For Rising Snowboarder Rocke Weinberg, The Youth Olympics Could Be A Launching Point

by Steve Drumwright

Rocke Weinberg competing during the men's halfpipe at the 2023 Toyota U.S. Grand Prix in Copper Mountain, Colorado. (Photo by U.S. Ski & Snowboard – Mike Dawson)

Her name is Rochelle Weinberg. But she’s better known as Rocke Weinberg. Yes, Rocke — not Rocky, although it’s pronounced like Rocky and was inspired by the mythical boxer.

It’s a name those who know about snowboarding in the United States are already familiar with, and one that many Americans could be cheering on at the next Olympic Winter Games. After all, she’s already being mentioned as the next Chloe Kim or Maddie Mastro. But for now, Weinberg is a 14-year-old from Steamboat Springs, Colorado, who is getting ready to shred at the Winter Youth Olympic Games that begin Friday in Gangwon, South Korea, a popular skiing destination in the northeast corner of the country.

“I’m looking forward to having fun at the Youth Olympics,” said Weinberg, a homeschooled freshman who runs cross country at Steamboat Springs High School and is an avid outdoorswoman. “Taking in the whole experience, like walking out (in the opening) and closing ceremonies. They’ll be a lot of fun, and getting to hang out with some of my friends from other countries that compete in halfpipe. I can’t wait to see them again. And then I can’t wait to meet people from different countries because I think that’s really cool to learn their sport and learn their culture too.”

Weinberg has traveled internationally before — including to Austria last spring, where she finished third in a European Cup event — but never to South Korea. She said she’s looking forward to South Korea not only for the competition and friendships, but also to try out Korean barbecue.

“I heard that’s really good,” Weinberg said.

While she always exudes a positive spirit, there is a fierce competitor that comes out when she mounts her snowboard. After starting out in skiing at 3 years old, Weinberg transitioned to snowboarding at age 5.

“I saw snowboarders doing cool tracks and just having a lot of fun with it. And I just was like, I want to do that,” she recalled. “So I saved up $20 for a snowboard, which at 5, that’s like a million dollars.”

Weinberg’s mom, Julie, covered the rest of the cost and purchased her daughter’s first snowboard. From there, Weinberg learned the sport through a lot of “trial and error” in her backyard with her dad, Glen, being a makeshift chairlift.

Her drive earned Weinberg a spot at nationals at the ripe old age of 7. She wasn't intimidated.

“No, I’m very competitive,” Weinberg said. “I thought it was a lot of fun because of the competition. ‘Oh, I get to meet new people that I have maybe never competed against.’ I thought, ‘That’s so cool.’”

Rocke Weinberg competing in the men's halfpipe in Valais, Switzerland. (Photo by U.S. Ski & Snowboard – Mike Dawson)

She credits her mom and dad for her competitive spirit. But she also gets some of her edge from her other outdoor and winter activities.

“Fly fishing helps me with patience in the pipe,” said Weinberg, who also likes to swim. “Backpacking helps me hike the pipe when it’s a little crazy. Running cross country with the adrenaline. Ice hockey, ‘Hey, you took a slam, let’s get back up.’”

During her early days as a snowboarder, Weinberg was having trouble clearing jumps. It eventually led her to adopt the catchphrase, “Send it!”

“So one of the coaches said, ‘You need to send it more,’” she said. “So I started sending it a lot more off of the jumps. Then the phrase stuck a lot more.”

Another thing that happened when Weinberg was 6 years old was getting her well-known nickname. With her country leanings, Weinberg was a young mutton buster and would get thrown off the sheep.

“I fell down and I got back up just like Rocky Balboa, and the name stuck from there,” Weinberg said.

And the unusual spelling of Rocke?

“I wasn’t a great speller at 6,” Weinberg said. “I spelled it how it sounds. Rock-e.”

The comparison to the silver-screen boxer led her to become a fan of the movies, but especially “Rocky IV.” That’s the one where Rocky battles Russian monster Ivan Drago, who had killed Balboa’s friend and former rival Apollo Creed during an exhibition bout. Rocky then gives up his championship belt in order to challenge Drago, with the fight set for Russia. The camp Rocky trains in was set in a remote mountainous area that appealed to Weinberg.

“I liked it because it was in the winter,” Weinberg said. “He was using a different type of training.”

While Weinberg didn’t use old farm equipment to get ready for the Winter Youth Olympic Games Gangwon 2024 in South Korea, she is hoping for banner results.

“My expectation is just to have fun and send it,” Weinberg said. “I can’t wait to ride like a really good pipe and really go high out of it.”

A terrific performance at the Youth Olympics could set her up to make a run at the U.S. halfpipe team for the 2026 Olympic Winter Games in Milano and Cortina, Italy. Kim, the two-time reigning Olympic champion, made her Olympic debut in 2018, two years after winning a pair of gold medals at the Winter Youth Olympic Games Lillehammer 2016 in Norway.

Weinberg embraces being mentioned in the same breath as some of the sport’s top athletes, including Kim and Mastro, who also competed in her second Olympics in 2022. Another is Taylor Gold, a two-time U.S. Olympian in men’s halfpipe who is also from Steamboat Springs. Weinberg is still trying to master Gold’s McTwist, one of her favorite tricks.

“I think it’s really cool,” Weinberg said of the comparisons. “I think it’s awesome to be like that because it’s like getting the spotlight and then being, ‘OK, I’m gonna be just like them. I’m gonna work and do it really good like them.’ Also, I think with being the next Maddie Mastro or Chloe Kim, I think it’s really cool.”