This article is presented by Mountain Dew.
At the top of the slopestyle course at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado, Julia Marino stood for a moment, poised for her rookie appearance. With one medal in the bag, a bronze in the single-jump event known as Big Air, she dropped into the course, then effortlessly threw a cab double underflip, a trick in which she spins off-axis and upside down twice and clinched the gold. Competitive snowboarders chase this medal their entire careers, and Marino won it on her first try.
This spectacular debut landed Marino, whose friends call her Jules, on the start list at every major competition. She signed pro deals with sponsors Mountain Dew and Burton. She made the U.S. Olympic team for the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. And through it all, she kept racking up podiums, seemingly unfazed by the pressure of high-level competition. Not surprisingly, her rise to the top coincides with the rise of a new wave of female riders. We caught up with the 21-year-old last week, while she was at Dew Tour in Breckenridge, Colorado, where she started off her winter with a second-place finish in women’s slopestyle.
VICE Sports: Your first major contest win was at the Fenway Big Air in 2016, but you had yet to really break into the big leagues before appearing at Winter X Games the following winter in Aspen. That’s when you exploded onto the scene. What was that like for you?
Julia Marino: It was definitely super quick. I feel like everything I have done in snowboarding has been really quick. When I first began snowboarding I was only 12, and I started competing right off the bat. Everything ramped up so quickly and X Games was a part of that. It was such a surreal moment. It took me a long time to have that sink in.
All of a sudden, you’re standing on the podium with riders you had long looked up to. How was that?
That was definitely a crazy moment. Honestly, I had no idea what was happening because being into snowboarding in this way was not my goal when I was younger. I was splitting time snowboarding with competitive soccer until I was 17 years old. I got a scholarship to play Division I soccer and had to choose between that and snowboarding, which was really hard. Then all that craziness at X Games happened and I was like, “I'll go with snowboarding.” It's way more fun.
What was it like going back and forth between a team sport and an individual one?
Even though snowboarding is so individual, we have the US Team and I have all my friends that I ride with, and we’re so supportive of each other. Snowboarding is more of a team sport than people think, because your friends are always rooting for you. Having friends in snowboarding is a really important thing.
Watching women’s slopestyle, it does seem like you guys are genuinely friends, pushing one another through competition.
That's exactly what it’s like. We travel the world together. We see each other at every contest. These are the people that you're always with, so why wouldn't you want to be friends with them? I don't see how you could progress without that influence, without people pushing you. When you see your friend do something super sick, you want to do it, too, and they motivate you to try.
How did you first get into snowboarding?
I started skiing on family vacations when I was three. We live near New York City in Connecticut—not a very mountainous area—so we would go to Colorado once a year. I tried snowboarding a few times, but I wasn't really into it. I preferred skiing because everyone in my family did it. We were at Beaver Creek when I was 12 and I broke my ski, snapped it clean in half. My dad wouldn't rent me a new pair, so I had to focus on snowboarding for the rest of the trip.
It was sink or swim, so to speak.
I was like, “Alright, this is kind of cool.” By the time I was 13, I loved snowboarding. I joined the Stratton Mountain team and went up to Vermont on weekends with my dad. The next year, I started going to Stratton Mountain School and that's when things started kicking in a bit more. But it was still so random to me. Snowboarding was just an adventure that had no particular destination, really.
When did your snowboarding get serious?
I think it was when I stopped playing soccer and started doing bigger tricks that I wanted to focus completely on snowboarding. When I was 15, I spent the winter in Breck [Breckenridge], and the next winter in Vail. Then, I got on the US Team and I think it was then that it became something I wanted to do professionally. I was doing more competitions and making new friends and it was really fun.
What do you like about competing? What's challenging?
I like seeing what we are capable of in certain conditions. This past season, it was windy at almost every single contest. There are times when I've competed and I was like, “Wow, I would never ever, ever hit these jumps on a normal day.” During contests you can surprise yourself with what you’re capable of when the adrenaline is pumping and the cameras are on. The other side is that competing is really stressful. The course is always pretty big and you want to land your run and you don't want to get hurt.
What’s the thought process behind your own tricks?
It’s definitely cool to incorporate style and for that to not be forgotten. I think if I wanted to try new stuff, it would not just be the biggest rotation that I could do, but I also want to try to make it look good.
How do you deal with the pressure?
I'm actually pretty bad at doing that. I don't know how it hasn't driven me insane already ‘cause I am so bad at dealing with the nerves. It's really important when in a stressful situation to be around friends. For me, with Hailey [Langland] at the top, we’re always laughing and it takes my mind off of everything and keeps me from overthinking.
Do you have any rituals you do before competing?
I don’t really. I just watch TV and go to bed and then wake up the next morning like, “Oh god, I have to compete.”
How has your state of mind changed as you’ve competed in more competitions?
When I first started I was really unaware of what was going on. It was all the unknown. I was more fearless back then. Now, this is my career and there's more on the line. This is how I make a living.
What makes you keep pushing yourself?
Just the fun of snowboarding. It’s extremely creative, and you can make it what you want. That keeps me going.
Last weekend the Dew Tour kicked off the contest season. This year it was a particularly unique event because the slopestyle was broken into two different sections, one with only jumps and one with only rails. How did it go?
This year’s Dew Tour course was something new to try, and we're always going to adapt to the situation. The rail runs were way more technical than they would be in a traditional course. It was cool to see what everyone pulled out because those rails were not small. It made all the girls think, “Okay, let's try to make our slope runs in general even better.”
And you earned second place.
That was my first-ever Dew Tour trophy, so it was pretty cool. I’m stoked because I have always struggled in the past Dew Tours, coming up short, and not being able to pull off my run.
It seems that at every event, the progression of women’s snowboarding is cranked up another notch—you guys collectively reinforced this at Dew Tour in Breckenridge. What is it like to be a part of this momentum?
I think now the progression is magnified by Anna [Gasser]. She's been kicking it off to a crazy level. The tricks that are going to be expected in competitions are going to be pretty insane and a lot of the girls are gearing up for that. When I first did a double cork, I thought that was as big as it could go. When Anna started doing her doubles and Hailey started doing hers, that was a pretty crazy level. Then Anna did the triple [in November], so it's definitely still going and pretty fast, too. I think now everyone is realizing their potential and doing absolutely crazy stuff.
This article originally appeared on VICE Sports US.