After failing to stand on the X Games podium in his first three events, it’s been a whirlwind two years for Slopestyle skier Joss Christensen. The 24-year-old Salt Lake City native won the first men’s gold medal for Slopestyle at the 2014 Winter Olympics and followed that up with a silver medal at X Games Aspen 2015.
This year, the prospect of friend and rival Nick Goepper’s unprecedented ski Slopestlye four-peat stands between Christensen and his long coveted X Games gold medal. Despite the slow start to his ski season, this year may be Christensen's best shot at making it to the top of the X Games podium.
In a recent talk with SI.com, Christensen also shared his feelings about other types of ski practices, what summer activity he enjoys to ensure he spends all year long flying down the side of a mountain and more.
Ryan Wallerson: Are you healthy?
Joss Christensen: I had to take three months off this fall. I had a hernia repaired right above my belly button. This was actually the second time I've had to get it repaired. I skied with it for the past three seasons, and it's always affected me. I haven't been able to keep my body at 100% the last few years. So I bit the bullet and missed out on some good ski opportunities leading into Dew Tour and the competition season. I’m trying to play catch up, but I feel good coming into X Games and being able to say that my health is 100% is going to be huge for me. I'm feeling good, knock on wood nothing happens before then.
RW: Better to be healthy and rusty than sharp but nursing an injury, right?
JC: It can be both ways. I did it for three years for a reason. I could have worked on some new tricks and [been] better positioned for competition. But there's nothing worse than competing in pain. Your not having fun at all at that point, and it alters how you approach it. Being a little behind but feeling 100% will allow me to go into X Games practice really aggressively. I hope I can do what I plan to do and feel good about it so I can really be confident and go as big as I can on the jumps. I'm hoping for my most fun at X Games ever.
RW: Why do you only compete in Slopestyle?
JC: Growing up, I actually competed in all three disciplines. I got seventh place in the Olympics test event in halfpipe in 2013, but coming into 2014 I really needed to focus on one discipline and really try to put all my eggs in that basket. I ended up going with Slopestyle, which ended up being the right choice for me. I'm very happy with where that's taken me. It was a hard decision to make though. I used to ski a lot more halfpipe but I've always been super into Slopestyle. It's always been my favorite part of the sport.
RW: So does that mean if you did a second practice it would be halfpipe?
JC: I actually am going to be in X Games Oslo for Big Air. It’s kind of been a goal of mine. I’ve been bugging the committee every year trying to see if I can get a spot. That's definitely the next discipline for me. I really hope that this year I can work my way into the Big Air range so that I can get into Big Air Aspen 2017. I'd love to this year, but it’s so hard because it's such a small field and there are so many good skiers. It's not that I'm not trying; I just haven't been able to get my foot in the door yet.
Big Air and Slopestyle correspond really well together. The tricks that we are doing in Slopestyle at this point are mostly the tricks being done in Big Air.
RW: You mentioned an old love affair with halfpipe. Would you try to branch out into the X Games SuperPipe as well?
JC: I've never done an X Games halfpipe event, but I've done others. I would love to, but at this point I haven't spent enough time in the halfpipe. I wouldn't be able to keep up with the big dogs. The progression in our sport is so quick now that to be able to go into halfpipe and Slopestyle is really difficult. There are only a few guys [who] can do it, and I actually think the only guy doing [it] right now is Gus Kensworthy.
RW: You'll be at X Games shooting for a Slopestyle gold, but to capture it you will have to end a dynasty. From your perspective, describe what Nick Goepper has been able to do.
JC: I've skied alongside Nick for a long time now. I've watched him grow up, progress, take steps. It’s crazy that he’s going for a four-peat, which no one has ever done in ski Slopestyle. I know the three-peat last year was huge especially due to how qualifying and [the] final all ended up for him. I just have a lot of respect for him. He works super hard and he's won everything for continuous seasons. He's got a lot of motivation and dedication to the sport and he’s always pushing his tricks. He's definitely the kid with the target on his back because you know that he has the best tricks. It's pretty crazy.
Skiing Slopestyle is one of the hardest disciplines to consistently win. There are so many good athletes and in any event, anyone in the finals can take the win. There’s no true skier who really is better than the other. It's who can be consistent on that day and put their tricks down. Nick’s proven to everyone that he can put his tricks down no matter what. Of course I want to try and take the win this year but at the same time if he takes the four-peat, that's big in the history of our sport.
RW: You’re one of few people who have managed to best Nick in major competition (in the 2014 Olympics). Does that victory make beating him again more attainable for you?
JC: We have a great relationship on and off the hill but when it comes to the day of the competition, we're probably the biggest competition for each other. He's the main guy I'm looking to try and beat but at the same time it's a friendly competition if that makes sense. It is hard, because we're all so close in our sports. We spend so much time together that it's hard to make a rivalry and make each other enemies in the sense of competition. I think it's cool. He pushes my skiing a lot, and I hope I push his as well. Watching him ski inspires me to improve my tricks and ski better so I can give him the best competition he can handle. I don't want to make it easy for him by any means.
RW: You have an Olympic gold and X Games silver. If you won an X Games gold, what would be the hierarchy of significance? And why?
JC: For me, growing up, the Winter Olympics was an event I loved to watch and dream about making it to, but until about four years ago it wasn't a reality so it was never really a goal in my mind. Since day one, X Games gold has been my biggest dream and goal. That's something that every skier in our sport wants. There's just so much respect surrounding X Games because it has been in our sport since the beginning. I really feel that it has been a platform to get freeskiing to where it is today.
The other cool thing about X Games is that it’s truly the best competition in the world. The Olympics features top skiers, but the year of the Olympics, the U.S. had something like seven out of the top 10 Americans in our sport ranking system, but only four of us could go. So the best skiers in the world couldn't represent themselves. It's a different qualifying criterion at X Games, which I think better represents the best skiers in the world. In my mind, and I'd imagine in most freeskiers' minds, X Games is the event to win. It is one of the most coveted medals.
RW: Has all that competition made you a superstitious rider?
JC: For me to get into a good mode, I just need to get a good night's sleep. That's pretty hard to do during a competition, especially the X Games. I don't eat anything specifically before an event; whatever will keep me fueled all day. Whenever I worry about falling or messing up, I try to get into my own head and say it won't happen, but nothing I do is insanely superstitious. When I was younger, that messed with me more, when I tried to wear the same pair of underwear, same T-shirt. I just try to find what makes me comfortable and put my focus on making the bottom of the run and landing cleanly.
RW: Lets get off the mountain. When you're not on the slopes, what do you like to do?
JC: At this point, we spend pretty much all year on skis, but when I’m at home hanging in the summer, I like to skateboard quite a bit but my main activity off the hill is mountain biking. I just go flying down the mountain catching air, just cruising. It's so enjoyable for me. There's so much good mountain biking here in Utah that it's hard to stay away from it. Flying down the trail, catching air, almost hitting trees, it's pretty comparable to skiing if you think about it.
I like to spend my time in the mountains, hiking, relaxing, and staying away from the craziness that is the city.