What does it take to attempt (and ultimately land) a new trick in the halfpipe? Jen Hudak, a ski halfpipe competitor and Olympic hopeful, has four steps to follow.
First, start small and work slowly.
“You have to make sure you follow steps and have a lot of patience,” she said. “You can't jump too far ahead because you'll get hurt. So, with a 900 (2 1/2 spins), someone's going to start with a 540 in the halfpipe, then a 720 and build from there.”
Next? Get on the trampoline.
“We work a lot on trampolines,” she said. “They're not my favorite – they kind of intimidate me – but I'm trying to utilize them more.”
Step three: visualize.
“Getting your mind and body connected to what you will be doing when it's actually time to be doing it is important.”
Finally, it all comes down to commitment.
“After [visualizing], it's all commitment. You have to have an ability, when it's time to go, to fully commit to what you're trying to do and have a belief that you're going to be able to do it.”
Hudak, whose signature trick was a 900 with a grab before suffering a knee injury at Breckenridge in 2012 that would require three surgeries, recently followed those steps to one of the proudest moments of her career.
“Just recently, in New Zealand, I landed a 900 again for the first time in 2 1/2 years, since crashing on the trick really badly,” she said. “That was probably one of the best days of my life – one of those moments where you remind yourself that things are possible.”
How'd that stack up against other notable achievements in her career, you ask? The two-time X Games halfpipe gold medalist (Tignes, France, in 2010 and Aspen, Colo., in 2010) said it was up among her best highlights.
“At X Games, there were hundreds of thousands of people watching me,” she said. “In New Zealand, maybe 10 people saw me do the trick. But it was a really proud moment and I'm definitely looking forward to having more of those.”
With freeskiing added to the Olympic slate for the first time at the 2014 Sochi Games, Hudak is getting back into form at just the right time.
After starting her halfpipe competition career in 2002 and competing in the first-ever World Cup ski halfpipe competition in 2003, the Olympic dream has been a long time coming for the Connecticut native.
“It's something I've been dreaming about for a long time – over 10 years now,” she said. “After competing in that first World Cup in Switzerland, from that moment forward, I believed our sport could make it into the Olympics someday.”
Now, with the Olympics well within reach, Hudak said the time spent sneaking onto the halfpipe at Okemo Mountain Resort in Vermont was all worthwhile.
“The first time I was in a halfpipe, I was 14 or 15 in Okemo,” she said. “It wasn't open to skiers initially – it was just for snowboarders. So we used to poach it after skiing our moguls course.”
Despite her love of the halfpipe, she never really considered switching to boarding.
“My dad jumped on a snowboard when it was becoming popular when I was a kid,” she said. “Watching him struggle, it made it clear to me that I didn't want to try to switch over. I started skiing at the age of three and I'd always loved it. I never felt the need to switch.”
And, with the somewhat rebellious nature of freeskiing, Hudak just enjoyed sneaking onto the halfpipe when the boarders were done, trying to see if she could do on skis what some of the snowboarders were doing.
“I think I also just enjoyed bending the rules a little bit by doing something I wasn't supposed to be doing,” she said. “[Freeskiers] definitely don't like being put in boxes and told what to do. There's definitely respect there though – people aren't just running around trying to be disrespectful. We just want to figure out what the limits are for ourselves and not be told what the limits are.”
After landing a 900 for the first time since her knee injury, Hudak is still figuring out exactly what her limits are and trying to regain the amplitude that made her 900 one of the best on the World Cup tour. With five qualifying events beginning next week in Breckenridge and ending in Park City in the middle of January, she's hoping to reach new heights en route to Sochi.
“I'm thrilled to have this opportunity and I'm thrilled from the opportunities that have already come from the Olympics without even being there yet,” she said. “I think it's going to mean wonderful things for the sport and hopefully I'll get to represent our nation as well.”