Justin Reiter, a U.S. snowboarder who loosely compared his lone-wolf Sochi Olympic experience to the film “Into the Wild,” felt quite different last Saturday night.
“Validated,” he said.
Reiter, 34, captured his first World Cup victory under the lights in Moscow and the first for any U.S. rider in his discipline in more than a decade.
Reiter’s story was well told last season, before and during the Sochi Olympics. He once lived out of his 2012 Toyota Tundra and then became the only 2014 U.S. Olympian in Alpine snowboarding. No teammates.
Younger snowboarders in the more visible disciplines mistook him for a coach. He walked into the Opening Ceremony alone.
“Happiness is better when shared,” Reiter said in a phone interview this week, paraphrasing “Into the Wild” but emphasizing his Olympic experience was by no means as traumatic as Christopher McCandless‘ venture into the Alaskan wilderness.
Alpine snowboarding, where riders race on a gated course, similar to but shorter than Alpine skiing, was the first snowboarding discipline to debut at the Winter Olympics in 1998.
The first Olympic halfpipe competition was held later in those Nagano Games. While halfpipe ascended in the 2000s, Alpine faded as new, more popular events of snowboard cross and slopestyle joined the Olympics in 2006 and 2014.
In Sochi, Reiter’s performance in his two events “went horribly wrong.”
He failed to advance out of a qualifying round in the parallel giant slalom, carving the Rosa Khutor course 24th-fastest when he needed to be in the top 16.
Three days later, he unknowingly missed a gate in his first parallel slalom qualifying run and was notified of his disqualification while in the start area for his second run.
“I always felt like I could earn an Olympic medal, I felt like it was there,” said Reiter, a 2013 World Championships silver medalist who made the podium in the World Cup event preceding Sochi. “And, shit, it didn’t.
“It was the worst two competitions I had in almost my entire career.”
Reiter considered quitting, but he previously, briefly, retired after failing to make the 2010 Olympic team. He didn’t want to make the same mistake twice of leaving snowboarding with a sour taste.
He returned this season with a new home (a rented room, though he still owns the Tundra, his “adventure mobile”), a U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association stipend (so he didn’t have to fundraise or work a side job) and a new outlook.
He developed a mantra for 2014-15 — best season ever.
“That doesn’t mean I have to ride the best,” Reiter said. “It just means that I’m taking the opportunity to see museums I haven’t seen or go to have lunch with one of my friends from France and take time to meet different people.”
Happiness is better when shared. Reiter’s two World Cup podiums this season matched his previous combined total from a career dating to 2003.
He ranks third overall in the World Cup standings, two spots ahead of friend Vic Wild, who was frustrated in 2011 with a lack of support from the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, married a Russian and competed as a Russian at the Olympics, sweeping the Alpine snowboarding golds.
In Moscow on Saturday, Reiter defeated Austrian Benjamin Karl in the final. Karl has won medals at the last two Olympics and the last four World Championships.
It was an odd race, only about 15 seconds long, not half the length of the typical Olympic Alpine course.
“Crossing that [finish] line, it felt like, yeah, I validated myself,” Reiter said. “There you go, Justin, I can do this.”
And he didn’t celebrate alone.
“When I won, everyone else knew how important it was,” Reiter said, according to the Park (City, Utah) Record, “I’m a child of the entire tour.”
Reiter has one more World Cup competition left Saturday and then will ponder his future again in the spring and summer break. He’s unsure about sticking with it through the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympics.
“It’s really hard to say,” he said. “I don’t think people understand how much sacrifice it takes for four years. If I was raking in the dough, had sponsors out the wazoo and was able to support myself and put away for a future, then maybe. Right now, I make an incredible life, but I don’t necessarily make a living, and that makes it hard to commit to four years.”