Jewish snowboarder vies for spot on U.S. Olympics team
Seth Hill is one dreidel that doesn’t want to land on his side.
The Jewish professional snowboarder from Jacksonville, Ore., says he often spins like a dreidel when he does a “1080” — three full rotations in the air.
Of course, he prefers to land on his feet even more than on gimel.
But if Hill spins and lands just right he might be able to pick up some gelt in the form of gold, silver or bronze.
Hill, 25, has a chance to land himself in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. He is one of only eight male snowboarders to receive formal invitations in early July to participate in the 2014 Olympics Slopestyle events for the U.S. snowboarding team.
“I’ve employed the mindset of working hard and training hard,” said Hill in a phone call from Breckenridge, Colo. “It would be a cool opportunity.”
Slopestyle will be an Olympic event for the first time in 2014. It is a competition in which athletes do different tricks, getting as high in the air as possible on either a snowboard or skis.
Hill, who ranked 21st in the world on the World Snowboard Tour Rankings, is not as well known as two-time Olympic gold medalist Shaun White, but his popularity is on the rise.
•He has more than 400,000 followers on GooglePlus where he goes by the moniker “The Dreidel”;
•He’s making a name for himself as an environmental activist; and
•He was dubbed “The People’s Champion” at this year’s Burton European Open where he simultaneously competed and took photos of the competition for a magazine.
Being a part of the photography crew and separated from the other snowboarders at that contest, Hill said, “I was part of the community as well as competing in the contest.”
Hill made the finals in the European Open and Snowboarder Magazine named him the “Superspark Standout.”
He has often stood out as a Jew — high school, for instance, where he was one of only two Jews in the entire school.
Growing up in Oregon, Hill was a member of Temple Emek Shalom in Ashland. His uncle is Rabbi Scott Colbert of Temple Emanu-El in Atlanta, and Hill went on a Birthright trip in 2012, which he described as one of the most spiritual and moving experiences of his life.
Hill’s father, a skiing instructor, influenced his son to get into winter sports at a young age. Hill began skiing at age 2; he moved on to skateboarding a few years later, then took off on snowboarding when he was 10.
“And I haven’t slowed down since,” he said.
Perhaps because he had already experienced going sideways on a skateboard, he thinks snowboarding proved a quick transition.
As an 18-year-old on his high school’s snowboarding team, Hill got his first highly satisfying taste of competition, ranking first among amateur snowboarders in the country by the United States of America Snowboard Association.
After applying to several colleges where he would be able to continue snowboarding, Hill chose the University of Colorado at Boulder. He joined the university’s snowboarding team as a freshman and stayed all four years.
After graduating, Hill put all of his focus on snowboarding. He made his first impression in professional snowboarding in 2010 when he finished sixth competing in the Grand Prix Slopestyle in Mammoth Mountain.
Hill also tries to make an impression on kids by giving presentations for POW (Protect Our Winters), an organization devoted to engaging the snow sports community in combating global warming.
Five or six times a year, Hill speaks at elementary, middle and high schools telling students how to reduce their carbon footprint. Athletes will tell the students about what they do personally to minimize their footprint, such as carpooling or having a reusable water bottle.
“I think my biggest presentation was 450 kids,” Hill said. “If you can get half of those kids to [participate] it makes a big impact.”
Aside from fighting global warming, Hill now faces heated competition in the running for one of four spots on the U.S. Snowboarding team.
The snowboarders will compete against each other at several events: the Breckenridge Dew Tour, Copper Grand Prix, North Star Grand Prix and Mammoth Grand Prix. These competitions will take place this December and January 2014, which will determine the U.S. team. Eight snowboarders have been invited to compete so far, but Hill said as many as six more may get offers.
Hill believes that two of the four spots might be locked up already, but the other two spots on the roster are open to anyone, including himself.
“There are a lot of amazing riders, especially in the U.S.,” Hill said. “I think in the scheme of things there’s definitely a chance.”
(Andrew Goldstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)