Freestyle skiing: Scott native is top candidate for first U.S. team
Tom Wallisch is a Chartiers Valley High School graduate who is vying for a spot on the U.S. freestyle ski team.
Share with others:
Tom Wallisch remembers what it was like when he got into freestyle skiing.
Youths interested in the sport had a couple of underground videos to watch -- if they could find them -- and, once a year, ESPN's X Games would broadcast the sport to a wider, but still niche audience.
These days, with the proliferation of videos on YouTube, and more action sports events on network TV and cable, Wallisch's sport is gaining much more popularity.
One year from now, freestyle skiing will receive its biggest wave of mainstream attention when the sport makes its debut at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Wallisch, a Scott native and Chartiers Valley High School graduate, is considered a strong contender to be on the first U.S. Olympic freestyle skiing team.
"It's grown exponentially, really, from what I watched as a kid to what kids these days are seeing," Wallisch said. "The amount of the sport that they can get out there and watch and be a part of and see themselves on. It's great."
Growing up in Western Pennsylvania, Wallisch didn't have the benefit of giant Colorado or Utah mountains in his backyard. His family owned a home at Wisp Ski Resort in Maryland, and Wallisch traveled there on weekends.
Wallisch took to the terrain course, and started "slopestyle skiing," focusing on rails and jumps.
"To me, slopestyle is so fascinating because a guy like me can come from a mountain so small," Wallisch said. "It doesn't matter the size of the hill, it doesn't limit the slopestyle skiers you can produce. All that matters is whether or not you can build a terrain park, build jumps and rails."
After graduating from high school in 2006, he moved to Utah to attend the University of Utah, as well as to pursue skiing more seriously. He started competing as a pro in 2009 and, in September 2010, Wallisch signed an endorsement contract with outdoor apparel giant The North Face.
He described 2011 as "kind of a bummer year," thanks to injuries and disappointing results, but in July of that year some good, albeit surprising, news arrived: The sport that Wallisch had dedicated his life to had been added to the slate for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
"Pure excitement," Wallisch said. "We had no idea. It was a lot of surprise. We knew halfpipe had a really good chance of getting in there, but slopestyle was not something we pushed or pleaded for."
Even though qualifying for the team won't start until late in 2013 or early 2014, Wallisch's performance over the past year has positioned him as one of the favorites to reach Sochi.
In January 2012, Wallisch won his first X Games gold medal, earning a score of 96.00 -- the highest in the event's eight-year history -- on his final run of the competition.
"That was obviously a childhood dream to go out and win that," he said. "That's something I've watched for years."
Representing his country in the Olympics, though, was a goal that Wallisch could not daydream about when he started skiing.
He has been competing as an individual his entire career, so representing his country would be a new challenge, one that Wallisch welcomes.
"It's hard to describe. It would definitely mean the world to me," he said.
"The pride of all the people in that country that are watching, cheering you on solely because you're an American. It would be crazy
First Published February 14, 2013 12:00 am