Alaska snowboarder Stassel makes Olympic team

Beth Bragg
Julie Jacobson

Anchorage snowboarder Ryan Stassel was on his way to the X Games on Monday when he got the news he's headed to an even bigger Games.

Stassel, 21, is going to the Winter Olympics as a member of the U.S. slopestyle snowboard team.

"I never thought this would truly happen," Stassel said via cellphone late Monday while riding a shuttle bus to Aspen, Colo., where the Winter X Games begin this week. "It's kinda surreal."

Stassel, a 2011 Service High graduate, was a discretionary pick by U.S. coaches. He's part of a four-man team that also includes Shaun White, Chas Guldemond and Sage Kotsenburg, but of that group only Stassel had to wait until Monday to learn that he was headed to Sochi, Russia.

The Olympic selection process for slopestyle allowed for a three-man team based on objective criteria, with the possibility of a fourth rider chosen at the discretion of U.S. coaches. On Sunday when announcing the preliminary team of White, Guldemond and Kotsenburg, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association said an additional pick was "expected."

On Monday, Stassel was added to the list. The news ended a nerve-wracking wait for the Alaskan.

"I've been trying not to think about it too much, but it was definitely weighing on my mind," he said.

"I've been hanging out with friends and I've been packing because I'm getting ready to travel to another event, so I've been pretty occupied. But it's been in the back of my mind."

Stassel, who won one competition in Mammoth Mountain and finished third and fourth in the two others, said his immediate focus is the Winter X Games. Slopestyle is making its Olympic debut in Sochi, but it's been on the menu for awhile now in Aspen, where Stassel expects the competition to be fierce.

"It's pretty much a mini-Olympics," he said.

Stassel is the fifth Alaskan to earn a trip to Sochi. He joins curler Jessica Schultz and cross-country skiers Kikkan Randall, Holly Brooks and Sadie Bjornsen.

Stassel grew up snowboarding at Hilltop and in recent years began competing internationally. His seventh-place finish at last season's world championships helped him land a spot on this season's U.S. Snowboard Team, which increased his training and competition opportunities. Even so, Sochi was a long shot when he began the season -- he was coming off rehab for a broken foot, and 2018 seemed a more reasonable goal.

His week in Mammoth changed that. He scored more than 90 points in two of the three competitions and turned in a spectacular performance in his victorious run.

"I'm feeling pretty good," Stassel said.