Basalt’s Yater-Wallace set to soar, but how high? |

Basalt’s Yater-Wallace set to soar, but how high?

Michael Appelgate
The Aspen Times
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Jim Ryan Special to The Post Independent Torin Yater-Wallace claimed bronze in the skiing superpipe event on Buttermilk last year but is now recovering from shoulder surgery. He'll be competing this week in Winter X Games at Buttermilk Mountain.

He first appeared as a relative unknown on TV screens two years ago.

The broadcasters announced Torin Yater-Wallace as an Aspen local, but really, he’s from Basalt.

He then soared out of the pipe with tricks like a seasoned veteran. For two years now, he’s risen to the occasion and wowed spectators and judges with a clean style to earn to podium spots.

His third time around, however, will be a bit more complicated. Yater-Wallace is experiencing a setback – one that’s become all too synonymous with action sports, and the 17-year-old is not immune.

For the first time in his three-year career, he will compete in the aftermath of a shoulder injury. The freeskier admitted it would take a bigger run than what he feels capable of to claim a podium spot in the skiing superpipe final, but that could play to his benefit.

That’s because he thrives on competing with little pressure to win.

“I’m somewhere in the 80 percent range of my regular self,” Yater-Wallace said last week. “I’m actually feeling confident.”

Last year, Yater-Wallace’s biggest obstacle was his nerves, which he overcame and claimed bronze in his second X Games.

For a teenager who hasn’t even graduated from high school yet, and one who vaulted from relative anonymity to being sponsored by Target after his first X Games in 2011, Yater-Wallace is learning to cope better in the spotlight.

“Last year I was stressed out. The first year I had no pressure at all,” he said. “The first year it was freaking awesome and I had no expectation at all except for make it to the finals.

“Coming back to my home town, I was proving myself a little bit more than the year before. I had to prove that I had the skill to stay at this level.”

Now, the pressure is notably less, and it’s because he only got back on his skies no more than five weeks ago.

In September, Yater-Wallace arrived to train at the Center of Excellence in Park City, Utah. It didn’t take long before doctors and coaches became concerned with his right shoulder. Due to a sheer volume of falls on his arm, Yater-Wallace said the ligaments just weren’t attached to his arm anymore, causing it to pop out at will.

“It was pretty disgusting to look at it,” he added. “It was scary to see it coming out that low.”

On Sept. 20, Yater-Wallace underwent surgery to fix his torn labrum. For the next two months, his arm was in a sling, and Yater-Wallace couldn’t do much physical activity – including skiing.

“I was going crazy,” he said. “I have so much fun going skiing, and having that taken away from me, it made me want to come back stronger.”

In mid-December, Yater-Wallace was back on his skis. But he wasn’t dropping into a halfpipe or doing backflips on trampolines. He was doing what any teenager would do in the winter – skiing with his friends.

For the past three weeks, Yater-Wallace described his journey back to competitiveness as a slow process that first began with just taking jumps in the pipe, and then doing simple tricks.

Last week while training in Breckenridge, Yater-Wallace’s confidence started coming back after landing a double backspin.

“I’m still trying to work back to where I was,” he said. “Mentally, doing that first double back is a big mental block. Dropping in the pipe, doing the trick, my stomach was just dropping. Once that first one is out of the way, it’s muscle memory.”

On Thursday, Yater-Wallace hopes that not only muscle memory can put him ahead of his competitors in the superpipe at Buttermilk, but also his maturity.

If you speak with Yater-Wallace, you almost forget that he should only be a junior in high school.

Up until last year’s X Games, Yater-Wallace attended Aspen High School, but his responsibilities to his sponsors forced him to put his education on hold. He now takes classes in an academy set up by the U.S. Ski team in Park City, and is mentored in a regular classroom along with other young athletes.

“I have lots of education that isn’t from school,” Yater-Wallace said. “I learn from my own experience of somewhat of a grown-up person. … My sponsors are pushing me to get done with school.”

He’s hesitant to put any sort of expectations on this year’s games. For one, he doesn’t like setting goals, and he also relies on the adrenaline rush that comes at the top of the pipe.

Yater-Wallace won’t put together the plan for his run till the night before he competes, but he’s certain on one thing: He expects to ride to his fullest potential.

“I’m not expecting much,” Yater-Wallace said. “If I suddenly feel good about my shoulder, maybe I’ll put together a heavier run that I think is possible to do pretty well.”

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