Posted: Thu January 31, 2013 4:14PM; Updated: Thu January 31, 2013 4:14PM

Snowboarder Arielle Gold celebrating biggest victories of her career

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Arielle Gold
16-year-old Arielle Gold en route to winning the women's halfpipe at the snowboarding world championships.
CHRISTOPHE KARABA/EPA

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- When the check came for the party of eight at a fancy Park City steakhouse this week, it went right to Arielle Gold.

Never mind that she's just 16 and a junior in high school.

Gold was celebrating the biggest victory of her young snowboarding career -a bronze as an X Games rookie- and gladly paid.

Now the girl with the perfect name is looking for more success at the U.S. Grand Prix at Park City Mountain Resort's superpipe.

Gold and Olympic champion Kelly Clark were the top women qualifiers, while superstar Shaun White and Louie Vito are among the 12 men moving on to Friday's finals.

"This whole season has been amazing," said Gold, who grew up in Steamboat Springs, Colo., but trains in Breckenridge. "I just wanted to come out and land the best runs I could in contests. I've been doing that and it's working really well for me."

To say it's happened pretty quickly is an understatement.

Two weeks ago, Gold made the last-minute decision to compete in the FIS Snowboard World Championships in Quebec.

The reigning Junior World Champion walked away with gold, becoming the youngest American and second-youngest athlete to do so.

"The weather wasn't great, so it was about putting down a run that was smooth," she said.

She threw in a frontside 540, backside 540, frontside 720 and cab 720.

"It didn't feel very smooth, but apparently it looked better than it felt," she said.

Last week, Gold wasn't even scheduled to participate in the X Games but earned a spot when Aspen local Gretchen Bleiler withdrew from the eight-woman field.

Gold, who had been allowed to practice initially as the first alternate, made good again.

"When I landed the run and got third, it was amazing," she said. "I couldn't describe the feeling that I had. Other than the Olympics, the X Games are the biggest contest in snowboarding. Getting to compete was amazing to me. Getting bronze was huge."

Needless to say Gold made the right career move after thinking as a youngster her future might be in summer sports - equestrian or soccer.

She grew up around horses, and still has two - named Spunky and Bugs.

They provide a nice change of pace from the hazards of riding big air.

"It's nice to have something relaxing to do in my spare time," she said.

It sure beats homework for online schooling - another fact of life when one is 16 and traveling the world.

The easygoing Gold isn't complaining.

About the only thing that has her shaking her head are all the plays on words about her name.

"Every contest someone makes a pun about my name," Gold said. "It's awesome when you do well but kind of a curse at the same time. 'Gold going for gold but doesn't get gold,"' she quipped.

Asked if she would change it, not a chance.

That's especially the case considering her first name is a bit unique and actually is pronounced "R-E-L."

"People struggle with it a lot, so it's nice to have a simple last name," Gold said.

After the Grand Prix, she'll head to the European Open and a World Cup event in Sochi, Russia - with her ultimate goal to return there for the 2014 Olympics.

Though Gold could be part of the next young wave of stars in female snowboarding, she has to keep pace.

Consider the never-before-completed double backside alley-oop rodeo by Elena Hight that earned her silver at the X Games. (Hight pulled out of this week's events).

"It was amazing seeing a girl try a trick that's never been done before," said Gold. "It motivates everyone.

"The girls in this sport are constantly progressing. To be competitive you have to constantly be on your game or be left behind."

That's why her plans are to learn the 1080 next and incorporate it into a run she can land in competition.

For now Gold wants to enjoy this ride, which is why she took her friends out for that steak dinner after they made the drive from Aspen from X Games with her $7,500 in winnings.

She's part of the pack now and the unwritten rule is to spend 10 percent of one's winnings on family and friends.

Well worth it, said Gold, who enjoyed every delicious bite herself.

"I'd love to stay on a roll," she said of expectations Friday. "The most important thing to me right now is having fun with my friends, and being happy with my own ride."

Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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