Amidst the never-ending avalanche of pro snowboarders, staying power is the strongest measure of success in a sport filled with disposable heroes. No one better understands the importance of holding fast to the top once there than Victoria Jealouse. The young Canadian was an Olympic-bound downhill racer when, on a fluke in 1988, she tried snowboarding and quickly swapped her planks for what her coach and teammates thought was a lesser sport lacking the technical potential of skiing.
“I did not plan or ever really quit ski racing,” explains Jealouse from her part-time home in Tahoe. “I just couldn’t stop snowboarding. I think a lot of people poo-pooed laughs my idea to go the other way. Things were going good for me with skiing. I was pretty close to doing really well just because I loved downhill so much, and there weren’t a whole lot of women who did.”
So why change? Victoria loves carving. Watching her winter-tanned face when she describes carving hard is like watching a little kid talk about the loop-de-loop rides at the county fair.
“I was a skier who thought that snowboarders looked dumb. It’s true. My whole life was dedicated to skiing, especially to downhill,” she says. “Most of what I saw of snowboarders was beginners, and it wasn’t impressive. I didn’t want to go down the mountain with my feet tied to something and slide my turns, sit on my butt, and roll over to get up. My reaction to it was the typical, ‘Why would a good skier want to be a snowboarder when it doesn’t look good.'”
It took a friend begging, and eventually bribing to get Jealouse on a snowboard. The bribe consisted of Jealouse’s friend working her wait shift after they snowboarded that day.
“It was like trying out some sport like Badminton. It just didn’t look fun to me. But I did it and realized right away that this wasn’t just slopping around. I was cruising along and suddenly I arced and it was that perfect G-turn feel that takes years to get to on skis. You know that feeling when you are just whipped around and it’s like ‘wow’.”
From that point on, Jealouse began noticing that when there was a choice between skis and a snowboard, the new passion won. She didn’t fight it. After fifteen years skiing–seven of those competitively skiing–she tried racing snowboards for a season and did well.
Two seasons later she was negotiating a contract with one of the top snowboard company in the world–Burton. Once she signed on, the rest was history. She quickly became one of the most highly photographed Alpine snowboarders in both advertisements and magazines. Her smooth trademark S-turns, lips aggressively pursed in concentration as she slides without hesitation like a baseball player stealing second base–a motto for Alpine. The difference is she doesn’t touch the ground, instead popping back up effortlessly ready for another deep carve again and again.
“I really don’t really want to ‘dis skiing because without it I never would have found snowboarding,” she says. “But in a sport like skiing that is so geared for the Olympics, you’ve got to become a part of the politics. Even if you’re the top person on a team, you still have to sell candy door-to-door to pay for your coach, training, and all the association fees. And then after that, if your coach doesn’t like you or your attitude or something, you don’t go anywhere.
“It takes characters and strong wills to eventually win just like Picabo Street or anyone else who wins world cup races. I think that if you strive to be a winner in a sport then you’re a strong willed individual. Snowboarding lets me be this person.”
Whether it’s her enthusiastic personality, style, or race stats that have kept her in the spotlight for the last few years is irrelevant. She could care less. She’ll tell you she’s not really a competitive person–unless she’s actually racing. But while she explains her philosophies on competition in a nonplused fashion, if you listen to her talk about the hours of training sshe has put in over the course of her short life, you can see how seriously she takes her career.
“Snowboarding for me is not so much about winning or losing. When I don’t win, I look at the person who did and think ‘wow she had a great day,” says Jealouse. “Then I look at myself and ask what was going on for me that I didn’t win. I have learned over the years of racing how to ignore my nerves. It’s hard because you know your body is prepared but your nerves can get in the way.”
But lately Jealouse has ignored her nerves pretty well and she has traveled from Alaska, to Italy, to South America for the sole purpose of hucking herself off of cliffs, descending chutes, and carving up mountain tops only attainable by heli-drops.
And next season she plans on reentering the racing world in hopes of eventually seeing herself, and her sport, in the Olympics. Is she worried about the competition that has crept up over the last year?
“I don’t really think about that,” she says. “I know there’s some girls coming up in rank and it’s really just great to see how many are snowboarding. For now I just need to focus on pushing myself to be a better rider.”