In the 2010 Winter Olympics, thirteen Brazilian athletes walked into the Vancouver Opening Ceremonies. Leading the group was flag-bearer Isabel Clark, the internationally renowned snowboarder. Petite, open and friendly, her laid-back demeanor belies an incredibly focused and determined athlete that has been the face of Brazilian snowboarding for over a decade. Now based seasonally in the heart of the Colorado Rockies, she trains at the various Vail Resorts Colorado Ski Mountains. We sat down with Isabel to talk about her story, training and what it’s like to be one of the best female snowboarders in the world.
Born in Rio de Janeiro in 1976, Isabel first encountered snow on a family trip to visit her brother in California in 1994. He’d fallen in love with snowboarding and encouraged her to try it. “By the third day,” she says, “It felt so good, I just thought about (snowboarding)…all the time. After we went back to Brazil, I knew that any opportunity I had, I would do it.”
At that time snowboarding was gaining wider recognition and acceptance, but it was still a fledgling sport – especially among women. In 1995 Isabel went to watch her brother compete in a snowboarding competition in Valle Nevado, Chile, and discovered that the women’s competition had only one entrant. Despite only having one month of experience on the snow, she decided to enter the competition and walked away with 1st place. Impressed with her natural talent, the Brazilian Ski and Snowboard Association asked her to join as the team’s first female snowboarder.
In January 1996, the Association organized a 2 week training camp in Vail, Colorado. Isabel remembers that she and her brother decided that they would do anything they could to stay after the training session ended, “We went to train those 2 weeks not knowing exactly how we would stay, but we stayed the whole season. My level really improved quickly”. Sleeping on a friend’s couch and picking up odd jobs to get a season pass, Isabel and her brother rode Vail Mountain every day for the rest of the winter. She participated in the weekly local’s races and soon found herself taking 1st place finishes.
The next winter they returned to Vail for the season to continue their training. “Nowadays I spend most of my time in the park”, she admits, but that season they mixed park laps with exploring Vail’s vast terrain. A favorite trail is Blue Ox, the steep black diamond run off of Highline Express Lift (#10).
In the decade that followed, Isabel went on to ride mountains around the world as she climbed the international women’s snowboard rankings and won multiple South American and Brazilian titles. Back at home, adventurous Brazilians were becoming more interested in skiing and snowboarding, traveling to Chilean and Argentinean resorts to get their snow fix. In the last few years, many Brazilians have even been making the journey up to Vail.
“Brazilians are used to having to travel to the snow,” says Isabel, “And Vail is a good destination…If they’re already going to spend the money, they want to go to the best place…the mountain is huge.” Her advice for a trip to Vail, “If they already ski and snowboard, stay two weeks because the mountain is so huge that you need time to explore. And you can get to know the other mountains in the area.”
For the last three years Isabel has been riding Vail Resorts’ Colorado Mountains with her Epic Pass. This pass is available to purchase each year before the North American season begins and gives access to 4 Colorado and 2 California ski areas (Heavenly Mountain and Northstar California) as well as Las Leñas in Argentina. Starting in November, Isabel and the rest of the Brazilian team rent a house in Frisco, a town right in the middle of Breckenridge and Keystone, and a short drive to Vail and Beaver Creek Mountains. While most of the time is spent training, Isabela says that for free riding “Vail is best on a powder day”.
She still has the looks and enthusiasm of a woman in her 20s, but Isabel admits that she’s starting to feel her age, “I think I need to train more than everybody else, I’m already 35 so I need to train more in order to keep up. It’s important to really work hard”. And work hard she does. In a sport populated by teens and early-20-somethings, Isabel may work to keep up with their boundless energy but few can match her humility and poise.
Countless times during her interview, Isabel redirected questions to speak about her incredible teammates. To learn more about them and the Brazilian Confederation of Snow Sports visit: http://www2.cbdn.org.br/snowboard
For more information about Isabel you can visit her website: http://www.isabelclark.com
For more information about Vail and its sister resorts visit: http://www.vail.com