The fire within Noah Bowman
In January 2012, Canadian freeskier Noah Bowman was an alternate for Ski Halfpipe at the X Games in Aspen, Colo. He showed up in Aspen not expecting to compete.
"It was pressure-free practice in a perfect halfpipe," he says.
But then, the day before qualifications, another athlete dropped out and Bowman, then 19, got word that he was in. Suddenly, the pressure was on.
Just days earlier, he'd learned a switch alley-oop double 900, an insanely difficult trick that nobody had done yet.
Bowman qualified for finals, where he stomped the new trick in a flawless run that catapulted him into the silver-medal position at his first X Games appearance.
In just one contest, Bowman went from alternate to superstar.
But then, in 2013, when all eyes were on Bowman, he faltered in the spotlight and missed qualifying for finals at the X Games in both Aspen and in Tignes, France, by just one spot.
"Last season was one of the more frustrating seasons I've had," Bowman, now 21, said recently from Whistler, British Columbia, where he's spending the summer skiing and coaching on the glacier.
"I know I have the ability to be on the podiums, but when I'm not skiing to my potential and not getting the results I'd like to have, it's obviously frustrating," he continued. "The biggest thing was I was holding back on certain tricks. That switch alley-oop double -- I didn't do that in competition at all last year. I need to get my confidence up again."
He says he felt burnt out after last contest season, so he took most of April and May off from skiing halfpipe. "I needed to change my mindset and not think about skiing," he says.
But this summer he's gotten back into it, training and coaching at Momentum Ski Camps in Whistler. "I'm definitely in intense mode now, trying to learn as much as I can and get as prepared as I can," he says.
Bowman doesn't have much time to waste.
In February, ski halfpipe will make its Olympic debut in Sochi, Russia, and Bowman hopes to qualify as one of four athletes from the deeply talented Canadian halfpipe team, which also includes medal contenders Justin Dorey, Mike Riddle, Matt Margetts and others. The athletes will be chosen based on results at select qualifying events this coming fall and winter.
"I don't want to get too ahead of myself and say I want to win an Olympic gold," Bowman says. "At this point, I just want to qualify, get there and do my best."
He made his first trip to Russia last February for an Olympic test event and World Cup halfpipe contest. "The venue itself was way better than I thought it was going to be," he says. "It definitely boosted my confidence that they're going to have a good halfpipe for the Olympics."
For now, Bowman will head home to Calgary in August for a brief break before the start of the World Cup events and a Canadian team training event in August in New Zealand.
And if he doesn't qualify for the Olympics? "I will be bummed, but there are still other competitions," he says. "The Olympics aren't the only thing. I would just focus on the other competitions and make sure I'm there and ready for the next one in 2018. I guess we'll just have to wait and see."