Striving to reach a new Hight

Tahoe native looks to break through in halfpipe as an Olympic veteran at age 20
By: Eric J. Gourley, Journal Sports Writer
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For professional snowboarder Elena Hight, coming home to the Sierra Nevada is starting to feel like a vacation. The South Lake Tahoe resident visited with friends at Northstar-at-Tahoe, the resort she calls home, for a few hours last week before departing Wednesday to Vancouver to compete in her second Olympic Games. The 20-year-old Hight has been home a total of five days since Nov. 1, a busy winter even by her standards. “It’s definitely been a whirlwind, but I love it,” she said. “As much as I love being home, I love traveling and just being able to be in a new place all the time. I come home for a couple days and I get bored pretty fast.” There’s been nothing dull about Hight’s last few weeks. After wrapping up another successful Winter X Games late last month, Hight and the U.S. team remained in Aspen, Colo. for some training. A week ago, Hight and two teammates found themselves eight rows from the field at the Super Bowl in Miami courtesy of sponsor Nike 6.0. “It was a fun treat to kind of just take our minds off of everything for a minute, to get inspired by the Saints,” Hight said. “It was really cool.” The soft-spoken Hight participated in her second opening ceremony Friday, her favorite experience at the Torino Games four years ago. She settled into Olympic Village over the weekend and will have two days of practice this week before watching the men’s halfpipe competition, including boyfriend Greg Bretz, on Wednesday. The women follow Thursday. “This whole season my goal has been to just make the team, so now that that’s over with, I would love to come home with a medal,” said Hight, who finished sixth as a 16-year-old in Torino. “That’s what I’m shooting for. There’s that dream of always getting a medal but just being able to be a part of the Olympics is pretty amazing. I can’t even describe how excited I am. I’m just anxious to get it all started. It’s been such a long lead-up.” Riders compete in five grand prix events and the top two results count as Olympic qualifiers. Hight has also competed in two Winter Dew Tours this season and spent her off days training. “We’ve basically been in back-to-back-to-back competitions all season,” Hight said. Hight was throwing down tricks in halfpipes and slopestyle competitions by age 8. Born in Kauai, Hawaii, Hight’s family moved to the mainland in search of a change of pace when she was six. Her surf-loving father, Mike, taught the family to snowboard during a year in Idaho before they relocated to South Lake Tahoe. “My family just sort of ended up here,” Hight said. “Since I jumped on a snowboard I’ve just loved it. It just became our family weekend activity. Then we would do it after school on weekdays and then I started traveling so I started homeschooling. It just kind of became my life, and it’s been my life for a long time.” She grew up competing in USA Snowboard Association regional amateur contests and was riding in grand prix and X Games events by 13, when she became the first woman to complete a 900 — two-and-a-half rotations — in competition. “I have always been doing it, so it’s kind of always been my dream. I love snowboarding and I do it because it’s such a fun sport and I have made so many good friends and had such amazing times snowboarding that I want to do it forever,” she said. Hight’s Olympic dream developed from watching Kelly Clark, a favorite in Vancouver, win gold in Salt Lake. Hight hopes to someday match her idol-turned-teammate’s 2002 feat. “Hopefully I’ll get to go to a couple more Olympics,” Hight said. Hight, who grew up riding at Heavenly on Tahoe’s south shore, will return to Northstar for “a good couple months” of snowboarding this spring. “Northstar has just always been reliable for an amazing park and halfpipe, and so it’s kind of just the place,” said Hight, who still spends her summers surfing. “Now I’m lucky enough to be able to ride for them.” Hight’s career has taken her to epic mountains in Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Chile, Czech Republic and Germany, but there’s still no place she’d rather call home than Tahoe. “It’s pretty much all I’ve ever known,” Hight said. “I love Tahoe. I’ve been a lot of places in the world and it’s definitely one of the most beautiful. There really is no place like home. It’s pretty nice to be able to say that I can do that here. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to leave.”