‘Love for Snowboarding’: Tahoe’s Norman hoists national title after torn ACL

Hahna Norman stands above a big air event after returning from a torn ACL in 2021.

COPPER MOUNTAIN, Colo. — Standing atop the slopestyle course at Copper Mountain Ski Resort, Hahna Norman makes eye contact with her coach.

The two exchange words about a trick Norman hasn’t landed since tearing her ACL in 2021, but it’s her final run of the Nor-Am Cup snowboard slopestyle stop at her home resort and Norman knows a double wildcat — a move that involves two over-the-tail backflip rotations — is her only route to victory and proving she’s fully back from injury.

The 18-year-old snowboarder from Tahoe opens what she’d later call a “dream run” with a switch backside 540, and after a clean landing, positions herself for the next feature.

“I was like, ‘double wildcat, OK. I got this. I can do this,'” said Norman. “I went off and it was easily the most perfect one I’d ever done.”

After stomping the double flip, Norman then put down a backside 720 before making her way down the rail section and to the bottom of the venue where she caught a cheering group of friends out of the corner of her eye.

“I’d never put any of those tricks together in sequence on any kind of line,” said Norman. “I had this surreal moment of landing and riding away and just being like, ‘Wow, not only did I just put together my best run, but all my friends are here.’ It just felt so unreal.”

Norman was awarded with first place by the judges at the competition, which was the third event of the Nor-Am cup slopestyle season. After finishing 12th and eighth in slopestyle at the prior two competitions in Sun Peaks, British Columbia, Canada, the win at Copper Mountain vindicated all the hours of sacrifice spent to return to a sport she loves.

“All the hard days and the days that you don’t want to do something or the days you just don’t want to get out of bed or whatever it is, it’s all so worth it when you have a day like that,” said Norman. “That set the tone for the rest of my season to be like, ‘I’m back. I’ve got this.'”

Falling in love with snowboarding

Norman was born in Arizona but grew up in the Lake Tahoe-area, attending Truckee Elementary School. At age 8, she saw her cousins snowboarding and thought, “This looks so cool.”

Soon Norman had a board of her own board and as she started making her first turns, began falling in love with the mountains and the kinship to friends the sport fosters.

When she turned age 10, her father’s career as a physical therapist took the family to Rome, Italy, and away from snowboarding. During three years in Italy, the family would make annual ski trips to the Tahoe area, but those fleeting vacations to the mountains only intensified Norman’s hunger to be on the slopes.

The family returned to Truckee when Norman was 13, and Norman joined the Northstar Ski and Snowboard Team, practicing five days a week at the resort.

“I learned how to snowboard on the Northstar team,” she said. “I owe a lot of where I am today to them. The coaches on that team just made snowboarding such a blast everyday.”

After finishing her freshman year at Truckee High School, Norman and her family made the decision to move her to Colorado for more training opportunities at Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy.

“It wasn’t an easy choice for sure,” said Norman. “I was super nervous to move there by myself. My biggest fear was what if I put my parents through this and I hate it.”

Norman moved into a house with a coach and his wife, along with two other teammates that were  also from the Lake Tahoe area.

Her sophomore year started amid COVID-19 restrictions, which meant the only in-person interactions she was able to have or friends she was able to make were with students that were also part of the academy’s snowboard team. Still, Norman said her first year at the school produced some of her fondest memories.

“It was honestly one of the best years of my life,” she said. “It was so fun.”

‘It was a warm-up trick for me’

After finishing her sophomore year with a trio of FIS wins in slopestyle, Norman opened her 2021-22 campaign by making her World Cup debut, taking 14th place in big air in Chur, Switzerland.

She followed that performance up with a 30th-place finish at the World Cup stop at Steamboat Ski Resort, in Colorado, and also earned a chance to compete at the U.S. Olympic Qualifiers. Unfortunately, her season would come to an end in the coming weeks.

In December 2021, Norman traveled to Calgary, Alberta, Canada for a World Cup event, and while doing a backside 360 in practice she came down awkwardly.

“It’s a warm-up trick for me,” said Norman. “I just got caught funny by the wind and landed wrong on my knee.”

As she rode back down the mountain, Norman began to realize something wasn’t right with her knee. A trip to the doctor and an MRI the following day revealed she had torn the ACL in her left knee — an injury that would cause her miss the remainder of the season..

“It kind of all hit me that I wouldn’t be snowboarding for at least nine months or maybe more,” she said. “It definitely wasn’t an easy pill to swallow.”

Norman had surgery to repair the ligament in early 2022. As a lifelong athlete that’s always used sports as a coping mechanism, Norman attacked physical therapy with one purpose in mind — come back as a better snowboarder.

“This is what I want to do, and I’m going do whatever it takes to get me there. I had a huge goal of wanting to come back stronger,” she said. “If I can’t snowboard all season and I can’t necessarily progress my tricks on the snow, there’s something I can be doing to make myself a better snowboarder in other aspects.”

Roughly six months after the accident, Norman returned to snowboarding with a new perspective. Competition was no longer the main priority. Instead, she was filled with a sense of appreciation just to have her feet strapped back into a pair of bindings. 

Hahna Norman returned from a torn ACL in 2021 to capture this season’s slopestyle national championship.

“I just wanted to come back and enjoy snowboarding and just have a lot of fun doing it,” she said. “I missed snowboarding so much when I was out. I realized how much I couldn’t live without it when I couldn’t have it. It definitely gave me a new perspective and a new love for snowboarding and established that this what I want to do for the rest of my life.”

National championship, lofty goals

After her slopestyle win in January Norman went on to rack up seven top-10 Nor-Am Cup finishes, including a win in big air at the tour’s finale in March at Stoneham Mountain Resort, in Quebec, Canada. She finished the season in third place in the Nor-Am Cup standings.

Norman then returned to her home resort at Copper Mountain in April to compete in the final event of the season, the slopestyle national championships.

While not needing to pull out the most difficult tricks in her repertoire, Norman was able to capture her first national title by nearly eight points with a score of 80.33.

“It felt super comfortable to be at the stomping grounds, a place I’m familiar with,” said Norman. “I could not have been happier to end the season on that.”

Following a successful return from a torn ACL that took her junior season, Norman is set to graduate from Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy in the coming weeks. She said she then plans on taking a year off from academics to focus solely on snowboarding and pursuing a Nor-Am championship in 2024.

“My goal is to be a big name in women’s snowboarding,” said Norman. “Not necessarily for any of the fame or any of that, I just think it would be so cool to be part of paving the way for the sport.”

In the meantime, Norman said she is eagerly awaiting U.S. Ski & Snowboard’s team nominations for the 2023-24 season. Landing on one of the national teams provides varying levels of access to training and financial support.

“It would be super cool to make it and I’d be super honored,” said Norman. “But at the end of the day, I’m still going to keep snowboarding and doing what I do.”

“At the end of the day, I’m still going to keep snowboarding and doing what I do,” said Hahna Norman.

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