The Aspen Times
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO
ASPEN, Colorado – Most people barely looked up from their computer screens when he ambled into the press tent that frigid Friday night in January 2011. They likely assumed the baby-faced teenager was an autograph seeker or a kid searching for his parents.
But there was no mistaking that broad grin – one that had flashed across both the Jumbotron and television minutes earlier. There was no mistaking that silver disc draped around his neck.
As he settled into his seat next to superpipe titans Simon Dumont and Kevin Rolland, Torin Yater-Wallace’s wide, disbelieving eyes scanned the room, focusing in on the camera lenses and the audio recorders piling up on the table in front of him.
He briefly bowed his head.
Perhaps the weight of the moment finally had registered. Perhaps Yater-Wallace was coming to terms with the fact that life would never be the same.
Winter X Games 15 marked the spot where everything changed. Where history was made.
The Basalt native entered last year’s games as a relative unknown, a precocious 15-year-old local phenom aiming to impress in a familiar Buttermilk superpipe on the most unfamiliar and intimidating of stages.
He left as Winter X’s youngest male medalist. After five hits and five nearly flawless tricks – an alley-oop flatspin 540, a double-corked 1260, a 900, a corked 540 and an alley-oop double flatspin – he had emerged as one of freeskiing’s major future players.
“We realized his potential,” Dumont, Yater-Wallace’s Team Target cohort, told reporters afterward. “He proved us right tonight.”
“It definitely was one of the best days of my life,” Yater-Wallace recalled Wednesday. “I was always hoping I could do that. I kind of had it in my mind that I might be able to do that, but you never think it’s going to happen in your first X Games.
“I was just hoping for the best.”
The best might be yet to come.
Yater-Wallace embarks on his quest for Winter X gold in this afternoon’s ski superpipe qualifying. The top eight will secure spots in Saturday afternoon’s finals.
“Last year I was just doing my thing – I was the underdog. I guess things are a little different now,” said Yater-Wallace, now 16. “In some people’s minds, you could say I’m nominated to be one of the picks to do well. I guess I’ll be more looked out for, more watched as far as winning goes.”
Many could not help but take notice during Yater-Wallace’s breakthrough 2010-11 season. He followed up his success in Aspen with a bronze-medal performance at Winter X Games Europe in Tignes, France.
In June, Yater-Wallace was one of nine athletes appointed to U.S. Freeskiing’s inaugural Halfpipe Pro Team.
While success has yielded financial benefits and training opportunities, the increased notoriety has been overwhelming at times, Yater-Wallace admitted.
“Things have definitely gotten a lot crazier,” he said. “There are a lot more sponsors, a lot more interviews, a lot more people approaching me. I’ve had people come up to me in airports. I was in Santa Barbara in a Billabong store with my girlfriend, and a few kids came up to me. It was weird. I would never expect something like that in California.”
An athlete comfortable testing his limits and reaching new heights, Yater-Wallace appears to be firmly grounded, however.
“I’m not doing anything different,” he asserted. “I’m just shredding around and still just skiing. I really just want to go out and do my favorite sport.”
That formula yielded a major breakthrough last weekend at Killington Resort in Vermont. By virtue of his score of 93.75 – 5.25 higher than his nearest competitor – Yater-Wallace secured his first Dew Tour victory. Rolland, the two-time defending Winter X superpipe champion, wound up a distant fifth.
“I was so stoked to get to the bottom of the run, and when my score came in I was excited,” Yater-Wallace said. “Beating [Rolland] is crazy. It’s not [the first time], but it’s still pretty crazy when you do.”
Expect the two to be among those battling for gold Saturday.
“I try not to put any expectations on myself and just want to go out and have fun,” Yater-Wallace said. “Obviously, I know what I’m able to do and what I have done in the last year, but every competition doesn’t go your way. I guess there’s pressure, but that doesn’t ever really hit me until five minutes before I’m dropping in. Right now, I don’t really feel it. I feel good mentally and physically, knock on wood. I’m ready to go.”
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