On the transition from teen prodigy to playing with the big dogs, being a triple discipline threat and why Aussie snowboarders are dominating the podiums.
That’s the word that comes to mind when describing Valentino Guseli. He’s somewhere in California, fresh from having won an X Games Aspen bronze halfpipe medal and is chatting while making breakfast in between an early morning Italian lesson and ride to the hill. He’s a multi tasking winner and while there’s no trophy for that, one could argue there’s no need, this northern season Guseli is already a medal magnet.
In case you’ve been MIA on a remote summit the 17-year-old from Narooma on the New South Wales South Coast has recently been storming podiums from Europe to the USA. In December 2022 he stomped into history as the first Aussie snowboarder to win a World Cup Big Air event (at the Edmonton Style Experience Big Air) followed with an X Games Aspen halfpipe bronze last week.
This win felt particularly sweet as, according to Guseli, “it was finally my first halfpipe podium in a major competition, which is pretty amazing, because it took me like three years to get there.”
But wait, there’s more. Guseli became the youngest Australian ever to win a FIS World Cup Crystal Globe and the first to win a FIS World Cup Big Air Crystal Globe last month.
When asked post World Cup Crystal Globe how he felt. “Relieved,” was the telling response.
It was only in 2021 that the then-15-year-old made his World Cup debut at the LAAX Open in Switzerland. Where he not only advanced into the finals (finishing eighth) with the top qualifying score but proceeded to break Shaun White’s record for the highest air out of the pipe – a vertigo inducing 7.3 metres.
That LAAX result is considered a green light moment by Guseli.
“I wasn’t competing against people my own age anymore,” he says. “I was competing against the absolute best. I actually wasn’t sure before that competition. I wasn’t even sure I’d make finals.”
He did, and scooped a world record. But with that spectacular arrival came expectation.
Even before this, Guseli was hailed as a teenage prodigy. No pressure. And after LAAX, he felt “lots of people expected a lot of me and I kind of let them down.”
“Well, I didn’t get any other decent results that year,” he explains.
“I think lots of people thought it was just beginner’s luck.”
And then commenced a year which included a broken arm in the halfpipe and learning how to transition into this new phase of his career.
“It’s pretty tricky to just win straight away when you have to change your level by such a big amount,” he reflects. He had to apply new strategies, such as not to expend all the tricks and energy in qualifying runs, saving some in the tank.
Fifth and sixth places began appearing regularly, although it still wasn’t where he wanted to be. Now, the Beijing Winter Olympic finalist says with modesty, “I’m starting to get to the point where I’m getting closer and closer to how I feel like I used to be like, like finally doing well.”
Losing, even in a World Cup final against the world’s best, doesn’t come easily to Guseli, and you have to go back, way back to unravel his psyche.
“Well, when I first started, I didn’t lose very much,” he laughs, remembering his early days, from when his dad first took a 3 year old Valentino snowboarding at Thredbo.
“And then every time I lost, I would just cry and cry and cry. Because I didn’t know what it was like. And I just really always wanted to be the best at everything I did. And if someone was better than me at something I took it personally.”
Keeping him grounded through these highs and lows has been the tight knit Guseli family; his Nonno (grandfather Guido), dad Ric and mum Kristen who built a 10 metre high airbag with a 20 metre landing deck in his backyard so their son wouldn’t have to travel to train. And if you ask him who’s advice he values most in the snowboard world, it’s an immediate “Dad’s.”
Entering open age competitions meant not just new strategies, but advice. “You meet so many people in this industry, and they all have their two cents,” he says. Certain people told Guseli success meant concentrating on just one discipline. But Ric, who began a personal mission to understand every microscopic detail of his son’s sport, and Valentino disregarded that.
Since the beginning, he’s been multi discipline as, “some wise people told us early on it’s all snowboarding and that it’s very important to be able to do all of it. And so I just kept doing everything.”
So he finds it amusing when people say, “Oh, I thought you are a half pipe rider.” He’s a snowboarder, now with a World Cup slopestyle crown proving he’s not just a one style rider.
“It felt good to show that to the world,” he says.
When pressed on a favourite discipline, he describes Slopestyle as the “least intense”, with the most flow and relaxed vibe. Big Air comes with the buzz of of doing ‘”a super sick trick and riding out to the bottom where there’s always a big atmosphere.” The halfpipe has that same electric vibe, but oddly it’s not the noise he notices, it’s the quiet.
Halfpipe has the least room for error and is the most intense. “The feeling of just going big out of a halfpipe is so insane,” he explains. “Like, there’s no other feeling, just crazy adrenaline, but at the same time, it’s like there’s nothing going on in your head at all.”
Guseli is one of the unofficial Boarderoos, the elite paddock full of Australian snowboarders who’ve made bounds including the late Boardercoss Champion Chumpy Pullin, Scotty James who’s won 5 X Games Aspen halfpipe golds and multiple world titles, dual Olympic medallist Torah Bright and regular medallist Tess Coady.
“We don’t take it for granted,” Guseli says of the secret sauce of Australian success. “You have to travel really, really far. And be away from our families for so long. So yeah, we always have to make the most of being away.”
Humble. Stratospherically talented. Dedicated. Smart and… fierce. Soon the only records Guseli will breaking, will be his own.