Twenty firsts -- Elena Hight's new trick
When snowboarder Elena Hight set out to learn double cork spins, merely being the first female to land one in the halfpipe wasn't enough. She ended up bringing the first-ever alley-oop backside double rodeo to X Games in 2013.
"The boys were going crazy with the doubles, three and four doubles in a single run by the time I got myself psyched up to try one," Hight says. "I've always been inspired by all the guys in snowboarding and wanted to see if it was possible to do something that had never been done, a double none of them had ever landed before."
A decade earlier, Hight had blasted her way into the pro snowboarding game as the first woman to bring 900s to the pipe, landing one at her first U.S. Grand Prix event in 2003 when she was just 13 years old. She went on to represent the U.S. in the Olympics in both 2006 and 2010, but found herself perpetually in the shadow of Kelly Clark. By 2012, Clark -- then one of very few women consistently landing 1080s in her runs -- was winning nearly every women's halfpipe competition.
"I just lost some of my passion for competing during that time, and I knew that if I was going to keep at it I needed to step it up," Hight says.
She determined to take on the 2012-2013 winter season with an all-or-nothing approach. In May 2012, at a U.S. team training camp in Park City, Utah, she began hitting the trampolines and foam pits with a vengeance, then took the new trick to a halfpipe with an airbag setup at Mammoth Mountain, California. The first footage of her landing the double rodeo to snow went online immediately.
"I was super excited to get over that hurdle because it's definitely the scariest trick I've ever tried," she says. "My main goal after that was to land my run with a double in it at X Games."
There was obvious pressure to try the new trick -- once that video went online, everyone wanted to see it in a contest -- but she says she felt the weight of her own expectations most acutely.
"I was so anxious about having to do it that I wasn't sleeping at night, just pacing around my house thinking about doing this double," she recalls.
In practice at X Games Aspen in January 2013, she bombed down the X Games pipe, one-hitting it at the bottom and landing the double rodeo in front of her competitors.
"Everyone just started cheering and that was really the coolest feeling, because that was when everyone knew I was planning on throwing it," she says. "After all the hype around it, landing it in practice in front of all the girls was almost as special a moment for me as actually doing it in the contest."
For the big show under the lights, she planned to land it in a complete run, hopeful that it would be enough to best Clark for the top of the podium.
"There's no other feeling like landing something like that in a contest on your first try," she says. "When I finished that run I was shocked that I was on my feet, riding away like, 'Wow, did that really just happen?'"
Still, bringing a double to women's competition wasn't the game-changer Hight hoped it would be. Clark bumped her down to silver medal position that night, thanks to much more amplitude and the 1080.
Since then, Hight has struggled to land the trick in competition again, though she's getting more consistent with it in practice. Shaun White has since tried and landed the alley-oop backside double rodeo, but Hight remains the only female ever to have landed a double, any double, in the pipe.
"It really opened up some doors for me and probably for a lot of the girls to believing that just about anything is possible," she says. "I do hope to see more girls stepping it up now, and hope I can be some kind of example. The women's side of the sport has progressed slower than the men's from the beginning, but now that more girls are getting into it and pushing it harder it's rad to see things that have never been done starting to happen."