Words by Mati Schmitt
In Argentina, snowboarding is not a very popular sport, ski resorts are far from big cities, and winter sports are a luxury that only a few can access. I was fortunate to grow up in Patagonia Argentina, in Bariloche, at the foot of Cerro Catedral, and this allowed me to start snowboarding at a young age. My friends and I learned to ride the mountain and at that time that was our park as we were going off of every sidehit we could find.
When they confirmed that Slopestyle was going to be one of the disciplines at Sochi 2014, the Idea of being there representing my country started to solidify into a goal I wanted to achieve. I garnered some support and started to go to World Cup stops around the world to try to qualify for the Olympic Games. I wasn’t exactly sure of the process, but my friends and I just went for it, doing our best at every competition. At the end of the circuit, we realized that we weren’t even close to achieving our goal, but that didn’t deter us from continuing to try and set our sights on Pyeongchang 2018.
By this time, we had garnered ample support from the entire country, which pushed us even harder to succeed. Qualifying for the Olympic Games in Slopestyle/ Big Air is not easy at all. There are only 40 spots and each country can only take a maximum of 4 riders. In order to qualify, you must compete in the World Cup circuit in both disciplines and maintain good results on every contest, because each event gives you points.
Every stop was incredible, there may have been the pressure of competing, but having the opportunity to participate in events like the Laax Open in Switzerland or Air and Style in China was me finally living my dream. There were times when it was stressful, especially when it got down to the wire and I was on the bubble fighting for one of the last few available spots to qualify for the Olympic Games.
I managed to make it to the finals at one of the last few Olympic qualifier stops- the Grand Prix at Mammoth Mountain, CA. It was an incredible feeling and the first time I realized that I had what it takes to make it to the Olympics and represent Argentina in Pyeongchang. After that, I had the World Snowboard Championships at Sierra Nevada, where I didn’t do as well as I would have liked, but then made up for it at a contest in the Czech Republic the following week.
Riding the Olympic qualifiers wave was a whirlwind of emotions. I would go from a tremendous euphoria knowing that the end was in sight to being bummed about my standings a few days later. The entire 18 months was a crazy time filled with emotion, snowboarding and epic travel with great friends.
At the end of the road of the Olympic qualifiers was the Laax Open in Switzerland, but it unfortunately was canceled due to weather. This solidified me being bumped from the Olympics by only two spots and there was nothing more I could do. My coach and I spent the next few days discussing the possibilities of me being able to come off the bubble at the last minute and actually compete and we decided it was worth it to travel to Korea anyways. Sven Thorgen was injured and qualified, and we had a feeling he would not be healed enough to compete. I spent the first few days in Korea walking around the freezing cold streets of Seoul with my coach, trying to enjoy the unique opportunity that I had being in Korea, but my mind was only on one thing:
“Would I be able to drop in at the Olympics?”
Finally, at the last possible minute, and the first day of Slopestyle practice, Sweden confirmed that Sven would be withdrawing from the games and that I was in! There are no words to express what I was feeling at the moment besides pure, unadulterated joy. The fact that I was finally able to compete at the Olympic Games, representing Argentina, was the culmination of many years of training and effort. I had finally achieved a goal and made my dream a reality. It felt like just yesterday that I embarked on this wild ride to qualify amongst the best snowboarders in the world and now I’m one of them!
I ended up not placing as high as I would have liked in the Olympics, but it didn’t matter at that point, because I was proudly representing Argentina amongst all the other snowboarders that had grown into my friends. Some of the best days I’ve had snowboarding were in Korea, the stoke was high at every training session and I was so grateful for every minute on snow there. Now that I’ve come home, I’ve just focused on why I started snowboarding, which is having fun with my friends and it’s been so epic!