Hunter Bailey is the current National Mogul Skiing champion from Team USA and he has his sights set on competing at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games. Hunter joins the show to talk about his training and love of the sport as well as his aspiring amateur photography hobby. He breaks down what mogul skiing is and what his plans for the future are.
Dustin: Alright. You know, when we heard of you first and you reached out to us, and of course I googled you and watched some YouTube videos, the first question that came to my mind was, "How the hell do you keep your knees together?"
Hunter: That's actually the biggest part of it. It's a judge sport, so form is the biggest part of it, and keeping your knees together is a huge thing. That's why we have to wear those patches on our knees.
Jeff: Oh, wow.
Dustin: Okay, so that's cool, but I'm wondering how you keep your actual knee structure from like ...
Hunter: Falling apart, oh.
Dustin: falling apart, yeah.
Hunter: It's funny, like every time you get on the chairlift and you tell someone you're a mogul skier, they're like, "Oh, how are your knees?" Yeah, I don't know. I've been really lucky with injuries. We just train a lot. We do a lot of gym workout stuff, like injury prevention style workout.
Hunter: Yeah, I don't know. I don't really have knee issues. I've had some back issues in the past, but my knees have been fine. A lot of people, a lot a lot of people blow their knees though.
Jeff: So for the layman who's out there listening to this podcast, can you explain a little bit what actual mogul skiing, mogul freestyle skiing is, the sport that you do?
Hunter: Yeah, so basically it's a judge sport and there's three different lines on the course. You have a section of moguls, a jump, another longer section of moguls, a jump, and then a short section of moguls. It's judged based off of the speed, like how fast you get down the course, your form in the moguls and then your form on the jumps, and depending on how difficult of a trick you do, you get a higher score. So let's say you do a cork 7, you get one score, but if you do a cork 1080, you'll get a higher score and you have to do a different trick on both jumps.
Jeff: Oh my gosh.
Dustin: Interesting, so what's important for winning a competition like that? Is it getting past the finish line first? Is it doing the gnarliest back flip, or is it riding through those moguls as smooth as you can? Or I mean ...
Hunter: It's hard to say one is more important than the others because it's pretty much whoever wins did all three the best. I would have to say that usually the moguls is the most important. The way that it's judged is it's 60 points are awarded for moguls, and then 20 points are awarded for jumping and 20 points are awarded for speed, and speed is the only non-judged aspect obviously so it's not really being awarded but it's like out of 20. I don't know, it's really hard to say. The Canadians right now are the best and they're definitely the best at jumping. It's kind of just an overall impression thing.
Jeff: Crazy. So how did you get into skiing? What got you into skiing in the first place?
Hunter: I'm from Vail, Colorado, so ...
Jeff: There you go.
Hunter: Yeah. I live at a ski resort, and I went to a school where starting when I was in kindergarten, every Friday we took the day off and went skiing and it was just a big part of my life. My dad taught me how to ski, so it was just kind of what you did.
Jeff: Crazy. How did you transition from kind of liking it as a kid to wanting to compete?
Hunter: Because living in Vail, if you want to be an athlete, you can't really like ... like if you want to take it to a high level, you can't really play football or play soccer because the teams just aren't very good. I played all those sports but I wanted to be really good at something so I had to choose skiing. I mean, not that I wouldn't have already. It's like the most fun thing ever, but ... Yeah, it's just kind of out of circumstance.
Jeff: That's awesome.
Jeff: So now you have been competing for a while, and I want to officially congratulate you. You are actually the dual national champion of mogul, did I read that right?
Hunter: Yeah, so we have two separate contests actually. I should have explained that, but we have singles which is just like one person down the course at a time, and then they actually, the next day they do duals which is two people at the same time and you're judged against each other so it's like ... That's actually super cool to watch. You're racing each other. It's pretty cool. I won both singles and duals at nationals, so I won both of them.
Jeff: Congratulations, man. That's awesome.
Hunter: Thanks. Yeah. Yeah, it was cool.
Jeff: Would you say there's a lot more pressure in the duals just because you're like right next to somebody just trying to kick their ass? Does that make it tougher?
Hunter: It's different. I don't know, I think that's when just being more competitive is what will make you win. A lot of times the people who wins singles a lot of times isn't the one who just skied the hardest and had the gnarliest run, whereas duals it's just like, you literally just have to beat the person next to you and a lot of times it comes down to just who went for it more, I guess. I don't know, it's different. A lot more people fall in duals. Anything can happen. A lot of times someone will fall at the top of the course and kind of just keep going and the other person'll fall at the bottom of the course and then they have to judge that. At world championships this year, the people who got the third and fourth place dual, both of them fell on the bottom air and then they were pushing across the finish line. It's really crazy.
Jeff: Oh my gosh. That's crazy. What is it like ... Okay, so I'm kinda trying to get into your headspace. You train incessantly to make sure your body is in peak condition, your knees aren't gonna blow out, and you are now going to compete in a single run where it's just you, so that's a little bit better, and then the next day you have to be on top of the mountain next to somebody, competing against them. What are your nerves like? Is that nerve-wracking, or are you more focused?
Hunter: Sometimes I get super nervous. Sometimes not so much. We move through rounds, so there's qualifying, semi-final, finals, and a lot of times for me qualifying is super nerve-wracking because just a little mistake and then you're done for the day. I don't know, that sucks. Whereas in the other rounds you can fall and still get sixth place, I guess. So I don't know. I have a sports psych and I do a lot of that kind of training as well. I do a lot of visualization and I kind of have to deal with ... I get super nervous sometimes, so I have to really try to figure that out. I listen to music while I compete. I listen to really calm music, like at nationals, I was listening to Letter to Elise by The Cure on repeat the whole time.
Jeff: That's awesome.
Hunter: Yeah. I feel like a lot of people think that I'm probably listening to like, I don't know, Slayer or something to get pumped up.
Jeff: Well yeah, that is ...
Dustin: That's what I would figure, yeah.
Hunter: But it's like the opposite.
Jeff: That is surprising. A lot of people, especially ... and I hope you don't take offense, but especially in an extreme sport like this, I consider this an extreme sport ... yeah, punk and metal, and even hip-hop, are really a lot of what in the iPods of a lot of the people that at least we've even talked to, and it's interesting to hear that you're listening to The Cure, but that obviously must have a calming effect on you.
Hunter: Yeah, because I need to focus in the gate. I'm already super pumped up. I don't need to get pumped up, and I love punk rock. My favorite band is Jawbreaker, and so like, I've tried to listen to them when I'm skiing but I can't do it. I get too pumped up and I can't think.
Dustin: You blow yourself out, yeah.
Dustin: Yeah, intense. Yeah, I feel like that's how I end up getting with a competition. I'm already there. I don't need to get pumped up.
Hunter: Exactly, yeah.
Dustin: I'm already running on all cylinders. In fact, I'll wear myself out if I'm not careful. Same thing with playing rock shows. If I'm excited all day about the show that's about to happen, by the time the show happens, I'm out of juice, and it's like, "Aw man, I should have reserved all that awesome energy for the stage or something."
Jeff: Yeah. That's awesome. So you are now a national champion, and I mean, what's obviously on the horizon for everybody in winter sports is the upcoming Olympics. Can you talk a little bit about what the road to the Olympics might be? I mean, you're obviously vying for the team, correct?
Hunter: Yeah. Ideally they would send three guys, three girls. There might be four girls, two guys or four guys, two girls. Who knows.
Jeff: Right. It's six total, is what it is.
Hunter: But there's basically like 11 people, 11 guys, 11 girls who have a chance to make that team, and it's based off the early season world cup so there'll be seven contests before they choose the Olympic team, and I might not get to go to all of them. I might not get to go to any of them, but chances are I'll probably be at most of them.
Jeff: When do they happen?
Hunter: They start in December.
Jeff: Oh, okay. Cool. Where's that?
Hunter: Let's see. They're in Norway and then a couple in Canada. I think there might be one in China and then one in ... There's a two-day contest in the US, in Utah.
Jeff: So you do a lot of world travel in this sport.
Hunter: Yeah, we travel a bunch.
Jeff: That's incredible.
Dustin: So you have like a whole team that you train with and ... I mean, technically you're competing against them, right, when it comes down to the Olympics?
Hunter: Yeah, that's the thing. It's an individual sport but we travel as a team. There's a US team so there's like 11 dudes and 11 girls who we travel around with. It's super fun. That's my favorite part of it, honestly, is the travel and hanging out.
Dustin: How do you feel about competition between team members? Is there a lot of shit-talking, or ...
Hunter: Yeah, definitely. Most of it's friendly. I don't know, yeah, like my best friends are on the team so I want to see them do well and I hope they want to see me do well. There is a lot of shit-talking, though. I don't know. It's super fun. I love that part.
Jeff: That's awesome. I know the answer to this question, but how do you think your chances are? You think you got a shot?
Hunter: I think right now, most people would consider me on the outside looking in, but I don't know. Anything can happen, and the thing is, in the past the dudes who have like come out of nowhere have always done the best at the Olympics, like Travis Mayer won really randomly, won a contest to get him in and he was like 20 and had nothing to lose so he skied really well and crushed it and got second. That's happened multiple times. Random people have gotten in and done really well, so I'm super stoked about it. I'm just really excited to see what happens.
Dustin: I think you said a key word there, "nothing to lose." Do you think that happens?
Hunter: Oh totally, yeah. I kind of have that rep as like, the way that I ski is like ... I'm not trying to ... It's hard to explain but a lot of people are like, it seems ... and this is not me trying to shit-talk people, but ...
Dustin: Do it, do it.
Hunter: A lot of people can kinda just go out there and they can kinda mail it in, ski the same run a bunch of times, and they'll get a lot of second, thirds. They might win every now and then, and kind of the way that I go about it is like ... Like last year, I didn't have a podium until nationals. I didn't have anything until nationals. It came together at nationals and it worked out, but I kind of just spent the rest of the year just fucking up, just falling and crashing. So I don't know, I think that like, the "nothing to lose" thing kind of plays right into my cards.
Dustin: You kind of Babe Ruth through it? Just like, "all or nothing."
Dustin: I think that's the way to go, I mean that's how you really stand out, you know?
Hunter: Yeah, totally.
Dustin: You're not gonna turn any heads being reserved. You may win some competitions over other people, but it's really that just like, "fucking wing it, let's just smash it as hard as I can and see if I come out on top" kind of attitude.
Hunter: Yeah, exactly, and I want to do runs that I think are cool. I want to make things that look cool and I'm proud of.
Jeff: That's awesome. You've done a lot of traveling, you've obviously skied a lot of different mountains. Do you have a favorite place to ski? Outside of being in Vail obviously.
Hunter: Yeah. I have to say Vail, I guess. I think Telluride is really really rad, like southwest Colorado. The town is awesome.
Dustin: Yeah. Telluride's a cute little town, right? It's not even a big ...
Hunter: Very cute, yeah.
Dustin: Yeah, I've been through it a few times. I like Telluride, seemed like a really cool group of people down there too.
Hunter: Oh yeah, it's badass. And then I guess this isn't as much for skiing ... We have contests in Quebec, but I really like Quebec. Montreal is sick. Switzerland is rad too.
Jeff: You said earlier that you think Canada's the best at this sport. Is there a reason why, you think, or they just got good guys and girls over there, or ...
Hunter: They just kind of have it figured out. Their system is set up really well. They have a really, very well-ironed pipeline that from when you're 6 you're doing well and then you move onto this team and then you move onto this team and then you get on the national team and it's like the same coaching all the way up, whereas the US is just like, random regional teams all over the place, like who knows what's being taught at all these places, and then you might eventually make it to the team and then you probably disagree with what the team coaches are saying. So it's a little bit different. I don't know, it's ... and I mean I say Canada's the best. They're the best right now. The US has been in the best in the past. Other places have been the best in the past, but they're really really good right now.
Dustin: I mean, there's just some amazing ski resorts in Canada in general.
Hunter: Definitely, definitely.
Dustin: BC, British Columbia, there's some really amazing resorts there with some really amazing talent coming out of that area. Canada to skiing at this point is almost like Russians to ice hockey. They've been smashing at it and concentrating at it for so long it's like their sport, but I mean, like you said, same thing goes with the US. We have a pretty good focus on winter sports when it comes to skiing and always have a really awesome Olympic team as far as the skiing sections go. You talked a little bit about just really ripping through some of your rides, nit leads me to the question and I've asked this from some other people. If you were to pick one, what's most important when it comes to competing: Intelligence or confidence?
Hunter: Confidence, for sure. I think intelligence actually goes against you.
Jeff: You're too much in your head, you think?
Hunter: Yeah. I think if you ... I kind of have a theory that people who are kinda dumb will be better at athletics. If you just have blind faith in your coaches and you don't think about ... like a lot of the things that our coaches tell us, they don't necessarily make sense. For doing one of our tricks, a back full ... It's like a back flip with a 360 in it, and all you want to do when you get off the jump is just spin. You just want to hit the jump, set the back flip, set a 360 and land it, but what you actually want to do, what a coach would tell you to do is hit the jump and then use tilt-twisting mechanics ... so drop an arm, then drop another arm ... and it'll make you twist through physics or whatever and if you think about that, unless you're very very smart ... To me, if I think about it, it doesn't really make sense to me, so I get nervous and I won't try it, but if you just kind of had blind faith in your coaches and you're like, "Okay, whatever. I'm just gonna hit the jump and not do anything and drop an arm and drop another arm and see what happens," you probably would be able to do that trick really well really quickly.
Dustin: I feel like for some of the shit that you do ... no offense ... you'd have to be a little crazy and a little stupid to get it done. Yeah, I think you have to be like, "whatever," and just like throw it off the jump as hard as you possibly can.
Hunter: Yeah, totally.
Dustin: And you know, in my snowboarding years I found the guys who would really throw the biggest tricks were always kinda the dumber guys, but there's advantages to everything I suppose.
Hunter: Yeah yeah yeah. For sure.
Jeff: Have you gotten really hurt in the sport?
Hunter: No, I've been super lucky with that.
Jeff: That's awesome. That's good to hear, because I mean, you are doing some crazy stuff. Outside of skiing, is there any other sports that you're into? You mentioned earlier in life, you did play football and stuff like that, but do you do anything else other than ski at this point?
Hunter: I didn't actually play football, just for the ...
Jeff: Oh, okay.
Hunter: When I was younger I played like every sport except football. Outside of skiing, not like ... I mean, I don't know, we just spend a bunch of time in the gym and we play some basketball, just like pickup games and stuff. We don't really do that much other ...
Dustin: Gotta remain focused, Jeff. Keep your eye on the prize.
Jeff: That's true. That's true, that's true. When you get downtime, what do you like to do in your downtime? Do you have a hobby?
Hunter: Yeah, I'm super into photography and art. I like the 35mm and a little bit of medium format.
Jeff: I actually found the most adorable picture of you with a cat and a camera. It's a pretty great photo, actually.
Jeff: But that's cool, so I mean, you probably get to do that a lot, especially traveling the world and ...
Hunter: Yeah. Yeah, it's super sick. Everywhere we go is super scenic, so works well with that.
Dustin: Yeah, because it's giant, awesome, gnarly mountains everywhere you go.
Dustin: Especially in Vail, and everything in that area. Aspen, Crestview, all that whole area's just gorgeous and just ripe with photography.
Hunter: Yeah, absolutely.
Jeff: So let's say you kick ass and you do make the Olympic team this year. What are your thoughts on where the Olympics are this year, in South Korea?
Hunter: Yeah, it's kind of crazy. I guess that they've had a test event in South Korea, and it was apparently like the raddest course ever.
Jeff: Oh, really?
Hunter: Yeah, it was like super sick. It looked sick. So that's cool. I don't know, I've never been to Asia, so I've never really been to that part of the world, but I'd really like to go there. It seems super super badass.
Dustin: Well you said one of the qualifying competitions is in China. Are you going to that one?
Hunter: I mean, maybe. Who knows? Who really knows?
Dustin: How do you get the funds to do all this traveling? Is that from sponsors or is that coming from ...
Hunter: Yeah, sponsors help. A lot of people just do the GoFundMe route. That's part of it, kinda. Just figuring out ways to pay for things.
Dustin: Yeah, because that can't be cheap just traveling all over the world and throwing yourself off jumps all the time.
Hunter: No, yeah.
Dustin: Do you have a fallback favorite trick?
Hunter: I really like the cork 7. It's a fun trick.
Jeff: Explain what a cork 7 is.
Hunter: It's an off-axis 720 with a position, so it's just like a 720 to the side, kind of.
Jeff: Oh, crazy.
Jeff: So that's your go-to if you're just gonna go off a jump and throw something out there?
Hunter: Yeah. I mean, it's just like the most fun trick. It feels really cool.
Dustin: Is there a trick that has eluded you up until this point?
Hunter: I can't do a double fall, which is like a back flip with a 720 in it. Yeah, I can't do it at all.
Jeff: It sounds crazy.
Dustin: I'm just trying to imagine it. Oh, shit. You know, when I look at this races, it always seems like, "Man, those poles look like they can get dangerous." I mean, take one to the face ... especially when you fall off the jumps. Are they necessary in the mogul competitions?
Hunter: Yeah. Well I mean, I'm sure someone could figure out how to do without them, but they're for timing kind of. They just like set up your turn, and then ... I think you're required to have them actually, so yeah, I guess they are necessary.
Dustin: You ever see anybody take one to the face?
Hunter: Yeah, I've actually ... One time when I was really young, I landed, and planted my pole and then it just hit me straight in the sternum. It hurt so bad.
Jeff: Oh, man. That hurts just thinking about it. Oh, man. I know I kind of already asked this, but I'm always curious with people who either ski or snowboard. Do you do both, or are you just for skiing?
Hunter: Yeah, I snowboarded a little bit when I was really young, but nah. I don't snowboard at all.
Dustin: Jeff, like I said, you have to keep your eye on the prize, man.
Jeff: Keep focused, keep focused. I gotcha, I gotcha. I gotcha.
Dustin: You can't go snowboarding and end up with a bunch of bums and then you start smoking pot and you never know what you're gonna get into after that.
Jeff: I see, I see. So on this show, every time that we have a guest on, we love to ask this question and especially of athletes of your caliber. You're getting out there, you're competing, you are traveling the world. You are going up head-to-head against people and getting nervous like you said. What fuels you to keep going out there and doing it? What keeps you going out and competing?
Hunter: I don't know. It's really fun, honestly. It's just kind of a feeling that I haven't gotten in anything else, I guess. When you get down from a run and it's like a run that you've worked really hard to put together and you finally put it together, it's just a super super rewarding cool feeling. Yeah, I don't know, I just ... It's great.
Jeff: Do you ever get to ski for fun any more, or is it all work?
Hunter: Oh yeah, yeah yeah. Like last year, or last spring, me and three other friends got an RV and drove to Alaska. We were in Alaska for like a month, just kind of snowmobiling and skiing.
Dustin: That sounds like fun.
Hunter: Yeah, it was awesome.
Dustin: Oh, man. Very cool, dude. Hey, if anybody wants to follow you through all your competition or find you on social media, how do they find you?
Hunter: I am @3hunter on Instagram. That's really the only one I do. I don't really have a Facebook or a Twitter.
Jeff: I'm with you. You know, D-man and myself are actually trying to do Twitter a little bit more because of the podcast and everything, but ...
Dustin: Speak for yourself.
Jeff: We're trying, we're trying, but Instagram I think is where it's at. I really really enjoy that social media platform because you get to talk through pictures. It's not the whole Facebook high school locker room kind of thing, you know? It's a lot better, and you do have a kickass account over that.
Hunter: Oh, thanks.
Jeff: Like I said, I did find that photo of you and that cat, but there's a lot of cool photos of all your adventures over there and stuff like that.
Hunter: Thank you.
Jeff: And just finally, so we can kind of hammer that home, in December is when trials begin, correct? For the next competition that you might be in?
Hunter: Yeah. There's not like a set ... Like other sports like gymnastics has the Olympic trials. We don't have that, but it's just, that's when the early season world cups start and that's when we'll be able to qualify.
Jeff: Oh, okay. So it's not like you have to do world cup and then do Olympic trials. Your Olympic trials are actually how you fare in the world cup.
Jeff: Oh, okay. Will this be the first time that you've competed in the world cup?
Hunter: I did one world cup last year but it was kind of like, everyone else got injured and they were like, "Hey, you want to do this?"
Dustin: Well, that's good to like, kind of dip your toes in and get an idea of how competition's gonna be when ... Now that the stakes are high, you kinda know what you're getting into now.
Hunter: Yeah, totally.
Dustin: Cool, man.
Jeff: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for taking time to talk to us. It was really cool to hear about the world that you live in and we're pulling for everybody on the USA team. Whether you make it to the Olympics or not, we hope you guys have a wonderful year, but we know you're gonna be there. I can just feel it.
Hunter: Thank you, yeah.
Jeff: I can just feel it. You're gonna be in the Olympics, you're gonna win super gold. It's gonna be amazing.
Dustin: You've been touched by the Fueled by Death Cast. You can't lose now.
Hunter: Exactly, yeah. Yeah, yeah. No, we're gonna get it.
Dustin: Awesome. Well, we'll be cheering you on the whole way, man, so keep training hard and kick some ass out there, dude.