Profile: Wing Tai Barrymore talks comeback from injury, Sochi and beyond
As the grandson of famed ski filmmaker Dick Barrymore, Wing Tai Barrymore has deep family ties to the world of skiing, but he hasn’t always been as entranced by it as you might imagine. Growing up in Sun Valley, ID, he spent much of his time racing motocross. After getting burnt out by the competitive motocross scene, Wing Tai ramped up his skiing and jumped into the halfpipe, where after just four years he won the 2011 US Freeskiing Grand Prix in Copper, CO, shocking the rest of the field. But he’s not looking back these days, he’s looking forward, toward Sochi.
On the phone:
Take us through the decision to walk away from motocross and focus on halfpipe skiing.
Dirt bike racing got pretty serious. I was a junior in high school and I was pretty much failing. I needed a break. I grew up as a skier, just living in Sun Valley and with my family’s background, so I joined the Sun Valley ski team and it went from there.
Your win at the 2011 US Grand Prix in Copper was a surprise to a lot of people. Were you surprised?
Yeah, it was very surprising for sure. It was one of those deals where I made finals, and I just did my best run and then after the first [heat] no one had beaten it. I ran pretty close to the front, I was second, and I took my run and had to watch nine people come down the pipe and try to beat my run. And no one did, which was exciting.
Right 720 lead mute @ Sun Valley. Photo by Tal Roberts.
You blew out both ACLs in 2012 and then broke your shoulder in December. What’s it like being kept away from your sport for so long?
It’s hard… It definitely makes you a lot more hungry for it when it’s taken away. It’s not easy, it’s all a mental game. It’s just a lot of keeping your head straight and keeping your head down and getting what you need to get done to be there.
What did you do to entertain yourself during the recovery process?
I play guitar, and I ride my bicycle a lot, cruise and kind of live the Sun Valley life. I cook a lot of food.
How is your progress going? Are you fully healthy?
No, I had a little knee operation in May, so I’ve been rehabbing all summer. A little meniscus repair and a little cleanup on the ACL. I expect to be back for this upcoming Dew Tour and the first Olympic qualifier.
If there’s one way that people describe you, it’s that you like to go huge in the pipe. Where does that lack of fear come from?
[laughs] I don’t really know. It’s the only way I know how to do it. Things come a lot easier with more time in the air, and it looks a lot cooler, and it’s a lot more fun than not going big.
Is pipe skiing your main focus? Are you thinking about Sochi for the upcoming year?
Yeah, absolutely. That’s definitely the big picture for this season. Everyone’s so good, it’s going to be one crazy season. I think it’s going to be the craziest season that the world’s ever seen in halfpipe skiing. The tricks are getting so gnarly, people are learning them both ways and it’s just going to be really exciting. I think everyone’s going to be healthy, and it’s going to be war.
What’s up with the upside-down cross you sport on your helmet?
It’s a Slayer cross. You know, the metal band, Slayer. I mainly listen to Slayer and Iron Maiden when I ski.
Photo by Nate Abbott.
You took a trip to Chamonix this spring. Did you get to ski any big lines?
Yeah, we skied a lot of really cool stuff. It was a ton of fun. I went with Duncan Adams, and we stayed at my buddy Gary’s house for two weeks and just hitchhiked and skied every day. It was sweet. We went up the Aiguille [du Midi] every morning, and then we’d do the Vallée Blanche, then we’d usually eat lunch, hit Brévent from there and Grand Montets all in one day. We hit up Verbier a couple of times too.
Is ski mountaineering something you aspire to do in the future?
Oh yeah, totally. I’m all about trying to get out there as much as I can, but my schedule is taken up mainly by halfpipe skiing and park skiing. But in the spring and when the season slows down, I’m always back there doing something like that.
Dick made movies for over 20 years. Do you think your career will last that long? Or do you think that far into the future?
Well, I hope it does. I hope I’m skiing powder in twenty years, that’s definitely the goal. Catch waves and ski powder for the rest of my life.
Hometown: Sun Valley, ID
Sponsors: Coal Headwear, Full Tilt, Level Gloves, K2, Rockstar Energy, Saga, Scott
This article originally appeared in the 2013 October issue of Freeskier, Volume 16.2. The October issue is available on newsstands beginning 9/17/13. Freeskier Magazine is also available via the iTunes newsstand.
About the author:
Donny O'Neill hails from the mystical, faraway land of New Hartford, CT. When he's not in the mountains searching for Big Foot, he's the Associate Editor here at Freeskier.