This article was published in the Summit Daily News. By Phil Lindeman.
Brooke Potter (center) after taking gold in women’s ski slopestyle at the 2015 Winter World University Games in Granada, Spain, on Feb. 9. The gold was Potter’s first major international win at her first major international event, even though she prefers filming urban jibs over the pressure of competition.
Jake Black is first to admit he doesn’t quite live a Walden Pond existence.
The longtime Summit County resident has for years led the hectic and gear-centric life typical of a top-tier snowboarder who travels all over the world to compete. The 26-year-old has kept up this frenzied pace since his first slopestyle event in middle school.
But after more than 12 years as a professional athlete — he’s gone head-to-head with the best at the Dew Tour, Burton U.S. Open and 2015 Winter World University Games in Spain — he’s ready to, as Thoreau once put it, simplify, simplify.
“I like the concept of minimalism, although I’m far from living it,” says Black, who was born and raised in Summit with his brother, fellow pro snowboarder Zack Black. “I like the idea of paring down your possessions, just trying to simplify life. It gets to the core of the argument that over time, your possessions own you.”
As Black explains, an urge to get away from it all — or at least get away from most of it — drew him to sustainability courses at Colorado Mountain College in Breckenridge, even as he traveled from coast to coast for snowboard events.
Like most high-level skiers and snowboarders who live and study in the hills, Black fell into a class schedule his Front Range peers envied and only fellow CMC athletes understood: He’d finish a few classes in the summer and fall, take a break for competition in the winter and spring, then dive back into studies when summer rolled around once more.
After eight years of on-and-off coursework, Black is on track to graduate this summer with a bachelor’s degree in sustainability studies, one of just two four-year degrees offered through CMC.
While the balancing act between school and play still doesn’t allow for much free time, Black says he’s content with the way life has more or less fallen into place.
“It’s been an evolution of sorts,” he says. “I’m just as busy as I was right after high school, but it’s a different type of busy following storms, not really events. Instead of heading to Vail for the U.S. Open, I’m now packing up for a trip to Jackson.”
Black admits he’s probably getting a bit too old for competition, but the twilight years of his snowboarding career have provided an opportunity to travel on his terms. He just returned from the World University Games in Granada, and although he was bumped off the slopestyle podium to take sixth place, it was just his second trip to Europe. Competition was competition, but the vibe was entirely new.
“There were so many people with different backgrounds and we all had this commonality through snowboarding and skiing,” Black says. “I’d call it a miniature Olympics of sorts. We were Team USA, with these fancy outfits and whatnot. It was just a cool experience.”
Over the past year, Granada has been paired with dozens of outside experiences, including a road trip through the West to see his brother in Park City and a friend in Las Vegas. Along the way, he shot photos with a large-format Toyo 4×5 camera.
While passing through Death Valley, Black captured a stark, black-and-white landscape that earned a spot in the fittingly titled CMC-Aspen show “Less Is More: Sustainable Art and New Media in a Culture of Excess,” running now through March 31 at the Aspen campus.
Yet even as Black embraces simplicity in his art and studies and lifestyle, he’ll always be willing to play in the snow, pro-rider style. Jackson Hole is still a week or two away. For now, it’s all about the glades at Steamboat.
“When it comes to snowboarding, all things are set aside,” Black says in the middle of a mid-week ski trip. “We’ve been in Steamboat the entire time it’s been snowing, and even though I took my camera out twice to shoot I just haven’t made time to pull it out. The snow has been too good.”
While Black chases powder, fellow CMC-Breckenridge student Brooke Potter is riding the high of ski slopestyle gold at the World University Games. Her schedule is almost identical to Black’s — class in the summer, training and comps in the winter — but at 19 years old, she’s a relative newcomer to the wild, crazy world of freeskiiing.
Potter deals with the pressure of competition by letting her skis do the talking. The slopestyle win was an unexpected perk in a season dedicated to filming where few women have filmed before: urban rails.
“I’m not the biggest fan of slopestyle competition,” says Potter, a Maryland native who moved to Summit County shortly after she began competing at 14 years old. “I just don’t like having a lot of pressure. There’s never been a girl who gets a full video segment just hitting rails and urban, and I think that sets me apart. I really just prefer just filming and putting out edits, as opposed to traveling for competitions.”
Airports and jet lag aside, Potter admits that travel has tied comfortably into her recently declared major in sustainability. She began at CMC in the business program, but after thinking on ways to protect her adopted home mountains, she switched to a degree with an environmental bent.
“I’ve been thinking about that a lot this season, looking at our carbon footprint and what we can do to make things better,” Potter says. “I’ve seen it through the oceans — I was surfing in Bali and there was a ton of trash, right there in the ocean. That really opened my eyes and kind of sparked that interest in the environment.”
Potter says she’s on track to get her degree in four years — only if the video edit she’s been working on all season doesn’t catapult her into the freeski stratosphere.
“Filming is really where my passion is, along with a bit of competition,” Potter says.
“I just want to put out edits and catch the attention of someone who makes movies, anyone who does that. I know it will take quite a few years to get to that level, but I want to see myself on the big screen.”