Strong first impression |

Strong first impression

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
John Vandervalk Majesty Photo Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club athlete Torin Yater-Wallace gets inverted

ASPEN, Colorado – Geoff Stump had a few words of advice for Torin Yater-Wallace on Wednesday night.

“I just told him to try and relax,” the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club freestyle coach said. “I hope he can calm down.”

Good luck.

Yater-Wallace, a Basalt resident and one of freeskiing’s brightest young stars, has been riding quite a wave in the last two months. In early December, he finished fifth in a field packed with accomplished pros at a Dew Tour stop at Breckenridge – just days after his 15th birthday, no less.

On Dec. 31, he checked his e-mail inbox and learned he had been invited to take part in ski superpipe at Winter X Games 15.

Wednesday, Yater-Wallace – the youngest competitor at these games, and the third-youngest male competitor in event history – made sure his first trip to Winter X would last more than a few hours. He laid down a near-flawless second run during qualifying to garner a score of 91 from the judges – good for third place overall. Carbondale’s Peter Olenick wound up 13th, failing to nab one of eight spots in Friday’s finals.

Yater-Wallace, a freshman from Aspen High, finished ahead of former winners Dumont and Xavier Bertoni.

Stump witnessed the feat from the gallery.

“The kids he skis with were asking me afterward, ‘Did I just watch Torin qualify at the X Games?’ This is just blowing my mind,” he said. “What an unbelievably great performance. He managed to set two runs down. That’s what Torin is, he can land all his tricks really consistently and especially under pressure. The

15-year-old is pressuring the veterans.”

That is nothing new.

Stump still remembers the days when a precocious yet diminutive 7-year-old and his mother persuaded coaches to let the youngster tag along with members of AVSC’s advanced park and pipe squad, a program usually reserved for athletes ages 12 and older.

“Sure enough, his mom shows up with this little peewee skier with twin tips on. … It was really funny. I had some 17- and 18-year-olds in my group, and I was thinking, ‘How’s this going to work?'” Stump said. “He started coming out for half-day sessions once a week. The older guys started calling him their mascot.”

It didn’t take long for the mascot to turn some heads.

“He kept getting better and better and better,” Stump recalled. “Honestly, it was cute, but it was exceptional skiing for his age. … Before he was old enough to be on the team, he was pushing our top athletes on the rails. He didn’t have the strength or speed for jumps yet, but on those rails you’d watch him and say, ‘Oh, my gosh.’

“Just his ability level when he’s on point, when he’s skiing in his natural zone, it’s really something special to watch.”

Yater-Wallace, who started out competing in moguls with AVSC, opted to focus solely on park and pipe. The move paid dividends, as he quickly climbed the junior-circuit ranks.

A few short years later, Yater-Wallace has made his mark on some of the sport’s biggest stages. With his fifth-place finish at a Dew Tour stop in Breckenridge and a ninth-place result at the Grand Prix at Copper Mountain in December, Yater-Wallace has emerged as a present and future superpipe contender.

“It was definitely crazy because it was the second comp of the season, and I had no expectations except going out there and doing what I love,” Yater-Wallace said of his finish in Breckenridge in an interview with The Aspen Times on Tuesday. “I was skiing really good that week. I didn’t win, but to me [fifth place] was just as good as winning.”

That moment likely was trumped a few weeks later after receiving an e-mail from ESPN.

“My mobile phone was on normal mode. … It was so loud in that house that it sounded like I was on speakerphone,” Stump joked. “Listening to those guys scream was pretty fun.”

“I was freaking out, yelling and jumping,” Yater-Wallace added. “I’ve watched the X Games every year. I’ve always wanted to be in it. … I grew up watching guys like Candide Thovax, Simon Dumont and Tanner Hall. My whole life, this has definitely been my dream.

“It’s really cool to be in the same competition with guys I look up to. … I’m really fortunate that things happened like they did. It means everything. I can’t even comprehend that I am here.”

That dream lives on after Wednesday’s memorable performance, which included a 1260 off the first hit and a double alley-oop flatspin – a trick he first landed in competition at Jan. 22’s Dew Tour stop in Killington.

“He was so on autopilot during the run. When he landed and stopped, it was almost like Torin repossessed his own body and couldn’t contain himself,” Stump said. “I think he was just like, ‘Wow, I just landed an awesome run, wait a minute.’

“Torin has a trampoline and a little ramp in his backyard that he skis down when there’s hardly any snow. Other kids are hitting a Whiffle ball over the fence and pretending they won the World Series. Torin has been in the X Games 9,000 times in his backyard.”

The real thing continues Friday in his other backyard – a Buttermilk superpipe Yater-Wallace says he’s skied “way too many times to count.”

The finals are slated to kick off at 4:45 p.m.

“He’s on a whole different playing field,” AVSC freestyle coach Travis Redd said. “It’s almost impossible not to be a little overwhelmed standing at the top of the pipe with all the lights and all the people. … Let’s just hope he shows the world what he’s capable of.”

Stump said Yater-Wallace’s invitation to Winter X was a success in itself. Now, his pupil is “playing with house money.”

“My goal for him, he made it. What an accomplishment. I’m sure he now wants to be in the top three. Whether he says it or not, he wants to be on the podium,” Stump added.

“It doesn’t matter who your sponsor is or how long you’ve been out there. You’ve just got to go out and perform. … I think tonight he realized he’s got a shot. What an amazing feeling.”

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