Dara Howell Wins Ski Slopestyle Gold as Her Hometown Celebrates

Feb 27, 2014

Dara Howell admits to getting choked up and teary-eyed whenever she sees a Canadian athlete mount the podium to accept a medal as O, Canada plays. This time, though, she was the athlete as the 19-year-old native of Huntsville, Ont. collected the first-ever gold medal in ladies ski slopestyle at the Sochi Winter Olympics.

Howell dedicated her monumental victory to Sarah Burke, a pioneer and primary promoter of the ski slopestyle, who had pushed to have the competition included in the Olympic Games. Burke died in a halfpipe accident in 2012 at the age of 29.

Howell, however, credited her 99-year-old grandfather for being the inspiration who brought her to this moment. "He is the reason my family skis," she said. Her parents, Dee and Doug Howell, both are former competitive skiers and always encouraged their youngster to work for her dreams, the younger Howell said. When she returns to her hometown, Howell said she plans a ski outing with her grandfather.

Howell's parents beat her back to the small town of under 20,000 located about two hours north of Toronto and were immediately set upon by well-wishers. During a brief interview, her father repeated his advice to anyone who has a dream or special goal. "Work hard and it will happen. I've seen it."

Huntsville itself is in the midst of welcoming its new favorite daughter home in triumphant style. A key to the city is being prepared and a baker plans to offer a thousand celebratory cupcakes to mark the occasion. The town even is considering duplicating its annual Winter Comedy Carnival by bringing in snow to downtown so Howell could ski down Main Street. "We're looking at everything," the town's mayor said. "Nothing is too big."

This is the first gold medal to be brought home by a Huntsville native. The town came closest in 1932 when Hattie Briggs won a speed skating silver at Lake Placid. Witnesses to the town's preparations for the return of the 2012 Huntsville High School graduate say the excitement is palpable. Howell's accomplishment already has inspired fellow athletes in the town. A boy's ski group, which had not medaled all season, won a bronze in a regional downhill competition soon after she captured the gold.

None of the male winners testified to whether they had a bracelet in their pocket as a good luck charm as Dara Howell says she does. Other little-known facts about the golden skier are that, with all her bravado on the slopes, she is most afraid of dogs. She also always makes sure she takes a blanket with her when she travels. Her non-skiing loves, according to the Team Canada website, are surfing, wakeboarding, and shopping.

 

In winning the ski slopestyle competition, Dara Howell buried her competition with a score of 94.2. She accomplished this by nailing an off-axis spin of 2.5 rotations, otherwise known as a Switch 900, in difficult slushy conditions better suited to making snow cones. The U.S. took the silver while Canada rounded out the medals as teammate Kim Lamarre took home the bronze. Canadian competitor Yuki Tsuboto succumbed to the conditions and suffered an injury that required her to be taken from the slopes on a stretcher.

Howell relates that her parents first put her on skis when she was only 18 months old. At age 15, she moved to freestyle skiing after being unimpressed with Alpine racing and figure skating. Since then, with plenty of support from family and friends, she has gone on to win the slopestyle silver in the 2013 FIS World Championships, a bronze at the 2013 Winter X Games, and a bronze at both the 2012 and 2013 Winter X Games Europe.

"She'll never be just 'Little Dara' again," said a hometown enthusiast.



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