HAILEY — The day before Chase Josey boarded his flight to Pyeongchang, South Korea, he gathered with family and friends in the Cellar Pub in Hailey, greeted at the door by a red, white and blue sign that red, “GO CHASE!”
The hometown sensation received a warm sendoff before he took the long flight to join the United States team in the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Josey earned the final spot on the men’s snowboard halfpipe team with a win at the Mammoth Grand Prix in January, and since the announcement, the Wood River Valley has been alive with Olympic pride for its hometown product.
“The community support has just been phenomenal,” Josey’s mom, Kris, told the Times-News by phone from Pyeongchang. “The snowboard community and the Wood River Valley is excited to watch a local kid, born and raised, live the dream and carry the torch for the snowboarding world. It’s just amazing.”
The Josey family has gotten emails, texts and calls for the past two weeks. Congratulations are printed in public postings and affixed to roadside signs entering Hailey.
And why not? Josey, a Hailey native, has been shredding the local slopes since he was 5.
That’s when his dad, Bill, taught him the basics of snowboarding. By the time he was 8 years old and joined the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation, Andy Gilbert, his coach at the time, saw something unique.
“Chase was a talent to begin with,” Gilbert said. “He was extremely good from the get-go.”
After a couple of years training with Gilbert, Josey was already getting the itch to start working towards those moves one sees at the X Games.
“That was a result of being part of that first wave of kids who didn’t know any better,” Gilbert said. “When he watched a snowboard video and saw guys doing amazing things, in his 10-year-old mind, he could do that.”
Still, Josey had a lot of growing up to do. When puberty hit, Gilbert said, there were barriers to overcome, despite the gains in strength and size that would serve Josey well down the road.
Gilbert also said this was one of the times where he saw his student’s “ridiculous” work ethic really kick in.
“He had to re-teach himself how to do a lot of the things that had come very naturally to him in the beginning,” Gilbert said. “You could see the talent right away, but it was more about growing in those adolescent years when he realized, ‘Okay, you’re going to have to work for this a little more.’”
Josey worked through those kinks, then began his tenure as a student at the Sun Valley Ski Academy at the Community School as a high school junior. Though the academy is more noted for its alpine skiing instruction, it was able to provide Josey with the resources and support his travel to competition.
Program director Jonna Mendes, a two-time Olympian — 1998 and 2002 — in downhill skiing, said by the time he reached the academy, he was starting to turn heads.
“Chase happened to be at an elite level as a high schooler,” she said. “He was really becoming a name in the sport while he was at Community School. He’s been moving up the ranks every year since he graduated.”
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when Josey became a big name in the sport, but he notched two big wins in 2014 and 2015, when he won the US Open Qualifiers and the Red Bull Double Pipe respectively. He really opened eyes in 2016, earning silver at the Mammoth Grand Prix in California and the bronze in the Winter X Games in Oslo, Norway.
However, the 2017-2018 Olympic qualifiers didn’t go as well early on for Josey. He notched two seventh-place finishes at Copper Mountain and Breckenridge, the placed sixth at Snowmass.
Down to his last qualifier, the Mammoth Grand Prix in late January, the pressure was on, but Gilbert, who was there with Josey’s parents, said Josey looked ready to shred.
“When he got to Mammoth, he was ready,” Gilbert said. “As soon as practice started, he kind of let it be known that someone was going to have to take it from him.”
Despite the issues in the earlier qualifiers, Josey left no doubts at Mammoth Mountain. In his first run, he scored a 94.50 to win the gold.
“We knew he had that kind of run in him,” Kris Josey said, “and he just hadn’t been able to put that run together in earlier. It was a really proud moment for us.”
Though the news wasn’t announced for another few days, they all knew that Josey had punched his ticket to the 2018 Winter Olympics, which kept a long-running local history alive.
Since snowboarding was introduced to the Winter Olympics in 1998, the Wood River Valley has been well-represented in the sport at the event: Sondra Van Ert in 1998 and 2002 in the women’s parallel giant slalom; Graham Watanabe in 2006 and 2010 in the men’s snowboard cross; and Kaitlyn Farrington in 2014 in the women’s halfpipe.
Now, Josey will take on the best of the best from around the world, not just the United States, in front of millions of people tuning in on television. Mendes remembers the pressure, but she also said that Josey has proven he can execute in those tough times.
“Chase won his Grand Prix under extreme pressure,” she said. “He had one evening with it all on the line, and he won. That shows me that he’s extremely competent under pressure.”
He also has a great connection with his teammates on the halfpipe team: Jake Pates, Ben Ferguson and the legendary Shaun White, a four-time Olympian and two-time Olympic gold medalist. Gilbert said that strong connection should serve Josey well in Pyeongchang.
“They like each other,” Gilbert said. “They work hard and push each other. I know snowboarding is seen as just these fun-loving dudes sometimes, but those guys are working really hard together.”
And even though he’s at the highest stage in his sport, Josey’s coaches and family say he’s still the same down-to-earth guy that he’s always been.
“Chase is just a really humble kid who just loves snowboarding and let’s his ability speak for themselves,” Kris Josey said. “He’s always been humble and gracious in success and failure.”
“He’s definitely not the squeaky wheel,” Gilbert said. “He’s a real mellow guy.”
The Wood River Valley, though, is not humble in airing its praise and congratulations, and Mendes, who came from South Lake Tahoe, Calif., said she recognizes that same pride that her community showed her.
“There’s nothing better than being an athlete who represents not only your country but you hometown,” she said. “You have the support of the entire community, and you feel that with Chase, too. He’s all anyone is talking about here right now.”