FINDING FREEDOM IN THE MOUNTAINS  

JORDIE KARLINSKI ON HER TRANSITION FROM PARK TO POW

Story by Tess Weaver Strokes

Aspen native Jordie Karlinski spent a decade competing as a professional snowboarder. She made the U.S. Snowboarding Team in two disciplines—boardercross and slopestyle—and landed on major podiums all over the world. When Karlinski missed qualifying for the Sochi Olympics by a couple points, she decided to steer her snowboarding in a different direction. This past winter was her first without competing, coaching or snowboarding for anyone but herself since she was eight years old. Karlinski spent a majority of her days in the backcountry, exploring her home mountains and falling in love with self-propelled snowboarding. She’s never felt happier.

TWS: How did you become a snowboarder?
JK: I was born in California and skied in Mammoth and Tahoe. My family moved here when I was in first grade. They skied, but they saw that hardboot snowboarding was the new cool thing to do. My brother and I got snowboarding lessons at Buttermilk. I hated it until I was 8. I was small, and I would get stuck in powder. I joined AVSC with my brother, who is 16 months older than me. I just wanted to do whatever he did. I saw he loved snowboarding and the switch flipped. I started enjoying it more. I credit AVSC—the coaches and the community. We started with local USSA events. For awhile, I was the only one in my age group competing, so I would make it to nationals every year. When I was 11, I started winning nationals. That’s what boosted my career. Got more confident and went on to do more events. In high school I was on the U.S. team for boardercross. I didn’t love it, but I happened to be good at it. I always loved slopestyle. When I was 17, I focused on slope and that got me on the Team at 21. My riding really excelled in 2014, but I missed out on competing at the Olympics. I’m proud I stuck with it. All the experiences I got from my competition career have made me who I am today. I’ve loved the whole journey.

TWS: How did you transition from the terrain park to the backcountry?
JK: I started splitboarding four winters ago while I was still competing. I wanted one for exercise to go up Tiehack and Highlands, the backcountry wasn’t in my vision yet. I didn’t have a lot of time for it. In April and May, when people are out there, I was at training camps. Last winter was my first without competing and I dabbled in the backcountry. I did a lot of hut trips, got comfortable skinning and explored mellow terrain. This winter, I wasn’t coaching and I was only snowboarding for myself. It totally changed my perspective. We would just go out and do adventures every weekend and then plan the next one.

TWS: How’s your mindset out there versus how it was in the competition zone?
JK: Going into the backcountry, I never go into it like, “we’re going to summit.” It’s always, “We’ll see how the days goes.” It’s all about having an open mindset. Competing is very much a scheduled and rigorous world. The competition is happening no matter what the weather does. I would train so hard and fall both runs. It’s draining and exhausting and the constant travel wears on you. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but I feel more free and more relaxed now that I’m on my own schedule.

TWS: Highlights of the winter?
JK: The Pearl Couloir in February—that doesn’t happen often. I finally rode Ski Hayden this winter, which is cool because I’ve looked at it my whole life. I enjoyed the hut trips. South Hayden, Green Mountain and a lot in the Ashcroft valley. I did a cool trip outside of Mammoth with Kimmy Fasani. I got to ride bigger lines that I haven’t experience yet here at home. It was cool to bring my skills to the Sierras. I got to get on some exposed stuff. Everything was deceptively steep.

TWS: And you lead a women’s backcountry series?
JK: Sam Podhurst at Aspen Expeditions and I came up with a three-part series to get women more involved in the backcountry. We started with an intro to skinning clinic, then an intro to backcountry day and then a two-night hut trip at Green Wilson hut. We just wanted to provide a platform for women to start getting into the backcountry without having to rely on men and to learn and gain the knowledge on their own.

“I love how it (mountaineering) has taught me to be calm, take breaths and just take it a step at a time instead of looking at the summit or end goal.”

TWS: What have you learned?
JK: I learned you have to be pretty stubborn to be a splitboarder. When you hit flats, you have to completely transition… I love challenges that I know are going to help me grow as a person. Mountaineering presents a lot of challenges—getting over fears, dealing with anxiety in the moment, learning how to feed your body properly to accomplish your goals. I love how it’s taught me to be calm, take breaths and just take it a step at a time instead of looking at the summit or end goal. Even if it is just one run, or three if we’re really pushing, the effort is totally worth it. Every run in the backcountry felt like the best run ever. You work so hard for it, but you spend the whole day outside. I always enjoyed the company, the exercise and exploring new areas in the mountains I grew up in. It’s so cool to see them in winter and to explore further past any place I’d gone before.

TWS: What do you appreciate about your hometown of Aspen?
JK: The culture of the town and the mountains. I appreciate the mountains more now. I took them for granted growing up. I’ve seen more of them in the last two years than in my whole childhood.

TWS: What’s the plan for next winter?
JK: I want to stay on the same program. I want to snowboard as much as I can, whether that’s inbounds or in the backcountry. I want to continue to explore the backcountry, freeride with my friends and develop my mountaineering skills. It wasn’t until this season—when I could pull up to the mountain and do exactly what I wanted—that I felt comfortable with where I was. Now I know this is what I want to be doing.