Professional Skiers | Tom Wallisch is the 2012 Skier of the Year

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In 2006, Wallisch moved west to attend the University of Utah. That same year, Vermonters Andrew Napier and AJ Dakoulas bought a camera and started filming their high-school friends Tim Maney, Andrew Holson and Dale Talkington. They named the company 4bi9 Media. The company’s name went viral when they met Wallisch and Steve Stepp in the dorms the first week of freshman year. The crew started making edits as soon as the snow fell. “Our freshman year, Tom was always the one racing up the mountain,” says Dakoulas. “He was always motivated to get out there and make the best of it. Even if we took the day off, he would get up there.”

“I was immediately impressed,” says Napier. “He was very smooth, and even then his landings were what characterized him as having the best style. He perfects a trick before he tries something new. You see a lot of people adding an extra 180 or 360 to their trick before perfecting it. He does them over and over until they’re perfect.” The edits Dakoulas and Napier put out launched Wallisch’s Internet fame. “He put out awesome content in a time that skiers needed something more accessible,” says Dakoulas.

Photo by Erik Seo_Level 1 in Anchorage, AK.

“Social media has made everything so much quicker,” says Wallisch. “The interactions are on a day-to-day basis rather than after an entire ski season. You used to establish your idols in September after watching a ski movie, now it’s the skier you follow on Instagram and who puts out the edit you like. Kids can see so much more day to day.”

In the spring of 2007, Jon Olsson noticed Wallisch skiing in the park at Park City. “It was impossible not to be impressed,” says Olsson. “He was just so smooth, and it really looked like he was having fun.” Olsson invited Wallisch to the upcoming Jon Olsson Invitational on the spot. As it was such short notice, Olsson even offered to loan him money for the flight. Wallisch didn’t make the finals there, but he put on a show. “He just seems to have some super power when it comes to landing smooth,” says Olsson. “I think that he’s the most influential skier in the last five years.”

Wallisch entered his first major competition, the Aspen Open, in 2008 and placed second, but nothing changed for a couple years. He was filming and getting paid a little here and there. Then, in 2009, Wallisch won the final Dew Tour stop of the season at Northstar. “That really blew it up for me,” he says. “It was a big win on a premier stage with the top guys. From there, I got more sponsors and started working with an agent.”

Wallisch is eager to attribute everything to his fans. “They’re the most important,” he says. “They are the reason I get paid to go skiing. Kids all over the world are inspired by my skiing and my videos. It’s the most rewarding part of my job.” Wallisch’s girlfriend, Stephanie, says he interacts with fans every day. “We’ll ride the lift, and if a little kid knows who he is but is too shy to say anything, Tom will always start a conversation and ask how the kid’s day is going.”

It’s really just the fisheye lens that makes Tom look big in Japan. In reality, no one knows who he is over there. Photo by Chris O’Connell_Level 1 in Sapporo, Japan.

A typical winter day for Wallisch includes waking up sore and tired from shooting an urban feature the night before, drinking coffee, making one of his famous bacon and cheese breakfast sandwiches, and heading to Park City. He spends his summers half on snow, skiing at Whistler and Mt. Hood (and last summer he went heliskiing for the first time, in New Zealand), and half doing summer activities like mountain biking and wakesurfing. He took over his parent’s wakeboard boat last summer and brought it to Utah. “We spent a ton of time on the water last summer,” he says. “It’s something I miss, and it’s harder to find natural water out here. It reminded me of the good days growing up.”

Wallisch isn’t a big fan of the gym. He’ll jump on the tramp, mountain bike and wakesurf, but you won’t see him pumping iron. “It bores me,” he says. “I don’t think it’s good practice for skiing. Other sports make you learn to balance better and think quicker. Skateboarding, tramping, mountain biking, wakeboarding, waterskiing, surfing. But truly nothing makes a person a better skier than simply skiing itself. It’s more mental and finesse than it is brute strength or athleticism. Though the gym is essential to injury recovery, it’s not necessary for one’s skiing.”

After winning most everything there is to win in slopestyle, only the Olympics remain. Wallisch’s concern is maintaining originality. “The idea of being individual and having tricks look different and different grabs and different clothing styles is important when our sport is presented on a worldwide stage. Everyone needs to look different doing his own thing. It needs to be varied so it’s exciting and youthful.”

Wallisch’s style continues to impress judges, peers and fans alike. He says it comes from taking bits and pieces from everyone and creating a collage of style that’s his own. “His style is like a video game,” says Skier of the Year runner-up Henrik Harlaut. “It’s the best style for competitions you can have.”

Berman describes it as effortless. “He makes everything look easy. There have been skiers over the years who make it look so easy that it’s robotic and loses its appeal. If it’s too perfect, it loses something. But he straddles that fine line where it looks impressive and effortless at the same time—a very hard thing to do.”

“I’m constantly trying to improve by watching my buddies, the new edit or other sports,” says Wallisch. “There’s always something new you can do to make it more difficult and give yourself a scare. It’s always fresh in the park—it’s so easy to ski differently every lap and not realize you’ve been skiing for hours.”

*This article originally appeared in the 2013 February issue of FREESKIER. Subscribe to the magazine, or get it on the iTunes Newsstand. Tom Wallisch also won Skier of the Year in 2010. Click here to read the interview.
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