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Pipe princess

NATE PETERSONeagle county correspondent
Speical to the Daily/Nathan Abbott - nathanabbott.Team Summit snowboard phenom Clair Bidez rides the halfpipe at Breckenridge Ski Resort in preparation for the Chevrolet U.S. Snowboard Grand Prix last week. Bidez, in her first season on the national team, graduated early from high school so she could focus on making the 2006 Olympic team.
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MINTURN – Clair Bidez is looking for her McTwist.She’s got her huge straight airs, her frontside 720s, and she’s working on stomping her backside 540s consistently. The McTwist, though, like Austin Powers’ mojo, has gone missing.”I lost it at Western regionals two years ago in March 2003,” Bidez said. “Every time I tried it, I would deck out or fall. Somehow, the technique has left me.”It’s not that Bidez necessarily needs the McTwist, considering the 17-year-old snowboarding prodigy is the second-youngest female on the U.S. Snowboard Team and appears to be on course for the 2006 Olympic Games in Turin, Italy.Last season, she was fifth at the U.S. Snowboarding Open at Stratton, Vt., and eighth at the World Superpipe Championships in Park City, Utah.Her upside seems limitless.Still, Bidez obsesses at times about the void that remains from losing one of her signature tricks. She talks modestly about what she has accomplished in such a short time, but when it comes to the subject of something she is lacking, there is a businesslike tone to her voice. “For some reason I haven’t been able to get (the McTwist) back since, and I’ve tried over and over again,” she said. “It’s hard. I think about it a lot, and I think about trying it again sometime soon.”A different breedFor Bidez, stomping big tricks is more important than having a boyfriend or being a high school socialite – pretty unusual traits for a 17-year-old as attractive and engaging as she is.It’s not that Bidez doesn’t act her age, necessarily.

She was on the high school dance team for three years. She is still deeply connected with the group of friends she has grown up with in and around Vail. She dresses the part.It’s just that, aside from a profound love for her family and friends and a lifelong hobby of dancing, her No. 1 priority is snowboarding. Or, more specifically, her main objective in life is to get better at snowboarding.It’s been this way since she was 9 and watched her younger brother, Dylan, compete at the United States Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) nationals. After that, she dropped skiing and has diligently been competing against Dylan and herself to be the best snowboarder she can be. She rode on the defunct Vail team for a year when she was 10, then latched on at Team Summit when she was 12. From there she has progressed to the sport’s highest competitive level in just five years.There haven’t been many bumps in the road, save for a few injuries, one of which she is dealing with currently. Bidez has a big red cast on her left arm – the fourth time she’s broken the appendage – but it hasn’t kept her from riding.”I took a few days off,” she said. The obvious next stepBidez’s selection to the U.S. Snowboard B Team last spring was more of a foregone conclusion than a surprise after she turned in seven top-10 finishes in the 2003-2004 season.She admits that when she started riding at 9, she didn’t have a grandiose vision of becoming an Olympian someday.”It was kind of like a dream, but I didn’t think it was going to happen, honestly,” she says. “I love the sport so much that it just became that way. I just was doing it for the love of the sport, instead of trying to make it to the Olympics.”

There’s no denying, however, that she has made mature decisions to put herself in a position to drop into the pipe in Turin, Italy, on the world’s biggest stage.She graduated from Battle Mountain high school two trimesters early this fall – with a 4.25 grade-point average – so that she can focus on riding full-time every day.”It was hard,” she said. “It was kind of like an on-off switch. With school, I knew it had to get done, so I just kind of plowed through it and did my best. It’s definitely like a dual life kind of thing.”She and Dylan also work with a personal trainer from Howard Head Sports Medicine to improve their balance and their core strength off the hill.Aside from hanging out with her friends on the weekends, Bidez is pretty much all business during the week when she’s at home. After a full day of riding, she spends her time in the evening helping Dylan with his homework, working out and eating dinner with her family.There’s no time for boyfriends, or excessive talking on the phone, or too much TV.”I think the longest relationship I ever had was two months,” she said. “I just don’t have the time.”When she leaves this winter to compete in Europe with the U.S. Team, Clair’s day-to-day life will become even more regimented.And that’s the way she likes it. This summer, when she was at a team camp at Mammoth Mountain, Calif., she admitted that she did get a little homesick, but said the experience of riding with the best female snowboarders in the country continued to be invaluable – just as it has been since she started competing against the same girls during her sophomore year in high school.”It’s so much fun,” she said. “All the girls on the U.S. team this year – Hannah Teter, Tricia Byrnes, Lindsey Jacobellis, Elena Hight and I – I think we’re all just really good friends. It’s been so much fun because we already spend so much time together. We just push each other to do better, and it’s really supportive.”There’s been jokes about me being the rookie, but nothing really. I don’t know some of the inside jokes that they have yet. (The age difference) isn’t a big deal. Tricia just had her 30th birthday, but it’s not awkward in any way. We’re all friends.”

Turning the glass upside downThe one thing Bidez says she is trying to work on more than anything else is improving her mental outlook when it comes to working on new tricks and competing outside of the pipe. She sheepishly calls herself a “pipe jockey” because away from the steep, icy walls of her favorite freestyle discipline she is not as dominant on her board. She wants to get better at riding rails and competing in slopestyle events but said that to remain at the level she is at in the pipe takes so much effort already.And, some of the urban elements involved with slopestyle make her mind conjure up nasty scenarios.With the way Bidez has attacked everything in her snowboarding career, however, the evidence suggests that she will get over it. She knows where she wants to go and knows that to get there – just as she’s gotten to where she is now – she is going to have make sacrifices.In her mind somewhere, along with the McTwist, her other career goals are hiding behind images of self doubt.The competitive instincts, however, should be able to push those images aside, she said.Hopefully.”I think I’m a competitive person,” she said. “Not in a bad way. I don’t really get jealous of other people. I just try to push myself. I compete with myself, I compete with my brother a lot, and I’m really determined. If I set a goal, I go for it.” Nate Peterson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 608, or via e-mail at npeterson@vaildaily.com.


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