Q&A: Tahoe X Games gold winner Maddie Bowman on her return to the top
It didn’t take long for U.S. Freeskiing Olympic gold medalist Maddie Bowman to prove she was back on top as the woman to beat in freeski halfpipe. The 22-year-old claimed her fourth consecutive X Games gold medal last weekend, barely 11 months removed from her second knee surgery. She promptly followed that up with another top podium finish at the U.S. Grand Prix in Park City Friday, Feb. 5.
The South Lake Tahoe native tore her ACL last February and was only cleared to return to the halfpipe last month.
We caught up with the multiple Dew Tour, U.S. Grand Prix and X Games winner to find out what this most recent X Games title meant. She also gave the Tribune insight into what’s kept her on top since winning gold in the halfpipe in 2014’s Sochi Winter Olympics.
How did it feel to be back on top of the X Games podium to win gold for the fourth time?
It was pretty awesome. I was pretty excited after another summer of knee surgery recovery to be able to come back. I really surprised myself. It meant a lot to me because I didn’t even know if I was going to be able to compete. So to come back and win was unbelievable.
I think the greatest part was just being back skiing with everyone and all the girls. That was super fun at the top of the pipe. It was super light. It was nice to not only be back in the competition; just to be back with everyone was the coolest part.
When did you know you’d be ready in time?
We were just playing it by ear how my knee felt and how strong I was. I did some physical testing with the U.S. Freeski Team the week right before (the U.S. Grand Prix at) Mammoth. And we decided it would be good for me to get back in competition, because the goal was X Games.
We wanted to get back into the environment of competing. So we used the Mammoth Grand Prix for that, and then decided to go for X Games. It just kind of worked out. We were just kind of being cautious, but definitely also wanting really badly for me to get back on snow.
You got back in the halfpipe for the first time since the injury at the U.S. Freeskiing team practice in January. How did that go? Was it nerve wracking?
We had a camp right before Mammoth. It was just really fun. It wasn’t very nerve-wracking because I didn’t hurt myself in the halfpipe. It was a little stressful. I was like “Oh, am I going to remember how to do this?” Then once we started skiing, it was like “Oh yeah, I remember how.”
How did your knee feel getting back into it?
My knee felt great when I skied, so I wasn’t too worried about coming back.
With so many podiums under your belt, you continue to be the woman to beat in the halfpipe. What’s your secret?
I don’t know. I try to just go out and ski, have fun and do the best I can. I think I’m really competitive with myself, which is good and sometimes not so good. That’s part of it.
I just try to keep it fun. That’s the biggest thing you can do. To keep it fun and light is the best way to go about it.
How do you approach a competition run?
I just kind of try to make a joke, hang out, and think about my run real quick and go. I don’t have a solid ritual. I just try to keep it like any other run you would take in the halfpipe.
How did you handle the rehab process? Do you have any suggestions for someone facing that kind of challenge?
I don’t know if I’m the best person to ask that. It was not the easiest thing. It was the hardest time in my life that I’ve ever been through. People tell you you’re going to come out on the other side and be better. Sometimes it’s hard to believe. I think just keeping yourself busy during the process is the biggest thing to do. Having something else going on … school was really great for me at that time. I’m really glad I had it. Keep yourself busy and try to not think about what you can’t control.
Was there a light at the end of the tunnel?
It was a lot to handle, like I said, two years in a row. Any athlete can tell you, if you get two years of surgery in a row, it’s pretty hard. I was lucky enough to have a bunch of girls at the U.S. team — unfortunately we all tore our ACLs — we were able to lean on each other. It’s really important to have people that support you and you can support as well.
Have those injuries changed our perspective on skiing?
A little bit. Yeah. I never really understood when other people got injured, what that meant.
It definitely makes me appreciate skiing more. I already loved it. Now I really freaking love it. I really realized how big skiing was in my life.
What would your advice be to any kid out there thinking about getting into competition?
My biggest advice for kids that get into competing is: if it’s an event or competition and you’re going against other people, make sure you’re having a good time. You ski the best when you’re having a good time. It helps take the pressure off.
What’s next? Should we expect you’ll just keep pushing the envelope of women’s skiing?
Hopefully. I just want to keep skiing as long as I can. In the meantime, I’ll do some adventuring and hopefully get into the backcountry a little bit more. We’ll see what happens.