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Kelly Clark: A Trailblazer in Snowboarding

By Libby Arganbright
August, 30 2023
Kelly Clark waves to the crowd in the FIS Snowboard World Cup Halfpipe Finals
Kelly Clark waves to the crowd in the FIS Snowboard World Cup Halfpipe Finals during the Winter Games NZ at Cardrona Alpine Resort on August 30, 2015 in Wanaka, New Zealand. (Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

U.S. Ski & Snowboard is highlighting HERoic trailblazers throughout our winter sports, both past and present. A HERoic trailblazer is a woman athlete who has gone above and beyond in her sport, moving the sport forward through grit and determination and inspiring the next generation of women athletes.

A three-time Olympic medalist, five-time Olympian, seven-time X Games gold medalist, eight-time US Open winner and trailblazer for women’s snowboarding, Kelly Clark redefined snowboarding as one of the most profound and dominating athletes to ever enter the halfpipe. 

Rapid Ascent 

When you look back at the sport of competitive snowboarding, ‘Kelly Clark’ comes to mind. The impact she had on the sport is undeniable, but the success did not happen overnight. 

Clark started early. Born on July 26, 1983 in Newport, Rhode Island but growing up in West Dover, Vermont, she started snowboarding at the age of seven during a family vacation. It did not take long for her to fall in love with the sport. Only a few years later after being on a board for the first time, she was enrolled in Mount Snow Academy, and as it goes, the rest is history. 

Only in 1998 did snowboarding become an Olympic event and in the 1998 Nagano Olympic Winter Games, Clark found herself dreaming of becoming an Olympic champion. It was watching those Games where she realized exactly what she wanted to do. Fastforward, Clark began competing at 14 years old and quickly became one of the best. In 2000, she was named to the U.S. Snowboard Team. 

On Fire 

The same year she joined the U.S. Snowboard Team, Clark won her first FIS event at the Junior World Championships in Berchtesgaden, Germany, and the momentum followed. The following season, she was winning at the highest stage of the sport, including the National Championships at Sunday River, Maine. 

But it was in 2002 that everyone started to know who Kelly Clark was. She took home a gold medal at X Games, the US Open in both halfpipe and quarterpipe and was the overall U.S. Grand Prix champion. Then her dreams of being an Olympic champion came to fruition in the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Winter Games when Kelly became the first U.S. woman to ever win an Olympic gold medal in halfpipe snowboarding. 

Clark’s Olympic journey continued with remarkable consistency. In her illustrious career, she competed in five Winter Olympics from 2002 to 2018, capturing two more Olympic medals after her victory in Salt Lake — a bronze in both the 2010 Vancouver Games and the 2014 Sochi Games. In Sochi, Clark’s medal came 12 years after her first gold, showcasing her resiliency and relevancy in the sport that only became more competitive each season. 

Clark’s impact went far beyond the medals; she transformed the sport of snowboarding with her groundbreaking tricks, mentorship and willingness to push the boundaries. In 2011, right before another victory at the X Games, she became the first woman to ever throw and land a 1080 in the superpipe. In her 2015 season, Clark was nominated for her second ESPY, this time for Best Female Action Sports Athlete, showcasing her impact on the entirety of the sports landscape. She also took home another silver medal at the X Games, tagged her eighth win at the US Open, scored her sixth U.S. Grand Prix tour title and ended by adding her fifth World Snowboarding Tour title to her name. 

Legacy of Inspiration

The numbers speak for themselves. After 20 years, 200 events, 137 podiums, 78 wins and more pipe laps than you can count, Clark called it good in 2019, securing herself as one of the best competitive snowboarders in the world. After reaching her competitive glass ceiling, she officially announced her retirement and left professional snowboarding — but the fun never slowed. Now, Clark spends her time road biking, surfing and chasing pow on her snowboard in Mammoth Lakes, California.

Outside of sport, Clark spends her time fundraising for the Kelly Clark Foundation, which gives opportunities to promising young snowboarders. As well as her charitable pursuits, in 2017, Clark published her autobiography 'Inspired' which chronicles her snowboarding career and the constant growth and development needed to stay mentally and physically fit at such a high level. 

Kelly Clark transformed the sport and thanks to her determination and dedication, she has influenced generations of athletes, both men and women, and set the tone, showing that anything is possible in the world of snowboarding.