Every time I come out here to Park City and see the pipe and around this area, it brings back great memories. And it's good to be back. —Ross Powers
Editor's note: This is the third in a series of articles looking back on the 2002 Winter Games in conjunction with the event's 10-year anniversary.
PARK CITY — Snowboarders have put their sport on the map by doing what no one expects.
But in the 2002 Olympics Games not even the unpredictable athletes who've made the sport one of the most popular in the world expected what three young Americans were able to do. Ross Powers won gold, flying out of the halfpipe higher than anyone ever had, while Danny Kass earned silver and JJ (Jarret) Thomas grabbed the bronze.
"That was an unbelievable day," said USSA president Bill Marolt, who said the organization had set a goal of 10 medals that winter. Snowboarding won four in two days — including the men's snowboard sweep led by Powers, a Vermont native.
"Sometimes it feels like yesterday and then you think back to it," said Powers. "I guess years have been flying by and it does feel like a little while ago."
He said it is impossible not to be reminded of that moment whenever he returns to Utah.
"Every time I come out here to Park City and see the pipe and around this area, it brings back great memories. And it's good to be back."
When Powers led the U.S. sweep he'd already made his mark on the sport. He won bronze in Nagano in 1998 in the first Winter Games that included snowboarding.
During the Nagano games snowboarding was televised less than an hour. During the Salt Lake Games the sport gained more than eight hours in coverage. Since then it has only grown in popularity and as of 2010, only figure skating pulled down higher television rankings than men's snowboarding.
Powers did what most athletes did after earning gold, he took advantage of every opportunity. Making the rounds on television and talk shows, the soft-spoken snowboarder became the first in his sport — but certainly not the last — to earn a million dollars.
Powers chose to use his new-found wealth and fame to help other athletes. He started a foundation that offered grants to athletes struggling in non-traditional and winter sports. In 2011, he joined forces with other Olympic medalists, including swimmer Michael Phelps, to create a new foundation that did the same thing, only on a wider basis — the Level Field Fund.
Powers said he created the fund because he saw other riders, some as talented as he was, that didn't achieve what he had because they didn't have the financial support.
Married with two children, he competed in snowboardcross and was an alternate for the 2010 Games, but now he teaches at the persitgious Stratton Mountain School, where he went to school.
"(I get to) help out the younger snowboard athletes and try to get them out here to maybe do events like the Olympics someday," he said.