Sochi: Behind The Scenes with Bill Enos, US Olympic Slopestyle Team Coach
It's very likely that had I not met Bill Enos in 2002 at Waterville Valley, New Hampshire, I would not be sitting in this chair as the Editor of SNOWBOARDER Magazine writing an intro about him. Bill took a chance on me. A big one. After a successful career as a World Cup snowboard racer, Bill became the Snowboard Program Director at the acclaimed Waterville Valley Academy, a snowboard school that has produced some of the best snowboarders ever to emerge from The Granite State. For some reason, Bill hired me and my good friend Eamon Rubira as weekend coaches for the program, and though we were completely lacking the requirements of every other coach in New England, we were eager to sign on for a part-time job that would pay us to ride. While we would show up every weekend at 8am with booze-tainted breath and food-stained clothes, the fact that we showed up without fail continually kept Bill's faith in us. We weren't the best snowboarders. Shit, we weren't the best role models. But Bill's confidence in our abilities to simply go out and have fun riding snowboards with those kids was all he was asking, and now, as the Head Coach of the US Olympic Slopestyle Team, I can see that his strategy hasn't changed much. He simply goes out and rides with the kids, only this time, those "kids" were future gold medalists Sage Kotsenburg, Jamie Anderson, and the best slopestyle riders the United States had to offer. I had the chance to chat will Bill about everything from his personal experience in Sochi, the controversial surrender of Shaun White in slopestyle, what an incredible human being Sage Kotsenburg is, and much, much more. And one last thing…Bill, if you're reading this, thank you for everything man. There are many snowboarders who wouldn't be where they are without your help, myself included.
What's your title?
I think it is US Snowboard Slopestyle pro team coach, or some shit like that.
How did you go about getting that job?
I'm guessing nobody else wanted to do it so, you know, they found me. I don't really, it just, the job was available and I was kind of waiting on it and waiting on it and then after I did the first slopestyle gold camp for like younger kids, [Mike] Jankowski was like, "Send in a resumé," and I'm like, "I'm not sending in a fucking resumé," so I never did. So they called me right before the first year started.
What you were thinking before you went over to Sochi? Obviously the big threat was terror this and terror that, but what were you thinking?
Well, after Mammoth I only had like two days at home so I really wasn't thinking anything. I was trying not to think about the terrorist stuff. I was just trying to stay positive about the whole thing. The most important thing is to stay positive in any situation, no matter what you hear; everybody has got their own opinions about things. I had heard it for the past year, like people went over there last year and said, "Oh, the Russians are mean. They don't smile at you." I like to make my own impressions on things, like you've known me for long enough. If I had asked somebody if I should hire you back in the day they would have said, "No way! That guy is a drunk!" I had to see if you were a drunk for myself or not.
I was a drunk. So when you got to Sochi, what was team like for Team USA? Those athletes–and you I assume–are pretty sequestered and pretty heavily guarded I would imagine.
There were really no guards around or anything, it was pretty mellow when we got there. I don't know, I just sat my team down right when we got there the first day and said, like I do for pretty much any event, "Let's make this place our home," and my team was amazing. You know, like after that day, going up to the girls' room, Jamie and Karly were together and they had their wall hangings up and their pictures. They actually turned their room into like, a cool room. I went into the other girls' room and they had their stuff everywhere. Sage, obviously, Chas is pretty neat, but Sage had all his clothes everywhere and Chas's side was clean, so everybody kind of just went into their rooms and made it their own and we made the outside our own too.
How were the athletes' accommodations?
You know, just speaking for ourselves, I liked our rooms. I was fine with them. You know, there were just two beds and you had a roommate. I roomed with the physical therapist Jason, and I mean, it was nice. You'd go up the elevator, you'd go to your room. You could go down and get coffee or whatever. The girls at the front desk were nice. And then you just walk down a little ways to the mess hall and the food was good, so I think that got built up a lot at least from what I saw because our place was pretty nice. I can't really speak for where everybody stayed but the whole, "Oh I saw the curtain rod was down." Oh, I'm sorry, if you can't fix your own fuckin' curtain rod, then you're an idiot.
One of the biggest stories before slopestyle started was the concern over the safety of the course. What were the athletes saying? Was that something that was played up before the Olympics or was it a pretty uniform belief between all the athletes?
The course had potential but it was definitely, you know, it was firm. We are east coasters though, you and I. Any course needs some tweaking so all the riders got together and that's the main thing. You know you got the coaches needed stuff and coaches were talking about what the course needs, but I think what Raffi from FIS did, he had the riders go to the bottom of the course for the first couple days and they all talked about what needed to be adjusted and what I saw in the end was one of the better contests I have ever seen. Little tricky but you just don't jump into a course and just go nuts, you gotta kinda work into it. You gotta stay positive, T. Bird. You know, like with everything, as soon as you start to hate on something, and I only know this from experience, it just gets worse. It's staying focused and that's what I think our crew did really well. The girls got beat up but they just stayed positive. There was never really any complaining. You know, Sage just went about and was Sage and Chas is pretty mellow and…we all just kind of let it flow.
Well, I think a lot of it was catalyzed by Torstein's fall. My personal opinion on that was that it was more user error than the course itself.
I was right below the staircase that he fell on and, I love Silky Smooth, Torstein is one of my favorite riders, I root for him all the time. And when it happened, you know like, he went gap back three, it might have been switch…whatever it was, I think maybe he kind of, looking back on it, I can’t speak for him but I bet he would have probably just went mellower for a couple days going into it. It was pretty firm and he just hit his shoulder pretty hard on the stairs. A lot of people ate shit on those stairs. But it was just everybody trying to get a lot done to quick. Which is pretty understandable, it's a pretty big event that nobody, or none of the guys that I have coached, had been around or been to, so…
Well, it's a big event and the majority of the riders are going there on pretty short notice. They don't have a ton of practice like they do for some of the other events.
Yeah, and all these guys are so good. Three days of practice is, you can adjust to riding, and they did pretty well. I think there was enough practice, and I think everybody was just too excited. It's cool to be on top of the Olympic course.
How did it work with Shaun on the slope team? Because I know Bud is his coach and Bud is also with the US Olympic team coaching staff but are you coaching Shaun or is Bud coaching Shaun? And is Shaun part of that group camaraderie that you guys had going with the slopestyle team?
Well, no. Bud is Shaun's coach. I try to stay out of that. I kept myself apart from that. I was there to help if they needed anything. I don't really know how all that…it was kind of weird, I was hired as the slopestyle coach, I feel like if he made the team, I guess we were working together. Who really knows, ya know?
It was nice getting to know Shaun a little bit. He is actually a really cool guy. Like this year I got to know him and it was unfortunate he had to pull out for himself but….
Sure, I think to a large extent, in my own personal opinion I think Shaun gets villainized. Everyone needs a bad guy sometimes and he is the face of competitive snowboarding, or at least he was before the Olympics. Some could argue now that Sage and Jamie are, but what role did you have, if any role in the meetings before Shaun pulled out. Were you in on any of those or was that just Shaun and his team?
Shaun and his team. And I was a little disappointed in that because that would have been really nice to know, like what he was feeling. If I had the chance to try to talk to him, because I saw him the day before he pulled out and it was already kind of in discussion. He looked kind of frustrated. He wasn't as fun as he usually is. Sometimes. It would have been nice for Bud to pull me aside or give me a heads up so maybe I could have started to bring in one of the younger kids but you know, everything happens for a reason. It was just unfortunate, I would have liked to known, but…
That was a big story over here and a couple riders voiced their frustrations, Max Parrot and Sebastian Toutant most specifically. But the US team stayed pretty quiet about the whole thing.
Well, I actually kind of found out the next morning. Someone said, "What do you think about Shaun puling out?" and I was like, "What are you talking about?" So I didn't really even find out until the next day, and people knew before me, but you know, I guess with the guys, we would always have these little meetings on where to be and they were asking about Shaun and I was like, "Worry about yourselves, it's really none of our business." He does what he wants anyhow, so they didn't really say much on it. And if they did, I wouldn't let them because why should we be the ones throwing stones? I think Sebastian and Max did enough of that. They are two of the nicest guys I know and it just seemed surprising for them to write something about him. But the media was just horrible. I don't really even believe in sports anymore because of the way the media blows things out of proportion, like Sports Illustrated and stuff. As far as I'm concerned, snowboarders should be reporting on snowboarding, like you guys.
That's a big reason we are doing this after the Games, because we were there in Sochi so we weren't even getting a ton of news updates because we were solely focused on watching the event and getting the results up as soon as possible, so with this, we want to get those back stories. Was Shaun staying with the team?
His family came in so he got a house for him and his family, So I think that's pretty cool that he did that so he could spend time with his family and they got that experience at the Olympics with him.
Let's talk a little bit about what was going on at the top of the Olympic course during finals. What were you saying to the team, specifically Sage? And what were those interactions between you and Sage before he dropped in for that run?
Is it okay if I lead up to it?
After semis, which was two days before, I took Chas and Sage and Ryan and the girls aside and I told them, "Don't look at this as a bad thing. I know you guys want to be in the finals automatically," but I really felt like the winner was going to be the guy that would have to go the process of doing the qualifiers before the finals. With more time on the snow, you get to see the course change, it keeps them in the competitive mode. How many guys have gone through pre-qualifiers and won the US Open? I would love to know stats on that. They really kind of work their way right up into the thing. So we talked about that and we they went into it, Sage and I just kind of chilled. Chas, we just kind of went about our business. We couldn't go to opening ceremonies because we would have been coming in too late and then wake up to do those qualifiers at 8:30 in the morning, so as the day went, Chas put down a good run, put down two new tricks that he hadn't done and Sage had a great run too. Ryan rode really well, but he didn't make it. But Sage made it, so we went down for lunch pretty excited and I kept telling him you know, TransWorld and SNOWBOARDER put out these articles about style and stuff and I said, "Hey, two years from now we are all going to be laughing when people are doing the tricks Sage is doing right now and that he was doing two years ago and actually having style in snowboarding." Not saying there isn't, I love all kinds of snowboarding but a lot of the other stuff looks the same to me. All the triples, blah, blah, blah. So after we went to lunch, we went up the lift together and it was really cool because Sage goes, "I wouldn't want anybody else to be here with me other than you." I was blown away. I was like, "Thank so much, that was really nice." So I kept telling him, "You already won. You get to show the world what you do at the Olympics. Win or lose, who really cares?" I just kept him kind of mellow about it. We had no idea that he was going to take the gold medal home, we were just hoping for a podium.
So we get to the top and we were just stoked, happy to be in the finals. I was happy, I had one rider in the finals, I might be able to keep my job, hahaha. Anyways, he dropped third and he was working on a good system. I had kind of worked with him on it, and he talked to Blaze and they must have been talking about the 1620. So at the top of the course, we talked about changing his run a little bit between, we added two 180s into his rails so he'd half Cab into this or whatever, so he built up on his run. Then he goes, "I'm gonna do a 1620." I was like, "Alright, how many have you landed?" And he goes, "Well, I've never even tried one." I said, "Okay, seems like the time to land one." Or you know, I can't remember exactly what I said but it was kind of funny. We both laughed. And then he went and did it and I just said, "Holy shit!" And that is all I could say for the rest of the day because it held up you know? Because everybody else kept throwing their triples, they had done their runs, and he actually did something different, and that's pretty much what we talked about.
What was the collective reaction to the other riders up there? Specifically like Mark and Sebastian and Max who had been doing those double and triple corks all week? A run completely different from Sage's, and then they saw that the judges scored Sage so high. I know Ståle said that he opted to go for a more flat-spinned run once he saw Sage drop.
Yeah, I think a few people changed up their stuff once they saw that the pre-spin 90 triple backflip 90 wasn't scoring very high, and it never…listen, I think it's an awesome acrobatic move but I just don't know if it really belongs. I don't know, I think they were all scratching their heads a little bit. They're all great riders, and boy did they put on a show. It was the most amazing snowboarding I have ever seen, and yeah, it was kinda weird. Someday we'll really talk about what happened. Not on this, but I think it went pretty well in our direction huh?
I think so. I was doing one of these with Richards and I just told him that personally as a snowboarder, not as the Editor of SNOWBOARDER Magazine, I couldn't be more stoked that the representative of men's slopestyle snowboarding, to the world right now, is Sage. I went in with the preconceived notion, and I think a lot of people did, that Mark was going to officially be the new face of slopestyle riding. And I was like, you know what? If that happens, that's fucking rad too, because Mark is a really good kid. He is a good ambassador for the sport. And seeing him get third and Ståle get second, and then Sage standing on top of the podium, I was just sitting their kind of in disbelief, but it wasn't in disbelief that Sage won, it was just really weird seeing Sage Kotsenburg with an American flag wrapped around him on top of the podium at the Olympics. It was awesome.
It was very cool. A little off the subject, I had to do this interview with The New York Times or something, and the guy sends me video of Mark's frontside triple and he's like, "What's Mark doing at ten seconds?" And I'm like, "Well it kind of looks like he is activating his cork?" And I was like, "Are you really going to write this? Snowboarding is so much more than one triple cork. I mean yeah, it's a sick frontside triple. Badass. But who even knows if he is going to throw it?" The other thing is, a slopestyle run consists of so many other features, so many rails and things.
When I was standing down there I met a lot of other media people from the mainstream outlets like The Washington Post, LA Times, stuff like that, and I don't know if it's just how I looked, maybe I looked a little bit like a disheveled snowboarder, but people just started asking me, "Hey, what was that? Hey, what was that?" And I am trying to report on the snowboarding. I finally had to turn to these people and say, "You know, I'm here to do my job too." I'm sorry that you're a fifty-five year old woman who has never seen this before, but I can't tell you every single thing that's happening right now, I just don't have time for that. It blew my mind, man. It would be like if I went and reported on a fucking polo match. Like, I wouldn't accept that assignment, I would come across like a fucking idiot. I wouldn't know what I was talking about.
Yeah! That's what they do. I wanted to tell you something else, oh yeah, here's a good one. So after qualifiers Sage was doing interviews and one of the reporters, I don't know where they were from, said, "So how does it feel to know that you can't compete in this contest?" Because he didn't have the stuff, and he was obviously a little bummed, he told me about it. I told him if I ever saw that guy I would have jumped over the fence and spit on them. Who says that to a competitor? Are you serious? But he took it like a champ and now he's a gold medal winner. He won the very first slopestyle at the Olympics and you can't take that away from him.
What is approach you take with Jamie when she is the favorite going into an event and she's the second-to-last rider to drop and she's not in the top three? What do you say to Jamie?
Jamie, I love her, I would love to work with her all the time but she does a lot of stuff on her own. In practice the day before, she was having a little trouble with her frontside spins. I just kind of told Ryan, her wax tech, to tell her to be patient and be her on her takeoffs. Jamie goes into her own little zone and that's when I just step back and let her do it. I think one of my qualities, why I am an okay coach, is that I think being a good coach is being able to read people. When to step in and when not to step in, knowing what to say and what not to say. It's not always just, "grab here and do this and do that," it's saying the right things, and for sure I think I said the right things to just keep her positive. I just said, "good luck, have fun out there."
It works really well. I got one other thing, and I haven't told anybody else about this and I don't really know if we should write it or not but one thing about our new gold medal champion is, and apparently this was done before he even won the medal or even had dreams of winning the medal, this was done after the Grand Prixs. He bought my wife Therese and I an all-inclusive vacation to Hawaii for seven days.
Money doesn't tell you what somebody means to you but just the gesture, because he knows I have never been to any place warm. My vacations are to Breckenridge. So he went out of his way, he and his mother, they made a box with all these macadamia nuts and like a lei and a card that said Turtle Bay, all that stuff, but that is the kind of person I like to coach. That's somebody that is my friend, more than me coaching him or just the athlete/coach relationship. That is the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me in my whole life.
That's incredible man. Unreal.
That's the kind of person he is.
That's why we're stoked that he's representing snowboarding to the masses. Like you see him on Conan and Letterman and Fallon and they're like, "Man, that kid is fucking cool! He is just a cool fucking kid!" And they mean it.
He's doing great at it too. I've watched a few. And the other thing he did too, there was like this weird award, I didn't know anything about it but I didn't see Sage after he won, I thought he got put into the slave trade after his medal. But I went down and there he is, just handling the media like a champ, he must've been tired, and he presents me with the "Ecos Award," which I still don't really know what it is, it's like some coaching award at the US team house, but he said all these really nice things. He made me cry twice that day T. Bird and I've never cried out of happiness before. When he won I was lucky I had goggles on, and when he brought me up on stage and said all these nice things and gave me this weird medal, it was amazing. The only problem with the medal was that I got stopped at every checkpoint and the rubber gloves came out pretty much every time…
Thanks for taking the time to do this, Bill. You did a great job over there.
Thanks! It's nice to talk to somebody who I can actually talk to about snowboarding. It's pretty cool. I was waiting for this actually, it kind of made my day.