Arielle Gold is, as much as anybody, a pipe jock. She has some recent X Games and Dew Tour hardware and a 2013 FIS World Championship title to show for it, made the trip to Sochi with Team USA in 2014, and has been climbing onto some podiums this season, including a third place finish at the Dew Tour in December and a recent second place finish at the U.S. Grand Prix at Park City. The 18 year-old rider’s name gets thrown around a lot in any discussion about the future of women’s halfpipe competition: She’s athletic, trains hard, and has chosen to focus her energy on progression in the pipe.
Still, the term “pipe jock” makes her bristle.
“It just seems like such a slight,” she says. “There’s this biased view throughout the industry against pipe riders that I’ve never quite understood, and I think what bothers me most about that term is how widely it’s used. And then you look at slopestyle: many of those riders focus primarily on slopestyle competition but you never hear people calling them ‘slope jocks’. I don’t know why, but I find it offensive.”
It’s not as if her all-around rider cred needs establishing. Gold grew up slashing the trademarked Champagne powder of Steamboat Resort and riding in the backcountry around her home in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. “I mean, I love riding pow,” she says. “I can’t think of a snowboarder who doesn’t.” She competed in halfpipe, slopestyle, and boardercross events as a kid and credits all three with shaping her into the rider she is today. Now she has made the terrain park at Breckenridge her second home, but blasting in the pipe is what she is most passionate about and she can’t believe how much grief she’s gotten for making it her main focus.
“Snowboarding is supposed to be about everyone supporting each other and having fun, so this criticism always feels misplaced,” she says.
Like any halfpipe rider, Gold has pretty thick skin. She can take some good-natured ribbing. Lately, however, it has started to feel like more than that.
“I’d been running with Burton Snowboards ever since I started snowboarding, and then coming out of last season they cut over half their team,” Gold says. “Unfortunately they’re not the only one: I’ve lost other sponsors recently and I’ve seen many other companies cut a lot of my friends. I know it’s nothing personal and it’s just that sponsors are in a position where they need to pick and choose, but it’s unfortunate that pipe riders seem to be the first to go when those decisions are being made.”
Although halfpipe competition remains a marquee TV event at the Olympics, X Games, and Dew Tour, and Gold’s schedule is as packed as ever between FIS and World Snowboard Tour events, she worries that the core snowboarding community is turning its back on the halfpipe just when things are getting as exciting as ever.
She knows that she and her fellow riders, male and female, have merely scratched at the limits of what’s possible within the confines of the old U-ditch. She sees a path of progression carved by the guys that reminds her that more style, bigger airs, bigger spins, double corks, and maybe even triple corks are in the future for women’s halfpipe snowboarding. She’s been inspired by friends like Elena Hight with her first-ever alley-oop double rodeo to remember that women can also lead the pipe progression charge all on their own.
“I think women’s snowboarding is going in a really good direction and the level of riding in the pipe is coming up,” Gold says. “We’re following a similar progression to what the men have been doing, and when Elena learned her double cork a lot of us started thinking hard about what else we might be capable of.”
So, why the lack of respect?