LACONIA — Chas Guldemond, 26, began chasing his dream at an early age. When he first set out to see how far snowboarding would take him, the sport existed on the fringe of mainstream, celebrated at alternative competitions such as ESPN's X Games.
Guldemond's dedication for slopestyle snowboarding is about to be vindicated, though, as the event is being included in the Winter Olympics beginning later this week in Sochi, Russia. A Laconia native, he has the rare chance to win one of the first medals awarded to a slopestyle snowboarder.
Guldemond spent his high school years at Waterville Valley Academy, a private school designed to produce elite snowsport athletes. When he was 18, he moved to Lake Tahoe, working odd jobs to pay for his lift tickets, hitchhiking to the mountain and sustaining himself with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
It wasn't long, though, until the theme of his snowboarding career would become clear: the more of himself that he gave to his sport, the more snowboarding would reward him. The year following his move out West, Guldemond burst onto the pro snowboarding scene by winning second place at the U.S. Open. Since then, he has been a fixture on podiums for Big Air and Slopestyle events around the world.
While he can now afford more than PBJs, Guldemond never lost his hunger. That's a good thing, because staying on top of the snowboarding world is like trying to summit a mountain as it is rising from the earth. In Guldemond's sport, athletes compete against one another by impressing judges with their aerial acrobatics and park-style tricks. Feats that ensured a first-place finish just a few years ago would have judges yawning today. For example, Guldemond dropped jaws in 2008 by landing the first 1440 in a competition. The trick, spinning four times between the time his snowboard left the jump and when he landed again — featured a rotation so fast that judges had to watch a slow-motion replay to understand what he accomplished.
The snowboarding world waits for no man, though. To be competitive in today's competitions, athletes must pull off several rotations around multiple axes. It is expected that the slopestyle event in Sochi will see many snowboarders attempt to land a "1440 Triple Cork," four consecutive rotations while performing three consecutive front flips. In an interview last week, as he was preparing to compete in the X Games in Aspen, Colo., Guldemond said he feels among the sport's veterans who have had a hand in elevating the sport from the fringe to the Olympic stage.
"When they put slopestyle in the Olympics it was kind of an honor, a proud moment for the sport," he said, and being named to the first slopestyle team to represent the U.S.A. is an honor that he doesn't take lightly. "It's going to be amazing to support my brothers, my sisters on Team U.S.A." Since he went pro, Guldemond's life has been a whirlwind of airport terminals and ski lifts, traveling to compete in events and to find good snow in between. After seeing life around the world, he said, "I'm lucky to be an American, I can do what I love."
Over those years, he's watched the sport that he loves grow to maturity. "When I started in snowboarding, there weren't half the opportunities to become a pro snowboarder." Guldemond learned his sport by hurtling himself off jumps and attempting to ride rails, taking his lumps until he got it right. The younger members of his team learned aerial technique by practicing on trampolines or jumping into pits of foam blocks, which greatly reduce the risk of injury when trying to perfect a new trick. Guldemond joked that some of them are more comfortable when spinning upside-down than they are carving their way down a powdery slope. "Some things come way easier for them because that's how they learned."
Although he's the second-oldest on the American team — only the legendary Shaun White is older, and he's only older than Guldemond by a few months — he feels like he's never been better prepared to compete on the greatest stage. Mentally, physically, he feels stronger than ever, and his performance has followed suit. "The way my contest season has unfolded for me, it's like I'm coming up on a peak — I see that unfolding... I'm really excited, I'm trying to stay humble."
Though, there are some aspects of this particular Olympic games that give him pause. He's concerned about security, especially as it relates to regional terrorism — "It's unfortunate that they had to put it in such a dangerous place, it kind of clouds the excitement for the Olympics" — and he is also troubled by Russia's recent passing of anti-homosexual legislation and the controversy that followed. "I'm glad that I live in America and we support people to be who they are and that's what I stand for," he said.
Asked what his specific goals were for the Olympics and afterward, Guldemond said he will continue to pursue the same goal that has motivated him for years. "I feel like I was blessed with the opportunity to snowboard as well as I do. I feel like it is important for me to be a positive influence on kids." Whether he's riding in Sochi, near his home in Reno, Nev. or in some far-flung corner of the world, Guldemond prides himself on being in line for the first chairlift of the morning and pushing himself until the last run of the day, and for exhibiting that drive and dedication to whoever is on the lift with him or catches up with him at the bottom of the slope. "I want to continue to ride as hard as I can and work hard, people see that, they see that work ethic."
The qualifying round for slopestyle snowboarding will be held on February 6, with the semi-final and final rounds on February 8. Lakes Region residents will be able to watch both rounds during prime time programming on both days.
CAPTION for CHAS GULDEMOND in AA:
Laconia native Chas Guldemond will compete in the slopestyle snowboarding event in the 2014 Winter Olympics later this week. (Courtesy photo)