Summit Daily News reporter Kelsey Fowler caught up with Colorado Mountain College alum Josh Loubek to learn about his experience as the head judge for the ski halfpipe and ski slopestyle events at the Sochi Winter Olympics Games. First printed in the Summit Daily News.
Colorado Mountain College alumnus Josh Loubek has traveled the world, but credits his education and time spent in Colorado in the ’90s as an important jumping-off point for his career in winter sports.
He came to Steamboat Springs as a teen, and spent time all across the Colorado Rockies. Loubek recently returned from his stint as the head judge of the ski halfpipe and ski slopestyle events at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
The Summit Daily News spoke with Loubek about his time at CMC, his love of the slopes and his approach to judging a sporting event watched worldwide.
Summit Daily: How did you get started in winter sports?
Josh Loubek: I was kind of a late bloomer to skiing. Started freestyle when I was 17, then moved from Seattle to Steamboat to train on their freestyle team and attend CMC. Ever since I started skiing, though, I had the bug and wanted to ski as much as possible — creating a ski career that had me skiing year-round in New Zealand and Whistler (British Columbia) summer camps, then back to North America for winters here.
SD: Could you tell us a little more about your history with this area and your time at CMC?
JL: CMC was truly an incredible experience for me. I attended Steamboat from ’94 to ’97. The college was perfect for me. It allowed me to train for competitive skiing, gave me a great and personal education along with fantastic memories. I actually lived with a handful of great skiers and snowboarders at the base of Steamboat resort. One of my roommates and CMC alum was Spencer Tamblyn, who is now a U.S. snowboard coach. So it was extra cool to get to see him at the Olympics as well. I’ve since suggested CMC to plenty of kids looking for a great mountain-town education. I am super pleased and proud to be an alum.
SD: How did you qualify to be a judge for a huge event like the Olympics?
JL: We set up an Association of Freeskiing Professionals certifying clinic that helps determine if someone is prepared to become a ski pipe or slopestyle judge. You take a test on trick identification, and learn the judging format and philosophy. This is all fairly new thanks to the AFP, which I am a co-founder of. Before that, I fell into the responsibility of judging multiple ski events around the world including X Games, Dew Tours, etc. We tried to get former athletes fresh off competition to come into the booth. We always felt, who better than former athletes scoring current athletes. We had guys like Evan Raps, Steele Spence, JF Cusson, Andy Woods, Mike Atkinson all judging. Then collectively we kept evolving the judging process, trying to keep the sport progressive-friendly, less regulated and more open format, which I’m proud to say we have, including the Olympics.
SD: Have you judged other events in the past? What makes this different?
JL: Yes, I’ve judged over 10 X Games, probably over 50 events around the world in the last 10 years. So many great events are out there, but the Olympics was our chance to really show the world and general public what ski slopestyle and ski halfpipe is all about. The athletes, the sport represented itself really well. I heard that NBC ratings of ski slope where way up and they were pumped, so that’s cool.
SD: Was there anything that surprised you during the judging process?
JL: I judged ski halfpipe and ski slopestyle, both men’s and women’s, so four total events at the Olympics. I wasn’t all that surprised by the athletes, since I’ve been judging them for so long. Our judging panel was experienced, providing us with good knowledge of everything that was going down. I was certainly impressed with the quality of the athletes and their performance, especially with the added pressure of the Olympics. I guess the biggest surprise for me was the media. USA has NBC, which is the biggest, but each country had their version as well. So there were so many cameras and reporters trying to make a story — always pressing for some type of judging controversy or something. So that was a bit surprising I guess, and I’m glad our judging panel was on point and let the athletes dictate their sport.
SD: Besides judging the events, what else did you get to experience in Sochi?
JL: I did get to go watch some great hockey games, which was super fun. Also watched a lot of the downhill and opening ceremonies. It was a very festive Olympics and I was stoked to be a part of it.
SD: What’s the most challenging part of judging the Olympics? Do you feel some pressure, too?
JL: Judging is very challenging, especially since we try and keep an open format with an overall impression. This provides the athletes with less regulations and more options for them to ski with their style, their way, which adds for a variety of unique runs, jumps. They are all so good, I often say it’s like comparing art. But it is a subjective, judged sport so we have so come up with a winner and loser, which at the Olympics is a gold medal. That’s pretty huge. We felt the pressure; it’s stressful and we want to do the best we possibly can. However, like I mentioned, we were very prepared, having experienced judges from all over the world.
SD: So are you happy with the results of the events you judged?
JL: Yes. We worked really hard and tried our best and I believe we got the right athletes on the podium. I got more positive feedback about the results from athletes, coaches and media than maybe any other event. There will always be room for debate and that’s fair, but I feel good about how it played out.