Like most things on a snowboard, Chloe Kim and her father learned together. That meant falling each time they got off the chair lift, until at 6 years old Chloe asserted that she’d like to fall on her own.
Or that contrary to what Jong Jin Kim’s engineering background would have taught him, that leaning on her back foot was the best way to ride through powder.
Or that candle wax is not the same as snowboard wax, a lesson learned the hard way after Jong Jin melted some down at a competition in Australia and poured it on Chloe’s board. It cracked after the first run, but she took third on a rented snowboard.
It’s easy for Chloe, 17, to see the hilarity in it now. And as she heads to her first Olympics, to have gratitude for all the hard-earned lessons they’ve had together in snowboarding.
“He actually dragged me to the mountain when I was 4 to bribe my mom to come snowboard with him, so it really wasn’t voluntary on my part,” she said. “But I’m actually really glad he did that. And I’m really glad he just kept bringing me to the mountain.”
For Kim, that parental guidance and support have fostered a love of snowboarding that has made her the best female rider in the world. In Pyeongchang, she’s a heavy favorite to win gold with her extended family watching in the country her parents emigrated from.
It’s been a rapid rise through the sport for Kim, one guided by her father.
Kim moved to Switzerland, where one of her aunts lives, in third and fourth grade, with Jong Jin and Boran, her mother, alternating trips to visit her.
When her father came, snowboarding was usually involved, a trip that meant taking two trains and a gondola to ride the halfpipe at Avoriaz in France.
But Jong Jin wasn’t preparing her for a professional career.
“We didn’t really expect that you can bring her to the Olympics because her (mother’s) family, my family, no one is an athlete out of our family history,” Jong Jin said. “So the reason Chloe went to Switzerland is not because of snowboard. It’s because I want her to learn French.”
When she was 12, Kim’s parents gave her the option to stop or keep going. It was apparent she had potential, but they didn’t want to push their daughter in what can be a dangerous sport.
A year later, she became the youngest X Games medalist at the time when she won silver.
“After I was 9 or 10, it was all uphill for me,” Kim said. “I loved it more and more every year, and it was just a really exciting process for me.”
The season she won her first X Games medal, Kim met the qualification criteria for Sochi. But at 13, she was too young to go.
It’s something she and her parents are thankful for. “I feel like that would have been too much for me at 13,” Kim said. “Honestly, it’s too much for me right now, so I don’t know if I could have done it four years ago.”
Seeing his daughter’s potential and already in his 50s, Jong Jin retired from his job as an engineer to travel with Chloe full time.
Her upward trajectory in the sport has continued, as she has used nearly unparalleled amplitude and the most progressive tricks to become the best women’s halfpipe rider in the world.
She has six X Games medals, including four gold. Kim won gold in halfpipe and slopestyle, an event she usually does not compete in, in the Youth Olympic Games in 2016.
That same year she became the first woman to perform back-to-back 1080s in the halfpipe. Veteran Kelly Clark pioneered the 1080, which is three full rotations, five years earlier.
Until this season, they were the only riders to land one. Now four others have, including their American teammates Arielle Gold and Maddie Mastro.
Kim is still the only one to land them back-to-back — Clark is the only other rider to even try — and did that in her run to win X Games last month.
“I want everything to look good and perfect even though it may not be crazy progressive or new,” Kim said, “but I do want it to look good so everyone feels happy when they watch,” Kim said.
Kim has been working on them throughout the season, and whether she attempts them in Pyeongchang will depend on the quality of the halfpipe. At the Dew Tour in December, Kim became the first to lock up her spot on the team with the win but still attempted to land them in her victory lap.
“Chloe has one of the best work ethics I’ve ever seen. And she rides longer than anyone. She takes more runs than anyone,” said Clark, a five-time Olympian and three-time Olympic medalist. “For me that has been a core value in my snowboarding, and I love seeing that in her. And she loves snowboarding. I love that about her, because I look at what people will see when they see her, like oh, she’s got all the right things that will help other people be successful.”
That love of snowboarding has been what’s allowed her to progress, Kim said.
As she has built toward going to the Games this year, she also pushed to finish high school early and take her SATs.
Once ambivalent on going to college, Kim is now set on it after the Games thanks, in part, to her father’s influence. Competitive snowboarding is a young person’s sport, Jong Jin tells her, and getting an education is important.
“Being in a class with kids, meeting new people and borrowing notes from other students, I’ve never done that before,” said Kim, who was home-schooled. “I’ve always had to fend for myself.”
At least in her classroom of one. In every other way, her father has been there to support her. She’s still a teenager, so she negotiates on curfew and calls Jong Jin when she wants more money on her debit card.
“I’m very thankful for him,” Kim said. “I feel like he’s really smart when it comes to parenting, a little overprotective but respectful.”
For his part, Jong Jin just sees that as his role. He never pushed for her to get here, only tried to provide support when it became clear that she could.
And now the daughter of immigrants will attempt to write her name in Olympic history.
“It’s just great ’cause it’s kind of the American dream, American dream come true,” Jong Jin said. “It’s the land of opportunity. Why not?”
That the opportunity comes in South Korea makes it all the better. Kim will attempt to win gold with a large contingent of family and friends.
“She is representing Korea and America,” Boran said. “All my family there, and friends, everybody come and cheer for her.”
And at the base of the halfpipe, where he always is, Jong Jin will see his daughter take the next, and so far biggest, step in the snowboarding journey they’ve been on together.
Axon also reported from Breckenridge, Colo