Silverthorne snowboarders Corning, Gerard, Mack drop into debut Olympics Friday night (with podcast)
While a young Red Gerard was first perfecting his distinctive, smooth snowboard style alongside his older brother Malachi, one of his future best friends, Kyle Mack, and his future Olympic friend and teammate Chris Corning were playing a different sport: youth football.
Before the two powerful, goofy-foot snowboarders made the full-time transition to snowboarding, both Corning, 18, and Mack, 20, were middle linebackers on their youth teams. Back home in his native Michigan, Mack’s coaches purposely put him at middle linebacker to always be at the core of the play.
LISTEN: U.S. snowboarder Dylan Thomas breaks down Olympic slopestyle
“Just ’cause I could always figure out where things were going,” Mack said.
And down on the Front Range for the Arvada Nighthawks youth team, Corning’s stout, strong and speedy frame was perfect for running back and middle linebacker.
There was only one problem for Corning, however. Just like NBA Hall of Famer Bill Russell, his nerves were so intense before football games, he’d vomit each time.
“Yeah, I was pretty over that,” Corning said with a smile at last month’s X Games.
Those same kinds of nerves don’t seem to be holding Corning back when he’s atop a slopestyle or big air course these days, as he’s one of the world’s best slopestyle and big air snowboarders. And heading into Friday’s Olympic snowboard slopestyle qualifier (live online at 6 p.m. MST), Corning has remained loose alongside his fellow former middle linebacker Mack and the always-smooth and stylish smaller rider Gerard.
Gerard, 17, Corning and Mack all enter Friday’s Olympic slopestyle contest as contenders not only to qualify through to Saturday’s final round, but as contenders to medal as well.
Just last month, all three followed up each of their individual Olympic berths by qualifying as the only Americans to the X Games slopestyle final.
Considering they all live just minutes from each other in Silverthorne, Summit County has been blessed with quite the slopestyle trio to watch in Pyeongchang. And the trio has grown closer through the process.
In his new home, just down the hill from Gerard’s house near the Silverthorne Recreation Center, Mack essentially considers Red and the rest of the Gerards as members of his extended snowboarding family.
“I used to spend months at his house, months at a time living with him — I pretty much lived there,” Mack said, “and that’s when I met Red. His whole family snowboarded and he had so much potential, he just started really progressing, and it was sick.”
Mack got to know Red after first meeting his older brother and fellow snowboarder Malachi Gerard about a decade ago. Staying at the Gerard house, Mack, the brothers and their friends favorite hobbies included playing NBA and NHL 2K Xbox video games.
But their work and play mixed most when building the Gerards’ now famous backyard snowpark.
For the past four years, Mack has been a lead contributor to that backyard project, working 20-30 hours per year on the home park’s jumps and rails alongside Red, Malachi and neighborhood friends. The assortment of park features the group cobbled together included fences lying around the yard and donated rails.
“Kind of wherever we can find them,” Mack said. “I’ve seen some crazy stuff go down there.”
Longtime close friends with Red, Mack couldn’t pinpoint an exact time or place when he first met Corning, a young snowboarder he had heard good things about through local snowboard filmers.
But while Corning and Mack continued to compete side-by-side this past year to qualify for the Olympics, the two bonded over their shared hobby of cooking.
For Christmas this year, Corning’s parents Laura and Brook said the snowboard star didn’t ask for any snowboard stuff — he gets enough of that for free. Rather, Chris asked his parents for a $1,000 Kamikoto knife set after he found a code to purchase it for 80 percent off.
“So I’m definitely going to be exploring Korean food with him,” Mack said of Corning.
Much like Corning — who overcame a lower back and hip injury suffered during Grand Prix and Dew Tour competitions here in Summit County to qualify for Pyeongchang — Mack has been battling injuries all season, most recently his left heel.
But both of these snowboarders known for their powerful, boxy styles were adamant they were close to 100 percent after last month’s X Games Aspen, the final event before the Olympics.
When they drop in to the Phoenix Snow Park slopestyle course for the first time on Friday night, the two powerful riders enter seeded fifth and 11th respectively by the International Ski and Snowboard Federation, while Gerard is seeded sixth.
As for football, Corning and Mack suppose both the psychological and physical elements of playing linebacker helped them to transition to their aggressive slopestyle styles.
That, and how to put up with pressure.
The Olympics come after Corning, Gerard and Mack weathered much pressure to punch their trio ticket to Pyeongchang. And now, its time for the biggest stage yet.
“You know, you learn a lot about life skills,” Corning said of football mere minutes before competing in the X Games big air final, “about competition skills, pressure skills and giving it everything you’ve got.”
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