Hurtling down a mountain at speeds of 50, 60, 70 km/h, carving around a series of gates on his snowboard, Matt Carter just tries to keep his mind blank.
“When I’m racing I try not to think at all, and just let my body do what it’s trained to do,” he said.
Carter has spent years training to get to the level he’s at now: competing in the World Cup snowboarding circuit and getting ready to represent Canada at the World Junior championships in Japan the first week of March. Recently back from competing in Europe, he’s training in Calgary before he heads to Nagano.
The 19-year-old Maryhill native got an early start on skis when he was just two. By the time he was seven, he was bored with skiing and wanted to try snowboarding like the other kids he saw on the hill.
“On my seventh birthday my parents let me try snowboarding and I never put skis on again after that,” Carter said.
He picked up the sport quickly, going as far as lessons could take him, and then started competing. After several years on the Ontario team, he moved up to the North American circuit.
Carter competed in all three events – half pipe, boardercross and racing – before settling on racing. Half pipe is the most popular and best-known event, but Carter prefers the speed of racing over flashy tricks.
“I’ve always liked how it looks,” he said. “If you know enough to appreciate snowboarding, it’s on a whole other level.”
Carter moved to Calgary to train full-time after finishing high school. It was a big move for a 17-year-old, but one that he was ready to make. He already knew the coach and many of his teammates, and he ended up living with four teammates in Calgary, which made the transition easier.
This is his second season on the world circuit, where he competes in both the parallel slalom and parallel giant slalom. Both events involve weaving around a series of gates in a race to the finish against another snowboarder.
Unlike half pipe, which is judged, alpine racing is an elimination event where the rider who wins moves on to the next round. From the qualifying rounds to first place is 10 runs over the course of the day.
“Ten runs might not sound like a lot, but the constant spikes of adrenaline really wear out the body,” Carter said. “For our sport, it’s a lot of quick bursts of energy. We don’t need as much endurance, it’s about getting power and getting power quickly. It’s also working on our energy levels to be able to do that throughout the day.”
The training schedule for a full-time snowboarder is rigorous; they’re on the snow five days a week, for five hours a day, after which they head to the gym to work out.
Snowboarders have to follow the snow to train; last year the team spent a month in New Zealand during the summer.
It’s an expensive sport, due to the travel involved in training and following the tour during the competitive season. Equipment is another big expense; Carter has four boards, two for each type of race, and each board costs about $1,000. To offset those costs, he gets funding through the Ontario Quest for Gold program, designed to support athletes from Ontario in competing at the highest level.
Travelling from race to race also means he only gets home about three times a year, for Thanksgiving, Christmas and once during the summer.
His parents knew how serious he was about training and fully supported his move out west, but it can be hard at times, said his mom, Mary Frances. Last year Matt had to bail out during a run on icy conditions, resulting in a concussion and separated shoulder that took eight weeks to heal.
“As a mom, it’s hard because you can’t always be there and you want to be there,” she said. “He’s very responsible and dedicated and he works really hard, and we’re very proud of him.”
Carter’s ultimate goal is to ride in the Olympics and bring home the gold for Canada. Perhaps not in 2010, which is approaching rapidly, but then 2014 for sure.
He also has his eye on winning the Crystal Globe, the award that goes to the rider with the most points on the World Cup circuit at the end of the year.
“That’s right up there, if not higher than an Olympic gold.”