Words by Owen Ringwall.
For many young riders, growing up to achieve the status of professional snowboarder is the preeminent accomplishment. Juvenile ambition is infused with the blood in their veins. The journey is lengthy and trying, often laden with hurdles and detours. Even still, for the vast majority, such an objective is decidedly out of reach. Mountains and snowboarding communities by nature are littered with such dreams deferred.
For Julia, a love for snowboarding was born from a steadfast persistence to enjoy time spent on the snow. She didn’t want to be snowboarding until she was given no other option. And she didn’t dream of professional success until it was already within reach. Together, these truths do more than characterize the growth of her career. They are the source of personality and the foundation of her humility.
At only 20 years old, Julia Marino has topped countless podiums, represented her country on the Olympic world stage, and propelled women’s snowboarding forward in more ways than one. But where one’s ego might flourish, Julia has maintained, with nothing but a smile on her face, and an overwhelming aura of appreciation and modesty.
It is in large part due to this profound modesty that we recently reached out to Julia at the summer Dew Tour in Long Beach, California to peel back the film and learn a bit more about the unsung hero. This is Julia Marino, from skier to first woman to land doubles in competition, and beyond. We’re already eagerly anticipating what next season will bring.
Let’s start from the beginning. Where did you grow up riding?
Well, I grew up and still live in Westport, Connecticut. But when I was a kid I was actually skiing mostly. My family would go to Beaver Creek in Colorado every year for family vacation. That is where I learned to ski and then snowboard. When I was 13 and I really got into snowboarding I would go to Stratton Mountain.
What made you transition into snowboarding?
I started skiing when I was three. Snowboarding was just something that I wanted to try, and I only did it a couple of times because I really didn’t like it all that much. When I was 13 I broke my ski on a trip to Beaver Creak. My dad wouldn’t rent me another set of skis because I had a snowboard that I never used sitting in storage. I think I ended up falling in love with snowboarding because I didn’t have the opportunity to switch to skiing when I got bored.
It seems things heated up pretty quickly from that point.
Every year was a progression. When I was 13 I would go to Stratton Mountain in Vermont on the weekends with my dad. We would always skip school on Friday and I would ride with the local Stratton Mountain Team. Then when I was 14, I went to boarding school at Stratton Mountain School for the winter, and when I was 15 I moved to Colorado for the winter with my dad. When I was 16 I was named to the US rookie team, and that was when I realized that I had the opportunity to try bigger contests, and that there was a possibility of making snowboarding a career.
The Fenway Big Air in 2015 was when you first really appeared on our radar. At first you didn’t even think you were going to compete, but then you ended up winning the event. What was that like?
I was an alternate and I wasn’t even planning on going. But I figured it would be a good opportunity to get practice because it was so close to home, and I had another big air scaffolding event coming up in Quebec. I had never even tried one before. I just went there with the intention of trying out the jump, but I wound up getting in the afternoon before the contest.
I had to change my entire frame of mind from practicing to competing. I was stoked to get in, but at the same time I wasn’t. To this day it was the most terrifying jump I have ever hit. It was cold, windy, the jump and the drop in were all solid ice. I just did what I could. None of the tricks that the girls were doing were all that advanced because we all just wanted to survive.
I remember you stomped a massive laid out backflip.
That was just a scary situation. You were always going way further than you thought because it was so icy. It was just that much harder to have control. That was my first major contest appearance, and since I did well that helped skyrocket things for me and get me into bigger events. I still had to deal with the nerves from everything though, because I was pretty bad at that then.
What are some of the techniques you have developed for coping with nerves?
I think experience is the best thing. I still get nervous today, but I am competing with the same girls I have been riding with for the last four years. Having that same crew, and also being friends with them helps take the pressure off. A lot of it is also about understanding your own nerves. When I was younger I didn’t understand them and I just let them attack me. I would lose my mind at every contest. Learning and building from each experience has really helped me dial in my approach.
The following year you won four X Games medals. What was it like going from not competing, to all of a sudden winning one of the biggest events and regularly landing on the podium?
I remember the whole thing was pretty surreal. I didn’t fully understand that I was competing in one of the biggest contests. Then, actually competing in it and getting on the podium was something that didn’t sink in for a long time. The reality of it is something I have only recently started to understand after the Olympics.
How has that affected your own expectations going into an event?
At first I was nervous about that. I was going into contests worried about what would happen if I fell. But there are so many up-and-coming girls. It isn’t like anyone is expecting anything from any individual rider.
How about your expectations for the Olympics, what was your experience like in PyeongChang?
The Olympics didn’t exactly go the way I wanted them to. We had a big windstorm during slopestyle and 90% of the girls fell on their runs. The girls that did land their runs only did really mellow tricks to make it through. The whole event wasn’t anywhere near the level that it could have or should have been. I think everyone recognized that, but it was definitely a bummer.
Then, on big air I got sick, and that really affected my ability to do what I wanted to. I felt really weak and super sore, and was just falling all the time during practice, which only made it worse. Overall, my first Olympics were really rough, but it was a good learning experience.
Has your view of the Olympics been tarnished at all? Are they still a career goal?
I think based on the circumstances of what happened this year with slopestyle, there are a lot of people working really hard to make sure the riders’ voices are heard. Because I don’t think the well being of the riders was put into consideration at this past Olympics. Looking ahead, everyone has a positive outlook, because now our interests will be heard instead of just those of the TV schedule. That is definitely helping everyone stay motivated.
Continuing with the idea of motivation, I have read that Nora Vasconcellos is one of your biggest inspirations. What is it about her that you like?
She is the kind of person that everyone looks up to. I just got back from watching their practice, and what her and the other girls are doing on their skateboards is crazy. They always look like they are having such a great time too.
Have you met her?
I actually just met her for the first time, which was really cool! She was exactly like she is on social media. Super nice, funny, always having a blast with a good attitude. That is always really cool to see when you meet someone you look up to.
What are some of your other influences?
Growing up I was super heavily influenced by my dad and his music taste. I have saved all of his old albums from when he was a kid and I hang them up in my room. I have some Van Halen, Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin; all of those bands have become my favorites today. I really love classic rock because you can play it regardless of the mood you’re in. It’s really creative, which translates into my love for photography and art, and also connects to my snowboarding. The three of them create this trio of creativity that all links together.
I love that idea of a “trio of creativity.” How about with travel, what have your recent experiences been like?
I think just experiencing a culture that is different than what you are used to is really cool. A lot of the time it can be really different. There are some countries that I have been to where the people are super nice and genuine and willing to help, and there are others where if you are clearly an outsider, some things can be a bit more difficult to navigate. Overall though, having these experiences at such a young age is really cool and something to cherish. I find that I always take something valuable away from every trip I go on.
What's it like being a part of the Mountain Dew crew? They have a pretty impressive team.
Yeah, I am super hyped to be apart of it. It is really cool that we have athletes in basketball too, like Russell Westbrook and Kyrie Irving. I love basketball, so having those huge names on Mountain Dew is super inspiring.
What about other sports do you find inspiring?
I don’t think the sport needs to be related to what you do to find inspiration. In terms of basketball, it isn’t related to snowboarding in any way, but we are all working hard to achieve a goal. As long as you can identify with what they are doing, anyone can be your inspiration. It is really fun to watch people that are passionate about what they do, and to watch them push themselves to levels beyond what that they thought they were capable of.
Continuing with that, you were the first female to land a double in competition, and you landed two in the same run. Have you thought about trying a triple?
I have done them into the airbag. But doing tricks into the airbag isn’t the same as doing them on snow. You don’t have any sense of fear because you know you can’t get hurt. You don’t really pay attention to what it is your doing the same way you would on snow. Then when I go to snow to try the trick, all of a sudden I am scared because I know I can get hurt. I spent too much time on the airbag last year so I am shooting to find a better balance, and to make sure that when I do go to the bag, I pay attention so that I feel confident when I take a trick to snow.
Well then lastly, what are some of your goals that you want to accomplish in snowboarding this season?
There isn’t so much a bucket list or anything. I just want to continue enjoying my travels and remembering to make the most of them, while also trying to progress women's snowboarding as much as I can. A lot of my friends are in school now and sitting at their desk. I am really appreciative and feel fortunate that I get to do the things that I do.
Overall though, I think this season I am just looking forward to having more free time to pursue other opportunities and things I can work on outside of contests. Like filming and riding in the backcountry. I don’t have any experience there, but that is something I really want to try.
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