- Chloe Kim is an utterly charming 17-year-old who is about to become the new face of America's snowboarding.
1. She does not like, uh, snow.
"Actually, I hate it," Kim says. "I grew up in Southern California. If it's snowing on a day I'm supposed to train I'll just stare out the window in all my gear and be like, Hmmm, maybe not today. I hate being cold. If my hands get cold I'll go inside to warm them up and basically never come back out. I'm a little wimp."
2. Kim has strong feelings about highly specific things.
"I take my stuff seriously," she says. "If you have the nerve to give me the orange Starburst, I will cut you. If you give me fro-yo without mangoes, you're dead to me. If you say that Hawaiian pizza is gross, we're done."
3. She will not let romance get in the way of gold.
Kim recently broke up with her boyfriend of a year and a half, a fellow competitive snowboarder who shall remain nameless. "I was hearing a lot of rumors about him, and our relationship in general," she says. "And I'm just at a time where I didn't really want to worry about that. So I just broke it off."
It was a business decision?
"Pretty much. That sounds kind of harsh, but it's true. We're still good friends, though. At least I'd like to think so."
4. She is already being called the Shaun White of women’s snowboarding.
Like the fabled Flying Tomato, the 5'2", 115-pound Kim is redefining what is considered possible in the halfpipe, having become the only woman to land back-to-back 1080s. (She did it for the first time at the 2016 U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix, joining White as the only riders to score a perfect 100 on a run at that event.) At the 2016 X Games, Kim won two gold medals at the tender age of 15 and ever since has been the presumptive golden girl in PyeongChang. In fact, Kim would have qualified for the U.S. Olympic team in 2014, but was too young.
"She definitely reminds me of myself," White says with a laugh. "But it's not about one big trick, it's about the way she connects the whole run. She does what I strived for: big air at the top, gnarly tricks in the middle, finish it great. I love watching her ride."
5. Like all the young women in La La Land, Kim drives a Prius, but "... my Prius is dope-ass," she says. "I customized it and made it super sick. It's really fast. I just press down the pedal, it twitches a bit and then just blasts off. And then I'm going 100 miles an hour."
"But please don't tell my parents that."
6. Kim’s mom, Boran, was supposed to be the snowboarder in the family.
"I was just bait," Chloe says. "My dad [Jong Jin] for some reason decided he and my mom should snowboard together. Maybe it was to add a little spice to their relationship? Anyway, he only brought little four-year-old me as a way to get her on the mountain. He was like, Your kid is doing a dangerous sport, and she doesn't have the support of her loving mother. What kind of parenting is this? But she hated it, and I hated it less, and so it wound up being just me and my dad. By the time I was six I would blow down the mountain and be sitting at the bottom of the lift, waiting for my dad to do all of his dainty turns and come meet me."
Back then the Kims lived in Torrance, just south of Los Angeles. (They now have a family home in La Habra, Calif., and Chloe recently bought herself a place in Las Vegas.) In the wee hours of Saturday mornings, Jong Jin would carry his daughter from her bed to the car, and she would awaken five or six hours later in the parking lot of Mammoth Mountain, 150 miles east of San Francisco in the Sierra Nevadas.
This origin story is similar to White's: He grew up in San Diego and learned to ride on weekend trips to Bear Mountain. "Wait, what?" says Kim, upon hearing this well-known tidbit of White's bio. "This is weirding me out. Is that why everyone's like, 'Omigawd, your stories are so similar?'"
That is exactly why.
"That's so crazy. O.K., yeah, I didn't know that."
7. If you’re at a Starbucks in Park City Utah in December while Kim is in town working with the U.S. team, and a group of tweens who are supposed to be studying instead begin talking about Riverdale, the TV show based on the Archie comics, Kim will break off from a boring conversation about snowboarding, lean over toward these perfect strangers and chime in, "Dude, Cole Sprouse is so hot."
"Which one is he?" a clueless middle-aged man might ask.
"He's a babe," Kim says. "Next question."
8. Kim is not immune to the cresting hype around her Olympics debut but she remains, in fact, super chill.
"You can feel it in the air," she says. "The Olympics are just different. I'm not sure why; the pipe's the same size, the board you're riding is the same, you're competing against pretty much the same people. But the Olympics is the Olympics and I know it's a really big deal."
"I worry about her a little bit," says Jake Burton, the patriarch of the sport who has been sponsoring Kim since she was 11 years old. "It's like your whole existence can be defined by what happens in that minute and a half. It's very stressy. But the thing that always impresses me about Chloe is that no matter how big the event, she is always super chill. She's got a unique confidence and she puts the board down so effortless and smooth, and you can't fake that."
"For whatever reason," Kim says, "I'm pretty good with pressure. I kinda just flip it over, and think of it as positive. 'Cause at the end of the day, people wouldn't expect me to win unless they really thought I could do it. So that's a good thing. Right?"
9. Gold or no gold, Kim is already the product of the American Dream.
Jong Jin immigrated to Southern California from South Korea as a young man, arriving with $800 in cash. He bought a used car and found work at a gas station. On one of his first days, a coworker asked for a ride home and promptly stole the car and all of Jong Jin's remaining cash. He found another minimum-wage job and eventually matriculated at Long Beach State. Jong Jin earned his real estate license and saved enough money to buy a duplex, where the family lived while renting out the other floor. He would go on to amass substantial real estate holdings, including a condo in Mammoth Lakes.
Thanks to her burgeoning endorsement portfolio, Kim has already begun investing in real estate herself, with an apartment building in Korea and what she calls her "bachelor pad" in Vegas, which is also an attractive place of residence for tax reasons. For now her parents allow her a debit card with a $500 limit. "I've definitely learned the value of a dollar," Kim says. "It's exactly 100 cents."
10. Kim is still technically a high school student.
She began homeschooling in the eighth grade to facilitate her training and competitive schedule. The following year she enrolled in an independent learning program through Mammoth High, using an Internet-based curriculum. "I think I went [to campus] only once last year," she says. "And it was just to drop off presents for my teachers. Like, here's some chocolate from Switzerland, please don't hate me."
Kim likes the idea of walking at graduation and maybe even attending the prom. "But if I do really well at the Olympics I might not have time," she says. "I'm O.K. with that."
11. An important part of Kim’s snowboarding education occurred in Switzerland.
When she was eight her parents sent her to Geneva to live with her aunt Sun-hwa Kim for two years. "They thought it would make me well-rounded to live overseas," she says. "Or they were just sick of me. I'm still not sure which."
Kim had embraced snowboarding mostly to please her dad, but it was on the vertiginous slopes of the Alps that Kim truly fell in love with the sport, in part because it brought respect from her peers that was otherwise elusive. "I tried to play soccer," she says, "because I wanted to be accepted by the community, but unfortunately I'm not good at anything involving a ball. In fact, I'm terrible. I'd try to kick the ball as hard as I could and I'd miss it and flip onto my back, like in cartoons. Eventually they made me the goalie and were like, Just stand there and be the chick who gets hit in the face by the ball. And I was like, I'm totally down with that."
12. Kim always listens to music on headphones during her runs, but uses a different song for ever competition.
Ask her what she remembers about the first time she landed the 1080 and the first thing Kim says is, "I was blasting Chainsmokers' 'Roses' so loud I couldn't hear the snow." Kim's tastes are eclectic: hip-hop, depressing Lana Del Rey ballads, even country. When will she decide on her tunes for PyeongChang? "Like a day or two before it starts," she says. "It just kind of happens, like magic."
13. In the run-up to the Olympics… there will inevitably be talk of Kim's rivalry with Kelly Clark, 34, who will be competing in her fifth Winter Games, having won three previous medals. But this is about as friendly as rivalries get.
"Kelly Clark has been my biggest inspiration since Day One and she's been so amazing to me," Kim says. "She's always there for me. She's been through it all and there's literally nothing she doesn't know. She's a very comforting person to be around."
The (non)rivalry began in 2014, when Kim competed in her first X Games at 13. She dazzled the snowboarding world, but Clark held her off by .6 of a point to take the gold. "I've never felt like Kelly was competitive toward me," says Kim. "I've never felt that way toward her. I don't feel competitive toward anyone! The more you stress about what other people are doing, that just psychs you out. It was like the Brazilian guy obsessing over Michael Phelps in Rio—how did that work out for him?"
As gracious as Clark is toward her protégé, she has her limits: She declined to be interviewed for this story, saying she wanted to focus on her training.
14. Kim is afraid to watch video of herself … but not for the reason you might think.
"The thought of breaking my neck is not nearly as scary as having to watch myself do an interview," she says. "I hate my voice. I don't think I have a Valley Girl accent, but everyone's like, 'You have the worst Valley Girl accent ever.' And unfortunately my friends have caught on to this. I was hanging out at a buddy's house and to mess with me they cranked up the volume to 100 on the TV and played one of my interviews. I literally started screaming and ran to the bathroom upstairs and dug my face into towels and was covering my ears the whole time, while still screaming."
For the record, Kim has a perfectly pleasant voice. If she rides her best, the gold medal is her destiny, and Kim's perky interviews will be one of the soundtracks to these Games.
"Oh, gawd," she groans, "I can't believe you just said that. I think I just got nervous for the first time about the Olympics."