Wise Man vs. Wild Man: Comparing, contrasting Professional Skiers David Wise and Torin Yater-Wallace
You mention your freestyle coach. Why did you have a coach when you switched from racing to freestyle skiing?
DW: The coaching thing [in freestyle] was simple because I’d grown up being coached my whole life in racing. That was a big thing for my dad. He was like, “I’ll let you try this. I support everything you want to do, but I’m not going to let you just go out there and huck yourself on the mountain. I want you to do it safe and in a good environment.” Clay Beck came to Reno and met my family, smoothed things over with my parents. So I joined the Alpine Meadows freestyle team, and he was my coach up until 2008, when he died in a small-plane crash.
DW: As I’ve gotten older and more experienced, the less coaching I really need. I’ve been doing the sport long enough—as long as I have video, I can see what I’m doing wrong for myself. With the US Ski Team, with [halfpipe coach] Andy Woods, we mostly just talk strategy. It’s kind of come full circle from starting out at 12, never having had any freestyle coaching whatsoever. So Clay was teaching me how to walk again basically. I skied moguls, and I was so bad. I wanted to be good, but I would just smash down the moguls on the tails of my skis, totally out of control. Going from there to where I’m at now has been a pretty big step.
“I realize that skiing is awesome—I love doing it—but it’s not the end all. There’s a lot more going on in the world than just making a few turns, a couple flips and spins in the halfpipe.” -DW
Competing in Sochi, is it going to be bittersweet going without Clay, since he was such an important part of your development?
DW: Clay was always more impressed by who you were as a person than what you could do on a pair of skis. I’ve tried to do honor to his legacy as best I could, going through the process of becoming pro, winning my first X Games and trying to keep a cool head about the whole thing. While it’s sad not to have him there, I think that he would have a lot of respect for the way that I’ve done things, so it’s just an honor to be representing him there.
What would it mean to win?
DW: It’s unreal to think about that side of the Olympics. Right now, I’m just focusing on each moment. If you get too caught up in thinking about the future or what it’ll be like or what you’re going to do then, you forget about what you’re doing right here, right now. I’ve learned through my competition experience that the more grounded you stay, the more tied to this moment you are, the better you’re going to perform right now. It’s just a dream that’s there, and if I achieve it, then I’ll go from there.
Would second place be a disappointment?
DW: I don’t know. Ask me on that day. I’ve gotten second place a few times, and I’ve been disappointed those times because I’ve felt like either I didn’t get the recognition I deserved or I felt like I didn’t represent myself well enough. I would not be disappointed in an Olympic silver medal. It would be crazy to be disappointed in that. But coming down to the contest and my performance, I might be disappointed. I might say, “Man, I just didn’t get everything I wanted to get,” or “Man, he killed it so much harder than I did, how did I let that happen?”
You defended your gold at X Games. You mentioned there that without X, skiing wouldn’t be in the Olympics.
DW: Yeah. You have to be true to your roots. X Games is a huge part of freeskiing. If we never got in the X Games, if the X Games never supported us, then pipe skiing wouldn’t be at the level it is. It’s a sign of respect to compete at an event that makes a big stage for us.
From the outside, you look like you have things in control, you’re happy and content. What in your life gets you frustrated?
DW: I think that everything is a challenge and maybe that’s where my contentment comes from, the fact that things are not easy. Skiing is not easy. Learning new tricks is not easy. Being a good husband and a dad while traveling is not easy. Managing sponsors and media obligations—none of it is easy. I feel like God doesn’t give you more than you are capable of handling. It is easy to get overwhelmed if you look at it from a broad perspective, but if you look at things one at a time, then it’s like, ‘Well, I’m just going to accomplish that one thing and then move on to the next thing.’ I do get frustrated, of course. The older I get and the wiser I am, the less I let frustration overtake me because as soon as you let that happen, you’re not accomplishing anything, you’re just bogging yourself down with more worry. It’s been a learning experience of spending time overthinking competitions and this, that and the other thing. The times that I just let go and trust it are the times when I’ve really accomplished the most.
Will you be disappointed if you get second?
TYW: I don’t really know. It would depend on who I got second to. Some people’s mindset of the sport isn’t mine. It’d be dope to see someone I think is dope win. I’d like to see Bone [Justin Dorey] win; I’d be stoked if I got second to Bone. Simon—a lot of the dudes. If Joffrey [Pollet-Villard] won, if he was there, I don’t know if he’s still a contender, but that’d be sick.
So you put a lot of stock in the way people carry themselves and the style. Is that something that should be involved in the judging?
TYW: I think it would be cool to involve something like that, but it’s such a grey area with what people’s perception of style is or if they think [a certain] trick looks cool. But that’s also just a personal thing and an OCD thing. I’ve got to have my tricks looking good. Even if I landed a run and did well, even if I won, I’d still be looking at my run and think, “Shit, that looked so lame, I didn’t hold that grab very long.” Even though I won, I’d wish I had done it better. It’s really a personal thing. I get mad at myself.
Earlier, you put a real emphasis on the tricks. What’s your favorite trick?
TYW: My favorite trick in a halfpipe might be just a cork 5 with whatever grab. Just that weightless feeling, in comparison to other tricks in the pipe where you’re kind of lost and you can’t see, in a cork 5, if you go big and you’re at your apex, you feel like you’re defying gravity. Sometimes an alley-oop flat 5 too. The feeling of going big and that super slow rotation, but that apex and just holding your grab and catching transition perfectly is indescribable. On jumps, a cork 7 blunt is always a go to. I’m just always perfecting that trick. Keep trying to get the blunt better or arc your body different or carve a little more.
Torin sends it for the Level 1 cameras in Sun Valley, ID. Photo by Erik Seo.
Are you cocky? Do you think anyone can beat you?
TYW: I think a lot of people could beat me. I don’t think I’m the best skier in the world. I kind of think Justin Dorey’s probably got the biggest bag of tricks. I think he could possibly be claimed to be one of the best, if there is a best halfpipe skier in the world. It’s one thing to be good at competing and have a run that beats a lot of people, but to actually be someone who’s mastered the sport ’cause you’ve done almost every trick, both ways, and you can start adding every different grab to all the tricks you have, that’s so insane. I’m definitely not there with all the tricks. Switch leftside, I suck at it. Left double 12 sounds like the shittiest feeling in the world. It doesn’t sound fun to try. I put my run together and sometimes happen to be pretty consistent with it.
Since I first saw you at X Games in 2011, you seem isolated from what’s going on around you. Is that because of your background or do you use something to keep yourself composed?
TYW: Maybe I wasn’t doing well at all the competitions since I was 7 years old, but it’s given me time and practice in a lot of competitions, so I have a lot of experience with being in that position of having to put it all on the line right there. Like I said before, music is such a big inspiration in my career. That note of putting myself outside of the competition, putting myself in a different mindset. I’m trying to not listen to anything going on in my real life, just listen to what’s in my headphones. I just breathe in and be quiet and use that in my skiing.