Most male snowboarders ride in the shadow of a red-headed icon. However, for the women of the mountain, there is a seat open next to Shaun White's throne. To get the lowdown on getting started in the sport and what life is like on the mountain, STACK caught up with Spencer O'Brien, the reigning women's Snowboard Slopestyle Winter Dew Tour Champion and Transworld Snowboarding's 2008 Rookie of the Year.
STACK: How did you first get involved with snowboarding?
Spencer O' Brien: My older sisters snowboarded… [and] when I was about 11, my mom and dad let me try it. I actually kind of didn't like it at first, but after a while I got hooked.
STACK: What's it like snowboarding with your family?
SO: It's awesome. I don't get to ride with my older sister Meghann that much, because she is a pro snowboarder, too… [and] we are on such different schedules. My dad and I ride every day, and my mom and [my] other sister still ride a little bit. My mom came up to see me, and we went night riding last night. It's a cool way for us to hang out together, because I don't get to see them [often].
STACK: Now that you snowboard professionally, you've had to leave home and travel around the world. What's that lifestyle like?
SO: It's really exciting and really busy. I definitely live out of my suitcase. I have been home for about two weeks [during the past] three and a half months, but it's really fun. It's cool because you're traveling with people you know, so you are never really that lonely, which is nice.
STACK: Obviously, while traveling with other snowboarders, you develop bonds and friendships with everyone. What's it like to compete against your friends?
SO: I think it's a really cool part of what we do. There aren't really any rivalries. Everyone likes each other, and we all hang out. I think that's what makes it so fun. When we're all at the top of the course we [wish] each other good luck, and we cheer each other on, but we definitely all want to win, too.
I think for snowboarding, the competitive side is just a little bit more on the inside for all of the girls. The field is pretty stacked. We are [basically] competing with ourselves rather than each other. I think all the girls are really good, and anybody can win on any given day. A lot of it is us competing with ourselves to ride our best, and whoever rides the best that day will win; and no matter what, we are all going to be stoked. Everyone is always stoked when someone else wins.
STACK: How do you prepare for top performances like the ones you had during the Winter Dew Tour?
SO: Before I actually hit the course or see it, there are obviously a few tricks I know I can do in a contest, and they're my best tricks. Those are the ones I will work on to make sure that they are a lock and that I'm landing them. I think consistency is extremely important. I also practice the ones that [I haven't] perfected…just in case I have to use them. Once I get to the contest, it's really just figuring out the course and what tricks are going to work best [for particular] jumps. I never really have a run planned completely until probably after riding the course for at least a couple of hours.
STACK: What tricks do you like to perform during competitions?
SO: I just learned the Switch Back 540 this year, and it is my favorite trick right now. I have been doing them at the last few contests, so I'm pretty stoked about that trick. I also like Frontside 5s; they are like an old classic for me.
STACK: How did you go about learning the Switch Back 540?
SO: It's just kind of trial and error, I guess. Sometimes it just takes me a while to learn tricks and then something will click, and I'll have them. The Switch Back 540 just started to click for me and I was able to land them pretty much every time.
STACK: What's going through your mind while you're doing a trick like the 540?
SO: I'm just thinking about spotting my landing and just making sure I'm going to land on my feet, but it's not scary or anything for me at all. It's just normal. If it's a really big jump, then I may get a little scared, but then the adrenaline is pumping and it's more exciting. When it's just a basic trick…it doesn't feel any different up there than on the ground.
STACK: Was winning the first annual Winter Dew Cup for women's Slopestyle the highlight of your career so far?
SO: Winning the first ever Cup for the Dew Tour was pretty cool. I'm really excited about it. I had never even done a series like that before. I had always done individual competitions, and to do a series is really cool. You have each individual competition and you want to do well at those, but you kind of have a greater goal on top of that, which is a combination of all three stops, and it's nice to be rewarded for doing well overall. It was nice to be standing up there with that big, funny-looking cup.
STACK: What advice would you offer younger snowboarders?
SO: Definitely a big thing from the beginning is to have good equipment. Even if you're renting, try to rent better equipment, because it makes a world of a difference. I use all Burton equipment for my snowboard gear. The Burton Academy that just started at Northstar specializes in that. They are trying to change the way people learn how to snowboard.
Also, just stick with it. With snowboarding, the first few days are the hardest. It's just really awkward at first because it's not the natural way to stand at all. You just [have] to give it a little bit of time. You'll love it if you stick with it after the first few days.
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