Like many 18-year-old American girls, Hannah Teter keeps a journal. Unlike many, she picked up hers in Iceland.
"It's so sad," Teter says. "I can't be certain where I was last month. For some reason, everybody wants me right now. Hannah, Hannah, Hannah. Croatia, then Chile, New Zealand. It's the life I'm living."
Teter bought the journal to help her remember, to slow her down, to induce reckoning. A tall order for a simple orange spiral notebook with a tulip emblazoned on the front. Inside are doodles and poems and musings, "random stuff I may never acknowledge otherwise," she says. Two days ago, on an early-December flight from California to her home in Vermont, Teter sketched a picture of her house, "to see if I could even remember it." Her journal has no lock and key, largely because Teter is not very secretive. Ask her anything, and she's happy to share: who she thinks is hot ("Usher, that Pirates of the Caribbean dude, Tanner Hall"); what matters most in her life ("connection, being a good person"); if she believes in God ("totally!").
When Teter talks, her words come in waves. Random torrents, propelled by spasms of youthful intensity, ebb into surfer girl "dudes and whatevers," all mixing into Teterese. She finds her feelings hard to contain, so she doesn't even try, preferring to let them rip, embellished with exuberant hand gestures, silly voices and face-cracking smiles, and if all that is a little full-on for more moderate people, well, "whatever, I got to be me, right?"
"I am all about honesty," Teter says, lazily stirring a skillet of eggs in the kitchen during a rare breather in her winter schedule. "I pretty much always say what I feel, because my life is mad hectic." Which can happen when you are a teenager and the best female snowboarder in the world.
"There are girls who could work 10 times harder than Hannah and not be half as good," says U.S. Snowboarding halfpipe assistant coach Mike Jankowski. "She is the first woman to land a 900 in competition. She goes very, very fast when she drops in. A lot of riders, men and women, slow down in the middle of a run to get more under control. Hannah never speed-checks. Ever." When she rides, Teter soars, catapulting herself into the sky, harnessing the speed she gains on reentry for her next trick. She does not wobble or extend her arms into the blue, grasping for balance. Instead she flies, as if flying was what she was born to do, and her face broadcasts a joy plain enough to read from the earth below. "It's like she was born into it," says Gretchen Bleiler, 2003 Winter X Games SuperPipe champ. "She has the least amount of fear of all of us."
Teter's promise was obvious early on. By age 12, she was sponsored; at 15, she turned pro. A year after that, she won the SuperPipe at the 2004 Winter X Games, and celebrated by stripping down to her sports bra for the final run, a manifestation of exuberance run amok ("I was just so happy!"). She is favored to repeat in SuperPipe at the 2005 X Games in Aspen (Jan. 29 to Feb. 1) and plans to ride for the U.S. in the 2006 Winter Olympics, where she'll likely be the favorite to win gold. "She's already the best, and she still wants to be better," says Jankowski. "She likes to push it."
Teter's aggressive riding style, her disarming guilelessness and her apple-pie smile have combined to draw such sponsors as Mountain Dew, Nikita clothes and Burton gear. She earned low six figures in 2004, and her income should triple this year. "Crazy, right?" Teter says with a throaty laugh, as she pours a mug of hot tea. "I never thought snowboarding was something I would do for a living. I'm so young, it still feels like a hobby."
The baby and only girl of five kids (three of whom ride competitively), Teter was reared in a rough-and-tumble household. "There was a lot of 'Let's bounce Hannah on the trampoline and see how high she'll go,'" she says with a grin. "I got me some accidental boy qualities."
Teter, who lists older brothers Amen, Josh, Abe and Elijah as her role models, is a proud tomboy. She avoids makeup. She carries herself with a muted swagger. She flexes her muscles and marvels at how "buff" she is becoming. "I weigh 150. Rock on!"
Although adorable by any definition, Teter owes her self-confidence to ability, not appearance. You won't see Teter working the French manicure and kitten heels. "I do wear a pink coat when I ride, so you can tell I'm a girl," she says. Her one concession to traditional femininity: blond highlights. "It's a rinse," Teter says quietly.
"She was always rambunctious," says Teter's mom, Pat, an ER nurse in Springfield, a short drive from the family's house in the shadow of Okemo Mountain. "She went through a phase at around 5 when she wanted to wear dresses. It didn't last long."
Teter eats breakfast standing up ("I'm not really a dinner-table kind of person"), a plate of scrambled eggs and a side of pancakes slathered with peanut butter. She wears a T-shirt, sweats that drip off her hips and a woolen cap that struggles to contain her wild golden hair. Her face is round and open, a pale moon framed by spikes of straw. Across the counter, her father, Jeff, a road foreman for the town of Mt. Holly, sits at a computer tracking the fickle Vermont weather. Ski passes dangle from hooks above his head.
While Teter eats, her parents tell a story about how she used to scream when she didn't get her way. "We just put her in a different room," Pat says. "She learned that screaming wasn't going to get her what she wanted." Teter now consciously avoids drama. "I like having good energy so people can feed off that," she says earnestly. Then, switching to yo-bro intonation, she drawls: "Two gooood energies create one gooood time." She giggles, shrugs. "I can't recall the last time I was sad."
Teter feeds the remainder of her pancakes to the dog, Chewy, then heads upstairs to her room, a nook draped with sarongs and colored beads and the odd, stark, green license plate that reads TETER. On the floor is an open suitcase surrounded by balled-up socks and jars of vitamin C. On the walls hang several landscape paintings by her grandfather and a couple of collages Teter made by gluing words torn out from magazines-balance, inspiration, happy-to poster boards. Beside her bed is an open book, Within a Miraculous Realm, which Teter says has much to offer on "living in the present."
"I don't have, like, hard-core goals," says Teter. "I am more about the moment. Enjoying right now, then moving on."
But make no mistake: Teter is a workhorse, a straight-A student (she's taking a correspondence course to finish high school) and an assiduous exerciser. Still, her future remains a willful mystery. She's not sure she wants to get married or have kids or attend college or even snowboard forever. "I may just end up chillin' on a yacht in the Caribbean," she says. There are things she has an eye on, like an Olympic medal, but should they not come to pass, "so be it, dude."
"There are people in snowboarding, and you can really see their drive. They really want it, whatever it is." Teter shakes her head. "I'm living the life. I don't even think about asking for more."
Teter was raised in church. Even so, church eventually lost out to the more tangible rewards of snowboarding. "All my friends would be over, and I'd be like, 'Who wants to go to Sunday school?' And it'd be like, 'Uhhhhh.'" Teter laughs. "I guess Sunday school was not rad." She still considers herself a believer. "I listen to Christian music sometimes. And I go to this awesome place called the Weston Priory. Monks, I love those guys."
The priory is located a few miles from the Teter home. There is a barn for outdoor services and a more formal building for winter worship. When in town, Teter attends as many services as she can. She likes to sit in front, close enough "to see their faces" when they chant and drum. "When I leave there, it's like I've been injected with some unseen medicine," she says. "I find my center. Life is good."
At the entrance to the grounds stands a large wooden cross. "Before I was born," Teter says, "my grandmother prophesied under that cross that I would live in Belmont. She had a vision we would all move here." Says Pat: "We thought my mother's vision was crazy. At the time, we were in Missouri. We had no intention of moving to Vermont." But something pulled the family east. They began visiting more often, and in 1983 Pat and Jeff moved to Vermont and started building a house on 10 acres abutting Okemo Mountain. They started with two small rooms, which for the first decade were heated only with wood. The house remains modest for a family of seven: kitchen and living room downstairs, three bedrooms upstairs. The boys share one room. Everyone but Mom and Dad gets a single bed. Privacy is nonexistent, but no one complains. "There is so much love in my family," Teter says. "I can say anything in front of them. It's the ultimate connection."
She knows that kind of huggy scenario is rare. "One of my best friends had a really hard childhood. Her dad was an alcoholic. Her mom was on heroin. It gave me knowledge that people have gnarly stuff happening in their lives." And while Teter has experienced her own emotional challenges at home (brother Josh has delayed mental development), she considers herself blessed. "Josh has given me much patience," she says. "He has a crazy personality. But I love having him as a brother. He says things I would never hear other people say."
She bears no resentment for the attention Josh requires or the cramped house or having to chop wood or needing to haul sap for homemade syrup. Either by genetic lottery or hippie rearing, Teter is what every parent hopes for: happy, healthy and grateful. Vermont's tourism board should put her on a brochure. "I like people who express vulnerable human qualities that most people don't," she says. "Like Josh. Or Mother Teresa. Just think, if everybody did that, what a huge difference it would make in the world."
IT'S BEEN two days off powder and Teter wants to ride. The jones is severe. "Right now, I live for snowboarding," she says. "There's not really a backup plan." But the weather is wet and windy, and there is no snow in Vermont. So there will be no riding today. There will, however, be lunch. At the local deli, Teter orders a turkey-and-cranberry sandwich. While she waits, a few old classmates come up to say hello. They chat, but the dynamic is mildly awkward. Teter is a celebrity now, a future Olympian, and she has little to add about what's happening on The O.C. Still, she tries to relate. "Cool," she says repeatedly. "So, have a good food thingy," she shouts as they walk away. She shrugs. Teter doesn't exactly fit in anymore, but she doesn't exactly care. Painful psychological excavation is not a hobby of hers, and so her new top-jock status and its looming implications for the future remain unexplored in favor of unmitigated self-love and anticipation of the next tasty ride.
Teter takes her food, settles into a booth and surveys the cafe. "I haven't had a date in a long time," she says, her mouth stuffed with sandwich. "You never know what is a date on the snowboard circuit. People hook up all the time. But I try not to. I don't like distractions. I'm trying to achieve right now."
She swallows, takes a gulp of water. "Of course, I do have crushes. No getting around that." More sandwich. More water. A handful of corn chips. Then, a typical Teter non sequitur. "I've always hated my middle name. It's Lee. I wish my middle name started with an O, so my initials would be H-O-T. How cool would that be?"
Her eyes glisten, and she smiles, joking but only partly. "Ha, ha, hot!" she says in a dim cartoony voice odd enough to prompt a man in a down jacket and beard to glance her way. Teter gives a wave.
"H-O-T, baby!" she says ardently. The man looks away, embarrassed.
"I used to wash dishes at a place like this to earn money to compete," Teter says, unruffled. "I wasn't very good. I put knives in the dishwasher blade-up."
After lunch, she decides to pop into her high school, the one she now attends mostly by e-mail. Teter transferred to the Okemo Mountain School in ninth grade, once it was obvious she was something of a prodigy. For about $9,000 a year, the school molds the talent of promising skiers and snowboarders while keeping them up with their traditional schoolwork. Most daylight hours are spent sweating on the slope, a fact that is immediately clear when you enter the OMS vestibule and inhale.
Down a hallway, Chris Marks, Teter's former English teacher, sits in his office. On his desk is a copy of Lord of the Flies and a stack of Freeze magazines. Across from him is a snowboarding hopeful. "Hannah is in there," the student says, nodding toward the school kitchen. "She's swarmed. You can't get close to her. I mean, come on, it's just Hannah."
Marks laughs. "All the kids want to be like Hannah," he says. "She's the goal."
"You mean selling out is the goal?" the student snipes, picking imaginary lint from his shirt.
In the school kitchen, Teter is surrounded. She grins, makes jokes, playfully punches a boy in the arm. After a few minutes, she leaves, waving goodbye and promising to stay longer next time she's home, "whenever that is." The other kids disperse and slink away, affecting indifference.
Exiting the parking lot in her Jeep-her prize from the U.S. Open at Stratton Mountain, Vt., last winter-Teter remembers her first day riding. "I was so slow," she says. "I was in the third grade, and all the other kids in my group were waiting at the bottom of the hill while I came down. It took me a while before I got any better." She chuckles.
"But I did."
TODAY IS a training day, and Teter is at iSPORT in Killington, with coach Bill Knowles. Pat has come along to shoot video, to show Jeff at home. Teter is eager to begin, dressed in running shoes, boxer shorts with Christmas trees printed on them and a Rocket Power T-shirt, beneath which is a heart-rate monitor. "The goal is to make each run as strong as 180 degrees over a two-foot barricade while holding a 10-pound ball aloft like a stinky baby. After a dozen jumps, she recovers by pedaling a bike set to a tension taut enough to mimic slogging uphill through snow.
"We are going to eliminate any fatigue," Knowles says.
Teter emits a little grunt.
"Stop whining," he barks.
"I'm just making noise, beyotch," Teter counters.
Knowles next puts her through "light" lifting: 100-pound squats and 95-pound clean-and-jerks. After that comes abs work and lots of leaping onto giant inflated balls to develop balance. The workout lasts four hours. "In other sports at this level, this training is normal," Knowles says. "But not for snowboarding. There's a perception that snowboarders don't want to work hard, they want to party hard."
Teter is perching on one foot, arms extended like Superman. "Men are stronger," Knowles says, "but we can make Hannah significantly more powerful." Teter is sold on the strategy. "I like to go big," she says. "I watch some girls drop in, and it's beep, beep, beep, little stuff, and I wonder, what are they afraid of?"
On the stereo, Beyonce is "looking so crazy" as Teter performs squats and lunges. Pat eyes her daughter. "The girl has a lot of spice," she says, softly. "But there's a little sugar in there, too."
She watches as her child springs toward the ceiling, legs roped with muscle, sweat trailing down her chest, mouth in a twisted broken grin. Shaking her head, Pat raises the camera and pushes record.