Kelly Clark (right) poses with a young member of the Mammoth Mountain Snowboard Team during the 2012 Mammoth Invitational Kids+Heroes event. Clark is leaving another mark on snowboarding with her Foundation. (Photo: Susan Morning/MMCF)
Although she’s one of the most famous snowboarders in the history of the sport, Olympic gold medalist and Mammoth resident Kelly Clark tends to keep a low profile. “For me it’s really always been about snowboarding,” she said in a recent interview with The Sheet at Black Velvet Coffee. “I’m a very internally motivated and driven person, and at the same time I try to live a life of consistency and integrity where I’m not out there endorsing things I don’t believe in. I’m not out there getting publicity for publicity’s sake. I’m pouring my effort into things I value and that are important to me, like the Kelly Clark Foundation.”
Founded in 2010, the Kelly Clark Foundation, a registered nonprofit organization, has provided more than $42,000 in scholarships to young student snowboarders over the last two and a half years. The Sheet sat down over coffee to talk with Clark about the upcoming Kelly Clark Foundation Wine Auction and Dinner, to be held at the Westin on Nov. 30, which will help raise funds to continue the work of the Foundation in the coming year.
Sheet: How did you come up with the idea for the Foundation?
Kelly Clark:I’ve had a kind of abnormally long snowboarding career—I think this year will be my fourteenth X-Games—and I got to the point a few years ago where I had a lot of success and I looked around and I realized that I wanted to leave a bigger impact on the sport than just good contests. I wanted to look back at snowboarding someday and see that snowboarding, the snowboarding industry, was a better place because I was a part of it.
I looked around, and I became very aware that snowboarding and skiing both aren’t always accessible, because they’re very expensive sports. Growing up I was the product of a lot of people supporting me financially, believing in me, and so I came up with the concept for the Kelly Clark Foundation starting to give kids scholarships to go to mountain schools. My life is kind of a testament to someone pursuing their dreams, and I think sometimes all people need to be great is opportunity. So that’s what we aim to do: give opportunity.
Sheet: What programs do you currently offer?
KC: We have two different programs that we’re focusing on right now. One’s the Scholar Program, which we’ve run for three years. Over the last three years we’ve given out $42,000 to over 25 kids across the country. With that money we fund tuition for the kids to go to mountain schools. Our new program, called the Passport Program, essentially gives other snow-related nonprofits an opportunity to apply for grants through us. So we fund other organizations, like The Station Camp here in Mammoth, and also other organizations that are focused on getting at-risk youth out on the hill.
Sheet: Do you feel you got the kind of encouragment offered by the Foundation in both your athletic and academic life when you were a kid?
KC: Growing up I went to a mountain academy in Vermont, where I’m from. The learning style at that academy really suited my personal learning style. I had a lot of learning disabilities growing up; a speech impediment and dyslexia, and I had a really hard time in a large high school. So going to this mountain school, not only could I pursue my snowboarding but I also had an opportunity to excel in academics. It’s been my experience as a pro snowboarder that it’s very easy to choose snowboarding over academics, and that’s a choice that I don’t think kids should make. I feel like excellence in both should be maintained, and that’s why I started funding education and snowboarding, to make sure that not only are these young athletes going to be successful snowboarders, but they’re going to be successful people.
Sheet: For those who may not know, what is your history with the sport?
KC: I started snowboarding in 1990, so this is going to be season 22 for me. I always say I started snowboarding before it was cool. I never actually wanted to compete. I never competed through elementary school and junior high, until an opportunity came through the mountain academy.
Once I got into competing, after about 2 years, when I was 15, I got picked up by the U.S. team. That same season the X-Games were held in Vermont, and they actually let me in because I was a good story. I didn’t qualify, I was just the local kid who got in. I ended up getting fourth in Slopestyle. I spent the last 2 years of high school on the U.S. team, and then I had one year to prove myself to my dad so I could defer from college.
When I started snowboarding there was no X-Games, there was no anything. It was a little bit scary for my parents to hear that I wanted to be a pro snowboarder. They were like, ‘Yeah, that’s probably not going to be around in 10 years.’ So I deferred from college, and that was the year of the 2002 Olympics, and I went out and I won the US Open, the X-Games, and the Olympics, all in that year, when I was 18 years old. And I’ve been competing professionally ever since.
Sheet: So what is the unique appeal of snowboarding for you?
KC: I think there’s a few things about snowboarding that really make it unique. It really is a lifestyle sport. When someone goes outside and plays catch, they don’t call themselves a baseball player, but with snowboarding, they call themselves a snowboarder. And there’s this kind of creative element to it that I love, where I can do the same trick as someone else, but it looks completely different. So there’s room for self expression in it, which I love, and which I think is what originally drew me to snowboarding.
I’ve been doing it for 22 years now, and I would say I love it more today than I have any day before, even when I started. I think it’s so great because it is something you can never master. It’s so unattainable. I think that’s what I love about it, that there’s always something to learn, always something to get better at, and I think that’s what keeps it exciting for me, after all the years I’ve been doing it as my profession day in and day out, back to back winters and all of that stuff. You know you’re never going to arrive, you’re just going to keep coming back and push yourself in a new way.
Sheet: So what’s ahead for you this winter season?
KC: This winter I have a full contest load. We started our season in New Zealand. We had our two opening events for the season, the Burton High Fives and the First World Cup, and then I’ll have a full contest schedule through March, which will be 2-3 contests a month. So I’ll be bouncing around all over the world following the TTR World Tour. And then this year we have to start getting points to make ourselves eligible for the Olympics next year, and earn quota points so we can send people from the U.S. per discipline.
Sheet: Sounds busy.
KC: It is busy. I really do work on 4 year increments. I start the 4 year journey toward the Olympics right when the last one ends, and I think about all the things I want to work on, all the goals I want to set. Being 15 months out from the Olympics, I think it’s going to be here before we know it.
Sheet: Are there any young athletes that you’re keeping your eye on these days?
KC: You know, there’s a lot of amazing young riders out there. As far as young up-and-comers, there’s 2 in the halfpipe world. There’s a local girl who trains here, Chloe Kim, and there’s Ariel Gold. Both of those girls are on a great track with their progression, and I think we’ll probably see really good things from them.
Sheet: Have you had an opportunity to meet any of the student athletes who have benefited from the Foundation?
KC: I’ve met a few of the recipients at different events and different contests, and there have been a few that are actually competing against me in the Grand Prix who came up and said thanks so much. When that happened I sat back and thought, wow. I had an opportunity to give to this person, and here they are competing against me. It’s really an amazing thing.
My whole approach to snowboarding has been to really take the sport as far as I possibly can, until I see my ceiling become the next generation’s floor. By no means am I done progressing. By no means am I done competing. I’m going to continue to lead and carry this sport, and then hopefully the next generation will take it and go further than I ever could.
The Kelly Clark Foundation Wine and Auction Dinner will be held at the Whitebark on Friday, Nov. 30, starting at 6 p.m. Free raffle and auction begins at 8 p.m. See more details in this week’s calendar section.