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Career jump-start

Brothers helped Olympic snowboarding champion Teter develop acrobatic skills

January 25, 2007|Pete Thomas | Times Staff Writer

ASPEN, COLO. — When Hannah Teter was just a tyke, brothers Abe and Elijah bounced her from a trampoline 15 feet into the air and onto the roof of their parents' car.

Splat!

They expected her to run crying into the house. Instead, she climbed down from the car and jumped back onto the trampoline.

They knew then that she was one tough little girl.

But what all four of her older brothers and her parents could not have known was that this little girl from backwoods Vermont would blossom into one of the world's top snowboarders and soar to Olympic stardom.

Or that she would then credit them for her success.

Or that she would use her rising celebrity to bring relief to the poor in Africa, insisting that this was what inspired her to do well at the Turin Games in February.

"At a young age, I had that compassion," she said.

Toss in the "ridiculously cool monks" she conferred with as a child, and the family's homemade maple syrup, and you have the key components of the Hannah Teter story.

That story resumes tonight on Aspen's Buttermilk Mountain. On the eve of her 20th birthday, Teter will compete in the ESPN X Games halfpipe competition against many of the athletes she defeated at Turin.

It'll be her first event since the Olympics and since knee surgery in April. And if she can somehow shake the rust and beat them again, she says she'll donate the $20,000 top prize to charity.

Odds don't favor the gregarious blond from Belmont, Vt., but she has something else working strongly in her favor.

She calls it "positivity."

How, for example, was Teter able to win the Olympic gold medal despite a chipped bone in her knee -- which had kept her out of the X Games two weeks earlier -- and the entire world looking on?

"I just asked for positivity before I went there," she said, "and to be happy and grateful and stoked for everybody, and it just ended up being so much fun."

She'd also thought it was fun being spun in a saucer across one of Belmont's frozen ponds by her brothers. Or leaping out of the upstairs window onto the trampoline, as they did. Or flinging herself, as they did, off the family snowboard ramp.

Winning Olympic gold was, rather, the result of hard work and determination, and it elevated Teter to heights she never could have imagined.

"I was going from being in my own space -- just snowboarding and listening to my music -- to all of a sudden being raced down to Torino in a cop car with sirens," Teter said. "It was a trip."

Her post-Turin whirlwind trip included visits with David Letterman, Jay Leno, Jimmy Kimmel, MTV and, of all people, Martha Stewart -- they made granola.

Teter also made the cover of Sports Illustrated. She and Gretchen Bleiler, the Olympic halfpipe silver medalist from Aspen, waved the green flag to start the Daytona 500.

Teter, selected by ESPN as best female action sports athlete, saw her salary with Burton Snowboards increased into the mid-six figures. She also was rewarded by sponsors Mountain Dew and Motorola.

She and her mother, Pat, launched Hannah's Gold, maple syrup produced in the family tradition, with proceeds of each $15 bottle earmarked for charity.

"For being only 19, her head's pretty firmly planted," said Amen Teter, 29, the oldest brother and Hannah's agent. "I'm pretty amazed."

Amen, Abe, Elijah and Josh were Teter's inspiration, in part, because they were often her most accessible friends.

Belmont is minuscule, even by small-town standards, with fewer than 500 inhabitants, and the Teters lived on 10 acres up a mountain road beyond Belmont proper.

"She was a tomboy, this rag-tag girl always tagging along," Amen said. "But we never treated her like a princess girl -- poor her. She was just a cool sis doing cool stuff with us."

Teter's parents, Pat and Jeff, were essentially hippies. They and the monks at a neighboring monastery preached positivity -- or some form thereof -- as gospel.

"Now I'm all about praying and sending positive energy to people who need it," Teter said.

Her fondest memories, though, are of the long days each spring when the family bounced through the forest in an old pickup and used buckets to collect sap from maple trees. Jeff Teter would then boil the sap down to syrup.

It took nearly 100 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.

"Boiled-down goodness," the family assures. Poured on pancakes, a perfect send-off for a romp in the snow.

Abe and Elijah were competition junkies and pro snowboarders partially sponsored by Burton, which would ultimately land Hannah as its female poster child.

She followed their lead, turned pro at 16, and left them in her tracks. She finished that 2003 season ranked second on the Grand Prix circuit and by the World Snowboarding Federation. She was victorious at a World Cup race in Chile and claimed the Vans Triple Crown at Breckenridge, Colo.

In 2004, she won the Grand Prix title and struck gold in the X Games halfpipe competition. Last winter, during Olympic qualifying on the Grand Prix circuit, she finished second to Bleiler.

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