Sochi 2014: Grete Eliassen - The free spirit of freestyle skiing

Story highlights

  • Grete Eliassen is a U.S. slopestyle skier aiming for Sochi 2014
  • Slopestyle is a freestyle skiing discipline which is making its Olympic debut
  • Eliassen was on the Norwegian ski racing team as a teenager before turning to freestyle
  • The 27-year-old is a two-time X Games gold medal winner

With the wind in her hair, the ice cold air on her cheeks and powder flying from her skis, Grete Eliassen took her sport to new extremes.

The American hit the ramp hard, soaring 31 feet above the snow before returning to earth a world-record holder.

That monumental leap in Utah three and a half years ago confirmed Eliassen's status as a force in her emerging discipline.

Less than a decade after turning her back on downhill ski racing, it was a moment for the freestyle star to savor.

"I was on the Norwegian national team but I quit ski racing because it wasn't fun for me anymore," she told CNN. `

"I love powder, I love getting air."

As a teenager Eliassen had to choose between following her dream and pursuing her passion.

Sochi Olympic torch takes a spacewalk
Sochi Olympic torch takes a spacewalk


    Sochi Olympic torch takes a spacewalk


Sochi Olympic torch takes a spacewalk 01:01
'Dr Ice' wants Olympic medal
'Dr Ice' wants Olympic medal


    'Dr Ice' wants Olympic medal


'Dr Ice' wants Olympic medal 02:54
First Nations reflect on Winter Olympics
First Nations reflect on Winter Olympics


    First Nations reflect on Winter Olympics


First Nations reflect on Winter Olympics 04:11

Downhill racing and a shot at Olympic gold was a possibility, but she opted for a career in the discipline she loved -- freestyle skiing.

"I thought I would go to the Winter Olympics for ski racing, when I decided that wasn't my passion I let my Olympic dream go," said the 27-year-old, who was born in the U.S. but has a Norwegian father.

With Russia's first Winter Games drawing ever closer, the two-time X Games gold medal winner could get one last chance to fulfill her childhood dream.

Slopestyle is a freestyle skiing discipline that sees competitors tackle a variety of obstacles, such as jumps and rails, as they descend a downhill course.

Rather than being ranked by time, skiers are judged on the variety and difficulty of the tricks they perform as they traverse the obstacles.

At Sochi 2014, it will be part of the Olympics for the first time.

"I've been watching the Olympics since I was a little girl," said Eliassen, who is based in Salt Lake City -- which hosted the 2002 Winter Games.

"It's my favorite show every four years, watching all the female athletes.

"I've been following my heart the whole time having fun, now it's back in my sights. It is crazy how dreams you think could never happen can happen.

"This is my only shot at the Olympics. I'm getting older and I've competed a lot in this sport, I know this will be my one and only shot."

Slopestyle is the latest event to make the transition from the modern, high-octane world of the X Games into the ancient, rarefied confines of the Olympic arena.

While Eliassen is embracing this new chapter in the short history of her sport, she is also keen to pay tribute to slopestyle's X Games roots.

Read: 'I had to stop breaking my body'

"The X Games has always been our Olympics because in the past we never had the Olympics," explained Eliassen.

"This year is definitely going to be different. We can look at snowboarding, where usually in an Olympic year it's a little toned down at the X Games, some athletes don't do it.

"For our sport it's important to do it all, all of the contests which have been there since the beginning like the X Games. It's the birthplace of our sport."

The inclusion of slopestyle in the Olympic program has brought Eliassen under the umbrella of the U.S. ski team, giving her access to coaches and facilities which were previously inaccessible.

"Before the Olympics my training consisted of going to the gym, building up my muscle to prevent injury," she said.

"But now we're part of the U.S. ski team I have a strength and conditioning coach, I have an air awareness coach for trampoline skills -- anything in the air and more gymnastic.

"There's been so much more coverage of our sport. I've done way more media interviews. I'm just really excited to be a part of it."

The Olympics and the media circus which accompanies the Games has helped slopestyle's profile hit new heights.

Eliassen hopes the young sport can continue to go from strength to strength.

"I turned professional age 17, I won the U.S. Open, shortly after that I won the X Games and I kept winning and winning," she said.

"I've been in the sport for over a decade now, which is incredible. I've seen it grow from such a little thing ... I was the only girl in my terrain park, now I see girls in there every day, which is amazing.

"Now I get to see it grow into the Olympics, which is really cool."

The final U.S. selection competitions take place in December and January. If Eliassen is picked she will complete a journey which began when she was a child bouncing on a trampoline in her parents' backyard.

Read: Ferrari ... On ice

"I had a little garden trampoline," she said. "I have a bigger trampoline now, you can jump really high, which is crazy.

"I'm not sure how I learned all of these tricks on my garden trampoline, but I did."

Pushing the envelope has always been Eliassen's style, culminating in her history-making leap in 2010.

"When I did my world record jump, I jumped 31 feet," she said. "You don't do that first. You start off with a small jump and you build up to a medium jump. It's always progression. You start off small and you work your way up.

"Our sport is all about progression and making things look newer, the other sports are quite regimented. You never know what you're going to see in our sport."

Come February, slopestyle fans could see Eliassen with a gold medal around her neck.

Read: Dr. Ice's quest for Olympic glory

Read: Science Friction -- The art of curling

      Aiming for Gold

    • intv davies sochi iconic olympic images_00022301.jpg

      Sochi 2014: The verdict

      With the Olympic cauldron now extinguished, CNN takes a look at whether Russia's $50 billion Sochi budget was money well spent.
    • Canada's Sidney Crosby scores past Sweden's goalkeeper Henrik Lundqvist during the ice hockey final at the Bolshoy Ice Dome during the Sochi Winter Olympics on February 23, 2014.

      Sochi's top-10 sporting moments

      The athletes on show in Sochi provided moments of drama and destiny that captured the imagination and settled in the collective memory.
    • Norway's Ole Einar Bjoerndalen competes in the Men's Biathlon 15 km Mass Start at the Laura Cross-Country Ski and Biathlon Center during the Sochi Winter Olympics on February 18, 2014, in Rosa Khutor, near Sochi. AFP PHOTO / ALBERTO PIZZOLI (Photo credit should read ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images

      Here's Sochi's real winner

      Russia may have topped the medals table at the first Winter Olympics it staged, but which country was most successful per capita?
    • SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 08: Katie Uhlaender of the United States shows a bald eagle design on her helmet as she prepares to make a run during a Women's Skeleton training session on Day 1 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at the Sanki Sliding Center on February 8, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

      Sochi: The coolest gear on show

      From eye-popping helmet designs to F1-influenced bobsleigh, the Sochi offered a bewildering array of technological innovation.
    • Fireworks explode over the Olympic park at the end of the closing ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympics on February 23.

      Sochi's artistic ending

      Sochi's closing ceremony took an artistic look at Russian culture before the Olympic flag was handed over to South Korea for the 2018 Games.
    • The world's most expensive road?

      Critics say it would have been cheaper to coat this Russian road with caviar but will the route made for Sochi reap long-term rewards?
    • Tomas Portyk of the Czech Republic jumps during the Nordic Combined Individual Large Hill official training on day 10 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at RusSki Gorki Jumping Center on February 17, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

      360-view of Sochi ski jump

      Navigate your way around this spectacular 360-degree picture from Sochi's ski-jumping venue at the Winter Olympics -- and find out how it was created.
    • 'Come vacation in Sochi ... please!'

      Sochi's transformation has left even the local cab drivers a bit lost and confused -- but don't let that put you off visiting this rejuvenated Black Sea resort.
    • March of Sochi's sun athletes

      For a Winter Olympics, there are some very colorful characters from some very tropical climates taking part -- including this "Mariachi" skier.
    • Gold medalist Jamie Anderson of the United States and bronze medalist Jenny Jones of Great Britain celebrate during the flower ceremony for the Women's Snowboard Slopestyle Finals during day two of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park on February 9, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

      The Olympics is their playground

      If snowboarders were an introduction to a younger, hipper, "slacker" generation of Olympians, the next wave has taken it to another level.
    • A prop from the Winter Olympics opening ceremony.

      Sochi: Russia's paradise lost?

      It has been dubbed Russia's Las Vegas. But has Sochi's massive renovation come at a cost to the region's stunning natural environment?