Missoula Will Always Be Home To Me

Written by Kathleen Goodwin

Every four years, the best athletes in the world come together and the world turns its eyes to the Olympics. This year alone, an average of 19.8 million viewers a night turned their televisions onto NBC and rooted on Team USA and the elite athletes chosen to represent America. And in Missoula, they were all rooting for one: Darian Stevens, the 21-year-old slopestyle skier who calls Missoula home. Darian, who now lives and trains in Utah, sat down with Destination Missoula to share her experience at the Olympics, give insight to her day to day life, and share her memories and favorite things about her hometown.

Darian’s journey to the Olympics began simply enough: a girl living in Missoula who loved skiing at Montana Snowbowl.

“My first memories of skiing were being in ski lessons when I was younger,” Darian told us. Growing up in Montana, Darian would spend winters skiing at Snowbowl with her family: her mother Christina, her father Tom, and her younger brother Thomas. She began skiing when she was 3, and she has been in love with it ever since. “My mom said that I would always ski down really fast and wait for everyone at the bottom, and I would get really annoyed that I couldn’t go faster.

Darian Stevens grew up skiing at Montana Snowbowl outside of Missoula.

Darian Stevens was fearless from the start, on the snow and off. “[At Snowbowl] they would build this [hip jump] on the aerial site and I would go as big as I possibly could all the time. Me and my brother would compete against each other for who could go the biggest. We were so crazy, now that I really think about it. We would constantly be building jumps for our bikes, our dirt bikes, skateboards and rollerblades. We were always doing backflips off of rocks and boxes. We were insane when we were little.”

She grew up skiing primarily at Snowbowl but also at other local mountains like Discovery, Lost Trail, and Bridger Bowl. Growing up in Montana, Darian Stevens has a heart for adventure, and her love for skiing soon became her passion and her dream.

“I grew up skiing mogul at Snowbowl, and I really liked it until I was about 14 and we started traveling to other contests. At Junior Nationals, there is an option to do every event even if you didn’t qualify, so my brother and I would do everything. I started competing in slopestyle, and I realized that I really liked it. When I was 15 my mom started letting me travel around for it, and that is how I got started.”

Darian and her brother Thomas in Pyeonchang.

Realizing her passion for slopestyle came with a number of challenges for Darian and her family, the biggest one being access to training parks.

“At first my parents were skeptical because they knew if I really wanted to pursue slopestyle that I would have to move away. So they let me try it out for a year when I was 15, and I ended up getting into my first World Cup and making the U.S. team that year. My parents decided that they had to let me live out my dreams, and I moved out to Park City in [February of 2014] so I could really go for it.”

Darian left Montana for Park City to train at the age of 17, and that was not an easy choice for a girl who was at the time a junior in high school. “At first it was really hard [to be away from family in Missoula]. I wasn’t very independent. I missed my family and friends all the time, but I decided that instead of feeling like I was missing out on high school [and those experiences], I just learned to embrace it. I realized that it was really cool not being a regular kid.”

Darian attended Sentinel High School while living in Missoula, but in order to ski and train full time, she ended up finishing out high school online and at the Winter Ski School in Park City, which allows for school in the off season in April through November so that winters are free for training.

Darian says she learns new tricks best while she is having fun with her friends.

Darian, who recently turned 21 in October 2017, explained a typical winter day for her in Park City and the hard work that goes into the beautiful runs that we all see while watching the Olympics.

“It’s busy. A lot of people think that [being a professional skier] is the most amazing thing ever, and it is, but it is a lot of hard work too. I usually wake up, go to the mountain, ski for a bit, go to the gym, and then come home and hang out with my teammates, but we are on the road so much. Training varies depending on the day, but typically I spend 3-4 hours skiing—a combination between having fun and working on tricks or trying to learn new tricks. I try not to put myself in the training mode too much because I don’t really learn tricks that way. I learn new stuff while I am skiing with my friends and I am having fun with tricks I already have. We also we go to the gym 5 days a week to do strength workouts, a little bit of cardio, and some plyometrics. Certain aspects of my run I have been doing for 6 years and others I got this year. Doing a trick a bunch of times doesn’t necessarily make you comfortable with it. It is a mental thing; if you are confident doing a trick, then you can do it in your run. Generally, any trick [I have] in a run I have most likely done a couple hundred times.”

Darian competing in Switzerland.

In 2014, after hours a day of hard training, years of competing, and a lifetime of hopes and dreams, Team USA announced their winter Olympic team. They take four women to the Olympics for each event, and Darian missed the cut by one. Four years later, she recalls learning that she was Olympic-bound.

“Most teams usually do not have more than four athletes, so they almost always know they are going before the season starts. But our team is really competitive, so it is much different. I found out that I was going to the 2018 Olympics a week and half before we left. I was a little skeptical. I knew I was in the 4th spot, which is the last one, but I knew that they could choose to send me or not. I was trying not to be worried about it, but I was worried—expecting the worse in case it happened—just because I missed the [2014 Olympics] by one spot. But I got a call from my coach and he told me that I got the fourth spot…I tried calling my mom but she was on a flight so she didn’t actually pick up. Instead I just texted her and said something like ‘I did it!’ I don’t remember what I said, and she called me when she landed and was crying.”

Less than two weeks after officially hearing that she was going to South Korea, Darian was on a plane with her helmet, her boots, her skis and poles, a pair of jeans and a few personal items on her way to the Olympics.

Officially an Olympian, Darian packs her backs for South Korea.

“You don’t wear your own clothes, so that is weird for me. We have sponsors that give us clothes. I basically packed my suitcase with a helmet and then my personal things and all my clothes were just given to me when I got there. It was weird to not bring anything and then come back with four suitcases.”

The Olympics, she says, defied all her expectations. “Everybody is just so happy to be there, especially at the very beginning. During opening ceremonies, it was amazing to walk in with every Team USA athlete. Everyone is so excited. It was an honor to be able to go for the U.S. It was surreal, really.”

Darian told us that one of her fondest memories of the Olympics was spending time with the other athletes.

In the highest-pressure event in sports, Darian Stevens was able to keep her cool. For her, the Olympics was just another run on a ski hill doing what she loves most.

“I tried to think about it as just another contest in regards to the actual event, but it was crazy. When I am skiing and training, I am so in the zone that I don’t really notice what goes on around me. Obviously the Olympics is the pinnacle of sports and some people like to stress and that is their way of dealing with [the pressure], but I try to be a laid-back person, especially during competition. I didn’t let it get to me. I was honestly probably less nervous at the Olympics than at the qualifying events. Just because making the team is really hard and I know how to compete, so I wasn’t worried about the actual Olympics.”

One of her favorite aspects of the Olympics was the camaraderie between other athletes. She explains that everyone is so happy to be there and that it was a unique chance to be with other athletes, meet idols, and connect with friends both old and new. “It almost felt like summer camp—there were seven of us in a tiny apartment. Friends from other countries were there and we could all just hang out. We had this room in our building where there was always food and they had TV’s, so we would all go down and watch events together which was really fun.”

The Team USA Slopestyle Team was made up of Darian plus her four teammates and friends Devin Logan, Maggie Voisin, and Caroline Claire. Darian finished 17th overall in the event with teammates Voisin and Logan continuing on to the final round of competition. Looking forward to 2022, Darian is already shooting for the stars—and the podium.

Darian and her teammates at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

“I try to take it one day at a time. I would like to go to another Olympics, but I think it’s just dependent on a lot of factors. Our sport is insane, and injuries are a reality. I’ve already hurt my knee twice and I’m not looking to do it again. This summer I would like to unwind. The last 4 years leading up to the Olympics have been really stressful. Even when you are 2 or 3 years out you are still looking towards the Olympics. I am just going to unwind, have some fun and get back at it next season and hopefully have a good season. This season I was kind of a couple spots off the podium at almost every event, so I want to work harder next year to make sure my runs are a little bit cleaner and a little bit better and hopefully I’ll land on the podium some next year. Just take it one day at time and hopefully I will be going to Beijing. I love competing, but it is obviously very stressful, and it is hard when everyone has such high expectations for themselves. It is hard to be satisfied with a result when you know you can always do better.”

Go Team USA!

For Darian, the future is big, but she manages to keep her cool. She has a very laid-back approach to life, which is reflected in her philosophy in skiing and life.

“I think skiing is a way to express yourself. That’s why I like slopestyle. Everyone is given the same course, but you can take whichever approach on the course that you want, and you have your own style and your own tricks, and you get to show people what you want to show people You get to do whatever you want. If you’re not scared in a day, then you probably didn’t do anything. I am always scared at one point or another, but you just get to express yourself—make the terrain park whatever you want to make it. People watch you and you watch other people and you get inspired and you learn new tricks, and that is really what it is really cool about [slopestyle].”

Darian Stevens has experienced things that many can never even imagine, and at such a young age. It has not all been easy, though. In addition to two knee injuries, she had to grow up and tackle life a lot differently than most other people, leaving home at 17 and competing as an elite athlete.

“I miss my family all the time, and I love going back to Missoula. I love that they are there because I get to go back whenever I am free. Depending on the season, I make it home about four times a year. I always go back for Christmas, and I always go in the summer—we have a lake house at Seeley Lake which I love to go to. I love Missoula in the summer, so I always try to get back in the summer.”

And Missoula is truly home to her. Despite traveling the world and competing on world-renowned ski mountains, Darian loves her Montana roots and the ski hills where she grew up and grew her love for her sport.

“I love coming back to Missoula. My mom has so many friends and they are always so excited to see me. I also still have some friends in Missoula, so I love going back and seeing them as well.”

She tells us that whenever she is back, she tries to do “Missoula things.”

“I love going back to Snowbowl—it is the best mountain ever. Snowbowl has great pizza, and I look forward to it every year. I love Five on Black. It is my favorite place and I go there every time I go to Missoula. [I like] floating the Clark Fork or going to Caras Park. I go hiking with my mom up the M or at Blue Mountain. I go disc golfing with my brother a lot either at Blue Mountain or Pattee Canyon. I recently got into mountain biking, so I am definitely going to bring my bike next time I come to Missoula. I also recently just turned 21 so I am going to check out all the local breweries. I live in Park City now, but Missoula will always be home to me.”