title.

It was a new scene for men’s halfpipe at the opening two events — the Sprint U.S. Grand Prix at Copper and Dew Tour at Breckenridge. It wasn’t so much about the iconic names in the sport, but more about U.S. Snowboarding’s rookies-turned-pros like Gold and Ben Ferguson.

For the aptly-named Gold, a 21-year-old from Steamboat Springs, it marked his third big event win going back to the Burton U.S. Open last March and continuing at the season-opening Grand Prix a week earlier. It wasn’t so much a quick rise for the young Olympian, but more part of a long journey.

Like every kid who grows up in Ski Town U.S.A., Gold had plenty of opportunities. He started skiing at three then followed some friends into snowboarding at age seven. A year later, he was in the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club program and never looked back.

"It’s so cool to grow up in Steamboat," said Gold. "I love Howelsen Hill. So few kids get to go to school during the day and ride at night. One of my best friends was in the Winter Sports Club program and I decided I really wanted to be a part of it."

One day, as a 9-year-old standing at the top of the pipe at Howelsen, Gold got a tip from revered local rider and coach Spencer Tamblyn. He’s never forgotten that advice. Gold went on to work with Tamblyn as a coach at Steamboat and followed him over to the new U.S. Snowboarding Rookie Team in 2010.

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"The Rookie Team was huge," said Gold. "It was cool to be part of the U.S. team. For me it was cool because we had such an awesome group of guys. There are at least five guys I still ride with regularly, who are doing well competing, who came through the Rookie Team. And the kids in it today are the next generation."

Making the jump to the Pro Team a year ago, Gold had looked to this season as his breakout. But it came early. He won the opening Sprint Grand Prix at Copper and was third in the Dew Tour. He became the first American to clinch a spot on the Sochi halfpipe team.

After what he considered a disappointing 14th in Sochi, he returned to the Burton U.S. Open in Vail — the Super Bowl for his sport. He worked on his grabs, added a Method (the judges love that, he said) and he won.

"The riders who show up to the U.S. Open are pretty heavy," he said. "To make that happen was huge. I was lacking a little bit of confidence after Olympics. But it felt so good to come back, get some good weather and have fun."

His secret to success? Just ask his coaches — solid work ethic, strong family (younger sister Arielle joined him on the Sochi team) and a perfectionist who fine-tunes every single trick before he takes it into a comp.

"I did quite a bit of bag work for the double Michalchuck," he recalled. "It took me a while to figure it out, even in the bag. Then I took it onto snow in Mammoth two summers ago and landed it first try."

In just a year, he’s established his role as the guy to beat. But he got there because he’s plotted his own course, taking advantage of every opportunity. And he knows where he wants to go.

"I want my role to be like Danny (Davis) — to be known for my creativity and style," he said. "At the same time, I want to be well-rounded. Not riding pipe all the time."

A down-to-earth young man, he’s confident of his place in the sport. And he’s also having fun. Most of all, he’s enjoying life at the top of the podium.

Tom Kelly is a veteran of eight Olympics and serves as vice president, Communications, for the Park City-based U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. A Wisconsin native, he and his wife Carole Duh have lived in Park City since 1988 when he’s not traveling the world with the team.