Gold medals are always a big deal, but perhaps they have a bit more shine when they’re the first in the field. We caught up with Joss Christensen, Olympic Slopestyle gold medalist in skiing, at Copper Mountain Resort where he was hitting the snow (with fellow Olympic gold medalist, Sage Kotsenburg) at the Woodward at Copper Summer Camp.
A Park City local, Joss Christensen started off on skis at an early age but remained under the radar, competition-wise, until 2014 when he won one of the coveted discretionary spots on the first ever Men’s Slopestyle Ski Team.
Considered an underdog at the competition, Joss had perhaps the best day of his life in Sochi. After throwing down two unbeatable runs in qualifiers, he dominated the finals with two more unbeatable runs. His victory lap included a brand new trick that he learned during practice that week—a switch triple 1260 japan. Joss won gold and, with fellow Americans Gus Kenworthy and Nick Goepper, dominated the podium at the slopestyle skiing event. It was only the third time in Olympic Winter Games history that the U.S. has swept an event.
How did you get started on the snow?
My parents got me skiing when I was like, two. I have a brother that’s four years older. I followed him and his friends around for a few years. I tried snowboarding, but I always loved skiing. I just couldn’t figure snowboarding out so I stuck to skiing.
What was it like growing up in Park City?
That was where the free skiing was really taking off. Mammoth was the original, but Park City has Tanner Hall. All the pros were living there, riding at Park City, and they were really good. I grew up and hung out with the older kids who were into it more than me—I just followed them around. It ended up that being in Park City was really huge for me. I started competing when I was about 12, so I’ve been working at it for the past 10 years. Skiing has been number one for me for a little while.
Is it going to stay number one for a long time?
Yes. It is. At least for the next four years—I want to try to go the Olympics again.
Tell me about your road to the Olympics.
That was pretty crazy. When I heard slopestyle was going to be in the Olympics I was like, damn. I was pretty under the radar at that point. I was like, I want to go pretty bad.
Coming into this season, I knew that I would be fighting for a spot, because the US has seven out of the top ten skiers for slopestyle and I knew that there would only be four going. My goal going in was that I just had to get the 4th place spot—I wasn’t going to try for 1st, 2nd or 3rd, but just the 4th place spot.
Christensen had a rough start to the Olympic qualifying season and wasn’t landing the podiums needed to earn his Olympic spot through objective criteria. However, the last qualifying event in his hometown of Park City would change that.
What happened in Park City?
I was really motivated. I got 4th the first day and at that point, I was like, “ah, that’s it.” And then the next day, I was still really nervous—I started going through scenarios in my head. I ended up winning that day and I was like, dang! If I only had gotten third yesterday I would be going. I thought I wouldn’t be going.
I was driving to XGames and I knew there were four of us up for it (the discretionary spot). We knew we would get a call telling us if it was yes or no. Right when I knew that they were going to start calling people, I was driving through a point where I had no cell service. I was freaking out. Did I get it, did I not get it? And then my coach called me and said, “I just wanted to congratulate you on being part of the first ever US Slopestyle Olympic team.” I was just like, AHHhh…no way. At that point, I knew I had to prove it.
Was that difficult, dealing with the doubters?
I’m usually pretty good about staying under the radar and staying away from situations where there will be hate. I got pretty lucky—people weren’t hating too hard on me. There was a lot of controversy against the ski team’s decision. It was hard for them because I was the reason they’re getting all this controversy.
What was the reaction after you won the gold medal?
It was pretty funny, going back on these websites and kids were still like, you shouldn’t have gone. And I was like, it’s totally fine, it’s totally fine, but I’m kind of like, I did something out of the ordinary there. It fueled me a lot; I think it was actually good.
I’ve always been on the scene, but I’ve never been the top guy. I try to take everything with a grain of salt, keep going. I try not to question anything. I wasn’t going to give up my spot and it was a chance of a lifetime. I just went for it and something crazy happened that day and I was just able to pull it off.
What have you been up to since you’ve been home?
Everything. I’m still skiing a bunch; I did some other contests after the Olympics and did a bunch of media interviews. I finally went on vacation for myself—I went to Costa Rica for six days in the middle of June.
After winning the gold, do you feel different now?
I’m still the same ski nerd. I feel like all my other friends that are pros are still a level above me and I’m still their minion, following them around, skiing with them, watching and loving everything they do. I definitely don’t see myself as this huge pro skier.
One thing I find really funny is when I meet people, or I see people around town, they act differently towards me now. I’m like, I’m still the same weird kid—I still like to play video games. I still sit in my room a bunch and I have the same friends and I wear the same clothes. I just have this crazy piece of hard wear in my closet.
Now for some quick fire questions:
Favorite Mountain: Park City
Most Fun Person You’ve Skied With: James Woods. He’s always excited and happy. When I get down, he brings me up.
Favorite Ski Movie: Ski Movie 3: The Front Line. It’s the first one I saw. It really got me into skiing. My brother’s friend brought it over and my parents wouldn’t let me watch it in the same room because there was rap music with swear words—I was like, 11 or 12. I remember walking outside and watching through the window, just through the cracks of the blinds. And then the first time I got to actually watch it, my dad took it away because there were too many swear words. It was funny.
Breakfast Before You Hit the Slopes: I don’t always eat breakfast; I drink coffee a lot. But my go-to is honey vanilla Greek yogurt with some sort of granola and bananas. I can’t stomach a lot of stuff in the morning.
Favorite Skiing Competition: This year was the first year in Park City for slopestyle. It was one of the best slopestyle courses I’ve ever been on. I’ve always loved Sunday River for the Dumot Cup. That’s the most fun course.
Fun Other Than Skiing: I like to mountain bike a lot.
Guilty Pleasure: Besides Xbox? I don’t play as much anymore. Probably McDonalds. The Big Mac meal with Powerade or an iced mocha. It’s usually the iced mocha.
Weirdest Thing You’ve Seen from a Ski Lift: I was on the lift at Whistler. We came to an abrupt stop—they just had so much snow. The chair swung down, our skis touched the snow and then we went above the post. I thought the whole chair was coming off. On the next time we touched, I just skied off of the lift. I thought I would get in trouble so I skied off into the woods and hid for a while. That was the craziest thing.