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Yu-Jin Yang, of South Korea, competes in the FIS Freestyle World Cup Ski Halfpipe Qualification at Bokwang Snow Park in February

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From Carbondale to South Korea

By Tess Weaver Strokes

Yu-Jin Yang photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images Sport

11.27.17

The Roaring Fork Valley’s Peter Olenick is training South Korea’s first halfpipe and slopestyle ski team.

SOUTH KOREA SENT one athlete to the inaugural Olympic ski halfpipe competition in Sochi in 2014 without a coach—and without expectations of the skier passing qualifying rounds. With the ski world descending on Pyeongchang in February for the country’s first Winter Olympics, the South Korean Ski Association knew the freeskiing team needed attention. Enter Peter Olenick, the X Games halfpipe high air gold medalist, 11-time X Games competitor and former world-record holder for highest air out of a halfpipe (24 feet, 11 inches) who had spent the last few seasons coaching for the Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club and lending expertise to family—his siblings, Michael and Meg, were both competitive freeskiers—and friends like halfpipe icon Simon Dumont.

The association interviewed Olenick several times, then flew him to Seoul in late 2015. Friends had warned Olenick that the cultural differences between South Korea and the Roaring Fork Valley would prove too difficult, but Olenick found mild noodle dishes without seafood, learned to sleep on mats instead of beds and jumped right into working with two athletes on the national team. A month later, he brought them to Copper Mountain for the first competition of the season. Neither were at the level they needed to be to podium at upcoming World Cup events. “Between the language barrier and the culture—South Korea is very rule-oriented and revolves around rigid schedules—the first year was definitely challenging,” says Olenick.

But as an athlete himself, Olenick can decipher what a skier is experiencing even when they don’t verbalize it. “I already know the walls they are trying to climb over mentally when learning new tricks and how hard it is,” he says.

Now, the four-skier team trains on snow every month of the year with Olenick and a second coach, and even travels with a personal trainer. One female halfpipe skier can podium at World Cup events, and one slopestyle skier can spin doubles and is hoping to land a triple this season. “Their English is improving with all the travel, and they’re comfortable around me,” says Olenick. “We laugh a lot, and the team loves to ski.”

From taking the athletes on adventurous hikes in New Zealand to their first boat ride in the ocean, he’s become much more than a coach to these young South Korean skiers. Olenick is eager to experience his first Olympics, but after years of bonding with his team, he’s cares about their well-being beyond skiing.