This time four years ago, Rigby snowboarder Jessika Jenson was preparing for the final stretch of qualifying events for the inaugural U.S. Olympic slopestyle snowboarding team for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Four years later, the 2009 Rigby High School graduate and eastern Idaho’s first Winter Olympian since Rexburg native and 1964 Olympic skiier Margo Walters McDonald of Rexburg is vying to make her second Olympic team. The 2018 Winter Olympics are four months from Monday, scheduled to begin February 9 in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
“I can’t believe four years has gone by this fast,” Jenson said in a phone interview with the Post Register.
The qualification process for slopestyle snowboard was brand new for 2014, the year the sport made its Olympic debut. Athletes competed in designated Olympic qualifier events and acquired FIS World Cup points based on how they placed. The higher the finish, the more FIS World Cup points the athlete received. By the same notion, the more points a particular nation accumulated through Olympic qualifiers, the more likely that nation could send the maximum number of allotted athletes in that discipline to the Olympics. This was true for the U.S. in 2014. Four was the maximum number, and Jenson was one of those four women to compete in Sochi.
The 2018 qualifying process has been tweaked due to the addition of another discipline which makes its Olympic debut in Pyeongchang: big air. Jenson has competed in both slopestyle and big air since 2015, including at the Big Air Fenway event in Boston in February 2016, and the discipline will be a factor in who makes the 2018 U.S. Olympic snowboarding team. One 2018 Olympic qualifier happened during the 2016-17 season at Mammoth Mountain, Calif., and the four remaining qualifiers are scheduled between December and January. An athlete’s top two best finishes from all of their Olympic qualifiers will be used to determine who makes the team.
“From my understanding, if we have four Americans in the top FIS world rankings by the time (qualifiers) are all over with in January, we can send four girls,” Jenson said. “Whoever goes for slopestyle also goes for big air.”
Jenson enjoys both disciplines for different reasons. Elements are more the focus for slopestyle, which usually has three jumps and three rails in a course. Big air is one big jump, which Jenson said makes it great for spectators and athletes alike.
“What I like about big air is you have less features to focus on,” Jenson said. “It’s super fun to be able to put down your best trick and hopefully move on to finals where you put down your two best tricks.”
Jenson said she is physically 100 percent healthy for this season. She spent the summer traveling with her parents and sisters, dirt biking and frequenting the Cable Factory in Rexburg and Ririe Reservoir. In late August and early September, she and other U.S. snowboarders traveled to Cardrona Alpine Resort in New Zealand to compete at Winter Games New Zealand. Upon returning to the States, Jenson occasionally commuted from Idaho to Park City to train. She left Saturday to join her U.S. teammates for a training camp in Switzerland.
Jenson said the 2018 team will be more difficult to make than 2014. Her 2014 Olympic slopestyle snowboarding teammates Ty Walker and Karly Shorr and defending Olympic champion Jamie Anderson are vying for 2018 spots as well as Hailey Langland, 17, and Julia Marino, 20. Langland won women’s big air snowboarding while Marino won women’s slopestyle snowboarding and placed third in big air at Winter X Games in January.
“Making the Olympic team for Team USA is probably the hardest team to make in women’s snowboard slopestyle,” Jenson said. “The top three riders in the world can go to Jamie, Hailey and Julia easily.”
Olympic qualifiers were both exciting and nervewracking in 2014, when Jenson snagged the fourth and final U.S. women’s team spot. She said she is entering the remaining 2018 qualifiers focused on what she can do.
“My main focus is not necessarily am I gonna make it to the olympics or not,” Jenson said. “My main focus is I need to take advantage of every opportunity that I have to train and make the most of every day.”
In recent seasons, yoga has been incorporated into Jenson’s mental training. She said she has five ‘key points’ she references when competing, all of which have helped her. Two of the biggest ones are to give her all and live in the moment.
The latter of the two particularly strikes a chord with Jenson. Some days, it means focusing on each individual element of a slopestyle run instead of worrying about a desired result. Other times, it means remembering who she is: a daughter, a sister, a Rigby girl who grew up snowboarding at Kelly Canyon Resort and an athlete with an opportunity to make a second Olympic team.
“I think sometimes we’re so caught up in all these stresses that you forget how thankful you are to be in that moment to have that opportunity,” Jenson said. “I’m fulfilling a dream of mine. I’m doing what I love. Sometimes I have to remind myself.”