Maddie Bowman doesn't even realize how good a season she's had until I point it out. "You've had a great season," I say, and then she just shrugs and laughs uncomfortably. "I guess so," she responds. "I just take it one contest at a time."
To review, Bowman won women's ski halfpipe at the Winter Dew Tour at Killington, Vt., and got third at the Snowbasin, Utah, stop of the Dew Tour. She got a silver medal at Winter X Games Aspen. In February, Bowman got the call that she was invited to join the U.S. National Halfpipe team. Most people would call that a pretty solid season.
When Bowman, who turned 18 in January, walks into the lobby of the Hotel Diva in Tignes, France, she's just come from lunch in the athlete dining area and her signature long braid, which often sticks out of the back of her helmet, bounces along her back. She's in France to compete at the Winter X Games Tignes, where she'll take sixth place in the women's pipe finals.
She says she wasn't expecting to podium at Winter X in Aspen. "It took a while for that to sink in. It was such a shock. It felt like such an accomplishment to even be there. They only take eight girls so just to be one of those eight is pretty special."
Bowman is a senior at South Tahoe High School, on the border of California and Nevada, and captain of her State Championship-winning high school soccer team. She's planning to graduate this summer and then move to Utah to attend Westminster College and focus on her ski career. "I'll probably go to school in the fall and then take the spring off," she says. "I'm going to put skiing first because you only get this opportunity once in your lifetime."
And what an opportunity it is. Bowman will be 20 years old when ski halfpipe makes its Olympic debut at the Sochi, Russia, Winter Olympics in 2014. The perfect age, some might say, to contend for a gold medal for the U.S. "I feel like it's just the right time," she admits. "I'm just coming up this year, so it's exciting. As a kid, I always dreamed of being in the Olympics."
When she got the call earlier this winter that she was being added to the U.S. team, she became one step closer to that dream. "The U.S. team is giving me all the support they can -- they have the PT and the ski tech and the coaching. It's helped a lot," Bowman says. "You don't have to worry about as many things. That support has been great."
With help from her coaches and her teammates, she's working on improving her halfpipe run for next season to include some new tricks. "Women's halfpipe skiing has definitely come a ways and we're all trying more things," she says. "[Canadian] Megan Gunning has back to back cork 9s, left and right. That is sick."
At the end of the day, though, Bowman is the first to admit that she's in this sport just for the fun of it. "Even though skiing can be stressful at times, I try to remember that I'm doing this because I'm a kid and it's fun," she says. "This is my outlet so I don't have to grow up."
"You don't want to grow up?" I ask her.
"People take themselves so seriously. One of my friends got a serious job and I was like, 'Why would you want to do that now? You're going to do that for the rest of your life,'" she says. "I have a serious fear of growing up. But I've got skiing, so for now, I don't have to worry about it."