A Season Ender

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Well, this was definitely not the post I wanted to write today. As I sit here with my foot elevated wrapped in a cast, all I can think of is how mad I am at myself right now.

Geez Ryan… Why did you have to go and do that?

It all happened on my last run during the finals at the World Cup in Kreischberg, Austria. 

By the time the finals were underway, it was late in the day. The sun had already dipped behind the mountains, making the course dark and hard to spot the landings while in the air.  But as an athlete, when it comes to contest time it doesn't matter how bad the conditions are. You’re in the zone, pumped up and feeling fearless.

Here's a clip from a practice day. Dark, dark, dark!


Already have landed my first two runs, I was sitting on a high score only a few points behind the leader.  With one run left, I knew exactly what was needed to win.

From the moment I dropped in, up until the last feature in the course everything seemed to be coming together flawlessly. But as I launched off the final jump into the air, during the midst of my maneuver I lost sight of the ground. Now I don’t think I need to explain that this is not what you want to happen at 25ft up in the air while flipping and spinning a distance of 70ft.  

What seemed like a lifetime in the moment was probably less than a second in reality. As the ground appeared from the shadows, I frantically twisted my feet somewhat under me before smashing into the icy landing. Within a split second, my body compressed to the ground, rolling over my front foot and was sent tumbling down the slope. 

Here I am sliding to a stop after the hard impact.

Embed from Getty Images


When I finally came to a stop and slowly tried to stand, a throbbing numbness in my foot became apparent. But with the crowd cheering and adrenaline pumping, after hobbling towards the finish corral the pain in my foot started to dissipate.

For the next half hour, I stood at the bottom of course watching the last few competitors in anticipation before running around celebrating my 2nd place finish! After another half hour of jumping on and off the podium and spraying champagne at the other medalists.. my foot seemed to be doing alright. That was until my boot came off and the swelling began.


Right after the event, with the cars already packed, the team and I were directly en-route to Switzerland for the next event. So I filled a bag full of snow and hit the road. But even after hours of ice and elevating my foot, the swelling only worsened.

The next morning it was apparent something wasn't right. My team doctor scheduled an appointment for me in Zurich to have imaging done and to hear my fate. After an X-ray, MRI and CT scan, the doctors told me I had a broken navicular bone with a slight impression of the talus and bruising to the talar head. All I heard at the time was my season was over.

The red circles indicate the area broken

 

Road to Recovery

I guess there’s really never a good time to hurt yourself, but I would have preferred it being closer to the end of the season.  I was only five events down in an 18 event tour. It’s just a bummer that I spent months and countless hours training for this season and it’s now over.  But I guess that’s the name of the game. Sometimes you have to pay to play.

Over the years, I’ve broken many bones and each time, I was able to come back stronger and more determined than ever!  Even though I’m bummed now, I understand this will all pass and with a lot of hard work and effort… I know I’ll be right back up there on the podium again.

Here’s to a speedy recovery!

 
Photos courtesy of (Miha Matavz @ FIS)
Thank You!
 
 
 

Training at the Olympic Park

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Every year as the holidays come to an end, each competitive snowboarder is faced with a similar challenge: deciding where the best place to get back on snow would be.

With snow conditions constantly changing, hard to perdict mountain weather and holiday crowds.  What you might think to be an easy task can be quite difficult. Especially when you only have a week to shake the cobwebs and get back in the zone before the contests begin again.

Not wanting to spend big bucks and chance unfavorable forecasts, this year the U.S Team did something different.  With Utah having one of their better starts to winter in years, the team decided to build us our very own private jump at the training grounds of the prestigious Utah Olympic Park.

Photos courtesy of "Wiki Commons"


 

The New Addition 

Ever since the Winter Olympics in 2002, the Olympic Park has become a training facility for athletes of all levels.  The Olympic grounds were originally only designed with bobsleigh, luge, skeletonski jumping, and nordic  in mind. However, over the years the park has added other features to aid in winter sports training.  One of these additions, in partnership with the the U.S Team, is being built specifically for my discipline…  a dry land, big air training bag!  

                  Sketch of the dry land jump (left) and take it to snow jump (right)                                 Photo -"US Ski & Snowboard"

The concept is a jump built from a material which resembles snow and can be used during the summer months. But what makes this jump so special is the landing. It will be made to act as a giant airbag, but resemble the landing of an actual jump. This will allow me and my team to train and practice difficult, new maneuvers without the big risks of getting hurt. It’s really quite something! You can read more about it here: PROJECT JUMP

To make things even more convenient, this summer jump can easily be converted for use in the winter!  As this new addition is still in its building phase, the airbag wasn't set up yet. But with the layout already built entirely from dirt, it didn't take much time to move snow around and mold an actual jump in its location.



Training Frenzy!

Over the last few days, me and team have been hard at work getting revamped for the competitive season. It was the first time the facility created a jump of this kind, and what they built was smaller than we were expecting.  So instead of pushing to learning new tricks, I’ve been focusing on perfecting the tricks I already can do… which has been a nice change of pace. It’s never a bad thing to step back from the big jumps and constant push for progression and focus more on your style and creativity. 

In just a few days, I’ll be heading off to Austria for the first Slopestyle World Cup of the season. In 2015 at this same venue, I was able to take home the win and walk away a world champion!  Let’s hope the course treats me as good as she did then. 

Wish me luck!

 

Snowboard Big Air

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All right everybody! Do I have some exciting news for you!  As of this last year, the Olympic Committee announced the addition of a new snowboard event into the Winter Olympics!   And its called Bir Air… dun dun dun! So what does this exciting news mean… 


Well for starters, it will give you the view another awesome high flying, thrill seeking snowboard event that is sure to glue you to your seats in anticipation of whats to come next!  Secondly it will give freestyle snowboarders like myself another opportunity to qualify and metal in the big Winter Games.  Booyah!  Whats not to be excited about! 

Now for those that don’t follow snowboarding, your probably wondering… What the heck is Big Air?

FIS Snowboard World Cup - Istanbul TUR - Big Air - Stassel Ryan USA © Miha Matavz

Big Air Break Down

A Big Air event is pretty much what the name sounds like. It’s one enormous jump where athletes perform their hardest and craziest maneuvers which then are judged and scored. 

How each jump’s scored is based off four categories.

  • (Difficulty) - how hard the trick was to perform,
  • (Execution) - how well the trick was performed,
  • (Amplitude) - meaning both the hight and distance traveled,  and
  • (Landing) - how smooth and effortlessly the athlete landed & rode away.

A simple way to remember this is the abbreviation “D.E.A.L”. 


Now through out the qualifying rounds, each rider is allowed two individual attempts at landing their best maneuver.  Regardless if the athlete lands both jumps, only their best score counts for them to advance. 

In the Finals, the formate is a little different.  Instead of having two jumps to land one trick.  Each ride is allowed 3 attempts but needs to land 2 tricks.  For these two scores to count and be added together. The rider has to perform two completely different direction maneuvers.  What this does is eliminate that one hit wonder and make it so each athlete has to be well rounded and consistent to win the event!

FIS Snowboard World Cup - Istanbul TUR - Big Air - Horak Petr CZE © Miha Matavz

Over the last few years, Big Air has gained steam and become quite the popular event.   Where these massive jumps once had to be built on a mountain resort far away from civilization.  They’re now able to be built from scaffolding units and setup almost anywhere.  Because of this, Big Air has gone from a mountain event to a full blown city attraction, being held in stadiums all around the world!  

Even in places where you would think it's too warm.  All that's needed to make snow is a giant ice-maker and a refrigerated tent.

FIS Snowboard World Cup - Istanbul TUR - Photo: © Miha Matavz

Let the Events Begin!

As were already a little more than a month into the competitive season.  I have now traveled to three different continents and competed in four Big Air events.  And I have to tell ya, what a journey it has been!  


World Cup Stop #1 - Big Air in the City

To kick off the start of the World Cup season, me and the US Team hit the road.  Already in Austria, we traveled south through the Dolomites and much of Italian wine lands before reaching Milan, Italy... The fashion capital of the world!  This was definitely not your typical snowboard location.

The event was held in what used to be in 2015 the World EXPO Park, or better know as the Worlds Fair.   After being abruptly closed by the government,  the park has slowly transformed into a place where all events alike can be hosted.  With some of the EXPO's creative architecture still standing,  it made a great backdrop for the snowboarding venue.

After re-injurying my knee during practice, I was faced with two options. To pull out of the first event off the season, or dial it back some in hopes to earn some early season points. As you already know, I chose to compete. By the time the night was over and all was said and done, somehow and surprisingly enough… I managed to finish the event in 6th place! 




World Cup Stop #2 - Olympic Test Event

Less than two weeks later,  I was on a plane heading half way around the world to a place soon to be the hottest topic in sports…  Pyeongchang, South Korea! 

In preparation for the 2018 Winter Games, the Olympic Committee hosts a “test event” the year prior to evaluate and resolve any problems that may occur.  Good thing too!   

For reasons that I can not explain, the stairs going to the top of the ramp were not on the priority list.  I don’t think you could even classify what they had built as stairs.  It was more a series of ladders suspended between the empty spaces of each scaffolding unit with no guards or hand rails in sight. This went up for hundreds of feet, was very unsafe and none of the athletes were aloud to use them.  

So when the only elevator to the top of the ramp broke down and wouldn't start running,  they were forced to cancel the event for the day.  Not something you would want to happen during the big show, now is it. I guess thats why they hold a test event. 

Later that night, the ladders where transformed into stairs and the elevator was fixed with a second one on its way to be installed as insurance that this situation would never occur again.

When it came down to the actual contest day, the weather started to turn for the worst but held just long enough for the event to finish and for me to get my first podium of the season. "3rd Place!"  I'm definitely looking forward to returning in 2018!!!




World Cup Stop #3 - Big Air & Festival

Just a few days later, the third World Cup of the season was under way in a small city just outside Dusseldorf, Germany called Mochengladbach. If you can pronounce it, try and say that 5 times fast.

The atmosphere for this event was much different than the ones before as this event was a festival as much as it was a snowboarding contest.  By being hosted in cities field hockey stadium, this allowed plenty of room for the Big Air jump, food venders  &  music stage.

Unable to land my tricks during qualifiers, I was forced to be a spectator for the rest of the night.  Fortunately, this wasn't the worst event to be bumped out early at. With all the attractions, live music and the rest of the Big Air event still to happen. I was able to enjoy myself and have a great time being apart of the festival while watching the finals go down.



World Cup Stop #4 - 

The next morning,  just a few hours after the event finished,  I was en-route to the High Rockies of Colorado, USA for the fourth stop of the tour before heading home for the holidays.  Unlike the last three Big Air events, this World Cup was a more traditional type venue, being hosted on a mountain resort. 

This was a much needed change of pace!  With winter already in full effect and the resort fully open, I felt like a caged dog let off its leash.  How nice it felt to ride real snow on a run greater than a few hundred feet.  Theres nothing quite like the freedom of riding a mountain!  But with being in the mountains, you get mountain weather.   

All through out the practice days and into the qualifiers. The wind blew and the snow came down making it difficult to train and compete. But In the snowboarding world, regardless of the elements, the show must go on.  So after battling through tough snow and facing harsh winds.  I was able to hold my own and walk away from the event in 3rd place!


Is funny,  now that I’m back home all I can thinking about is how badly I want to do another event haha.  I guess thats the athlete in me. But with the holidays upon us, I need to use this time to relax and rest.  After the last few hard months of; training, traveling and competing. My body needs it.   Especially because once the holidays are over… I know I’ll be right back at it!

As Prime as it Gets

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The last two weeks that I’ve been in Austria, the weather has been nothing but picture perfect!  It seems like no matter what the weather report predicted, it would still be sunny and clear.  Honestly, if it wasn't for how crowded the resort has been, I’d probably say it’s been one of the best training trips yet.

Around this time each year, Austria and the neighboring countries tend to have a lot of holidays... seems like one every week! I think the U.S should take some notes.

What doesn't help is the main lift to the training area is a slow-going, two person T-bar. The lift line can back up hundreds of feet, taking more than half an hour to get through. Fortunately, while attending the Prime Session Camp, I’m allowed to use an alternative line restricted to athletes only. Even in this line though, the wait time can add up. It may sound selfish to say, but without the Prime Line I probably would never come back here.



So what is the Prim Session?


The Prime Session is a high intensity training camp that has built quite the reputation for itself over the years. With some of the biggest and best jumps in the world, it has become a staple for every snowboard team. The camp is strategically held directly before the start of the contest season, so you’re sure to find all the top athletes here perfecting new tricks.  

Other than being the perfect training grounds to start the year, what encourages athletes like myself to come here and train is the atmosphere itself. Athletes are freshly rejuvenated from the summer with no added stress yet from contests or overlooking sponsors. The energy levels are set high and with one goal in sight… progression!

There’s honestly no predicting what you’ll see here. Once one big trick it laid down, it’s like a wave of adrenaline rushes over everyone, making them feel invincible. In one moment, the level of riding could go from 0 to 100, just from the vibes going around.  It’s powerful stuff. Even if you’re tired, all it takes is one person to get the crowd cheering and the next thing you know, your batteries are recharged! 

Sending it to the Moon!
"This isn't flying, this is falling with style!" - Buzz Lightyear
This is one of my favorite photos of the trip so far!

Unfortunately, with the continuous high energy and constant push to throw down, I busted up my knee and bruised the crap out of my ankle. High repetition and continuous impact will do that to ya.

Ice, Elevate, Repeat
 Here you can see the difference between my left and right ankle

Don’t worry, I”ll be fine. Nothing a few days of elevation and ice can’t heal. Luckily, it happened on the last day before the bad weather came in! Looks like I'm guaranteed a few days of downtime to recuperate!  

In the meantime, here's a few clips for you to check out! Let me know what you think about the background music, it’s a little jam I recorded myself 🙂

 
 
 

Start of the Winter Season

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Training at the U.S Ski & Snowboarding Facility


Since the beginning of August, I’ve put in countless hours each week training at the U.S Facility, preparing for the upcoming competitive season. I call it my 9 to 5 job 😉

On the weekends as part of my regiment for strength and endurance conditioning, I like to mix it up by getting out of the gym and going hiking. If you couldn't already tell from my previous posts, I really enjoy hiking and taking photos.

There’s just something about putting in hours of grueling work to witness a beautiful sight. Like watching a sunset from a mountain top or trudging deep into the wilderness to camp by a secluded lake. It has a very rewarding and satisfying feeling. So whenever I have the chance to combine my training with outdoor adventures, I never turn it down.

A four-day backpacking trip into Mount Robson Provincial Park, British Columbia

After Travering Devils Castel Ridge, Utah

But even though I love hiking and camping, there’s nothing more I’d rather do than go snowboarding. And I’m not saying that because I do it for a living, I say this because there’s honestly nothing quite like it.  

A snowboard in a way is no different than a painter’s brush. But instead of a blank canvas, there’s a mountain with endless possibilities. Where you go and what you do is only determined by your skill and creativity. It’s complete freedom.  So when it’s time to put away the hiking equipment and swap it out for the winter gear, I don’t hesitate.  It means its time to change gears and get back on snow!

I'm telling you, It's pure freedom

Now you're probably wondering where you would go snowboarding this time of year?  Well, for this trip I’m headed to the high Alps of Austria!


Glacial Training


Throughout Austria and most of Europe, many of the ski resorts are built high up in the glaciers, resulting in year-round snow. Because of this, it makes Europe an ideal place for winter athletes to get an early start to their season. During the fall, the temperatures and snow conditions couldn't be better.

But in order to train and have myself back up to speed before the start of the competitive season...not just any mountain with quality snow will do. To practice, I need a resort that provides a slope with world-class jumps and features. Being this early in the season, that’s asking a lot. The amount of time and money it takes to build something like this is huge.  However in Austria, there is a place!

Without further ado...  I introduce you to Stubia Glaciers very own Stubai Zoo Park!

Stubai Glacier Training Park, Austria
Now that's what we're looking for!

Looking forward to some of this!

I have to tell ya, it would be hard to find a place to train more beautiful than here. The surrounding scenery is just absolutely breathtaking. And I mean that visually and literally, as where these jumps are located lies just below 3,210m or 10,530 feet.

I promise though... the lack of oxygen is totally worth the views!

Looking out onto Italy from Austria!

There’s still a few more days until I leave, but I'm very eager and excited to finally get my season underway. I’ve now spent months in the gym, ordering gear, prepping boards, communicating with sponsors and planning my season schedule in preparation for this year. The anticipation has built like a balloon soon to pop and I’m ready to go!

Working for it – Kessler Peak

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If you’re like me and are always looking to fill your weekend with some kind of adventure, you probably know what it’s like to sit down with your computer the night before and look up every possible hike around.  And yet, still have no clue where to go. 

It’s the ‘I want to make sure I make the best of my weekend but nothing looks fulfilling’ syndrome.  I’ve been here way too many times.  

So instead of grabbing my computer and beginning the cycle, I decided to do things differently.  Being in Park City where there’s an unbelievable amount of options in such a short radius, I decided to just drive it out.  By that I mean hop in my car, pick a direction and drive until something sparked my interest. 

I took my chances and headed toward Big Cottonwood Canyon. 

A quick phone snap shot of what caught my eye while driving


Kessler Peak

Starting late in the day, I was aiming for a short hike that still had some bang for its buck.  And by that I mean an epic view!  When I saw the prominence of Kessler Peak emerge in the distance from the road, I was intrigued.  So I pulled over and did a Google search.  With a quick scan over the page I read it was only 2.25 miles to the summit, just what I was looking for!

Posing on a ridge en-route to Kessler Peak

Later that night when I went back to look over the hike details, I read that the total elevation gain was 2,929ft, and 2,725ft of that was gained in the last 1.75 miles.  Whoowe... that’s what I call some bang for your buck.

To my surprise though, once I started up the steeps and my core temperature raised, the difficulty of the hike didn't seem too strenuous.  With nice continuous grades to the switchbacks and some occasional flat sections, it made the really steep parts seem fairly short.  At the pace I was going, I would have been to the summit in less than 2 1/2 hours.  That was until I hit the mud and snow.

The trail covered in snow, hidden from the sun by the trees

During the fall in Wasatch Range, it’s not uncommon that the high peaks get a light layer of snow throughout the night.  As I started my hike well into the afternoon the snow along the trees and front face of the peak had already melted… giving me a false reading, which lead me to leave my YakTrax behind.  Ohh, what a mistake!

Looking out over Big Cotton Wood Canyon towards Salt Lake City

I don't think there's been a time where I struggled so much to go such a short distance.  You know the saying, “two steps forward, one step back”… well that was me, literally.  The combination of loose gravel and thin layer of melting snow turned the trail into a slip'n slide.

With every step I strived to take, I would slide back.  Even being on all fours, the tread of my boots would continue to slip out.  I wish I had taken a photo of the situation but during the moment, it was the last thing I was thinking about.

If I knew how far I was still from the summit, I might have considered turning around.  It was definitely better that I didn't know haha.

Once I made it high enough and traversed around the face back into the shade, it became cool enough for the snow to stop melting, allowing my boots better traction.  The steepness of the trail also mellowed making the last stretch to the summit a whole lot easier.

Such a rewarding sight after a struggle to get here

I do have to say, the snow sure made for some pretty photos

After much determination and hard work, I was able to make it to the summit and bask in my reward: a bird’s-eye view of the surrounding mountain range and an awesome sunset! 

Even with the challenging conditions and stops for photos, the whole trek only took me little over 5 hours.  A half-day well spent!

Looking back at Kessler Peak on my decent down

Might as well take a selfy!

 
 

Best Hot Spring in Utah! – Fifth Water

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My hidden slice of Paradice!

Throughout the four years I’ve been on the U.S Snowboard Team, I have made a ritual of visiting this beautiful place at least once a year while in Utah.  It couldn’t be a better way to recover after a hard week of training.  Lucky for me, the only chance I get to visit is undoubtedly the prettiest time of the year to hot spring… fall!

Not only are the leaves flaunting a colorful array of yellows, oranges, and reds.  The hot mineral water that flows through the valley radiates this gorgeous blue hue like you’ve never seen before.  It really is a magical sight!  

Fall in full effect in the Fifth Water Valley

For many, the main destination is where the manmade pools sit by the flowing stream high in the narrow valley.  Being the only pools deep enough to stand in, and perched along the radiant geothermal creek, it's easy to see why.

The man-made pools built along the flowing thermals

But for me, these pools aren’t what makes this place so special.  It’s the more natural springs hidden around that have me coming back year after year.

Beautiful lower pool off the main trail

Now I’m not sure, but each time I visit I find no one in these natural pools.  I don’t get it.  I understand they’re shallow, the ground and rock walls are coated with mud and algae, and the temperature is nowhere near as toasty as the manmade pools… but this is as natural as it gets people.  Where else do you get to lie down in a heated mineral stream, rest your head on a rock and bask in natures oasis.  It’s pretty surreal!  And personally, I find the temperatures to be more comfortable for a long soak.

But hey… their loss.  That just leaves more soak room for me!!

If you're ever around the area, I highly recommend a visit.  Its an easy 2.5 mile walk on a flat trail.  Here's the link if you're interested
https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/utah/fifth-water-hot-springs-trail

Happy Trails

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

My First Milky Way!!!

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The World of Blogdom

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Well, I have finally done it!
I’ve taken my first step into the World of Blogdom!


It’s actually surprising that I find myself in this position today; I honestly would have never pictured myself sitting here writing a blog.  Reason is, growing up I struggled with reading and writing… and that’s an understatement!

What would take kids in class five to ten minutes to finish, would take me the entire class period if not longer.  Even with the additional help of my parents, teachers and after school programs, I still was having trouble keeping up in school.  I was a 5th grade student with a reading & writing comprehension level of a kindergarten.  After what seemed like all options have failed, my parents had me tested and found out I was Dyslexic.

Thanks to the love and support of my famliy, I was able to over come this learning curve and finish out public school while being independent with my studies.  But even so, after all those years of private school and special classes.  Writing has never been my strong suit.  And because of this, I've shied away from it.

So for me to even commit in writing a blog and make it this far is huge!  I’ll be honest, I’ve probably spend far to many hours rewriting this but I feel more committed to this blog now than when I started.   


So why am I writing a blog?

Well, for a two reasons... The first being for my future self!
Since the age of 13,  I’ve been able to travel all over the world to snowboard and aside from some photos, souvenirs and medals… I have nothing to look back and remember it by.  So I plan to change that!

I want this blog to be a digital record of my travels and adventures so later down the road when my back hurts and my knees are sore.  I have something to remember why. 


The second reason is for my three F's.  "Family, friends and fans."  
I understand the life of a professional snowboarder isn't a common one.   Being on the the U.S Team and traveling the World Cup circuit, I go too many places and do things no one else will ever get to experience.  Like competing on a 140ft ramp in the Boston Red Sox Stadium or how it felt standing at the top of the 2014 Olympic venue knowing the whole world was watching.  Its experiences like these I want this blog to inform and show what it's like to travel and compete as a top level, winter sport athlete.  

So whether it’s a mountain town lost in the Alps, a hiking trip in Alaska or or me showing behind the seen action of a world class snowboarder.  My goal for this blog is to write, inform, and show my adventures wherever I go. 

With that, I hope you will enjoy –  My Athlete Adventures!

A four day backpacking trip into Mount Robson Provincial Park, British Columbia

Adventuring through the depths of Alaska

High up in the Austrian Alps!

Big Air! Snowboard World Cup in Istanbul, Turkey

Harvesting sockeye salmon from the seas of Alaska

Shin deep in salmon

The Chinook, a prized catch for any fisherman.