Aspen athlete Torin Yater-Wallace is heading to the Olympics next month and, he’ll be ushering in a new discipline: Ski Halfpipe. The 18-year-old has been a standout ever since he began training with the local ski club in grade school. This season, he’s coming back from injuries suffered early in the season but, he says he’s feeling confident about the Olympic Games. Aspen Public Radio's Marci Krivonen reports.
Torin Yater-Wallace took gold at the 2013 X Games in Tignes, France and it wasn’t his first medal. The young freeskier has clenched gold, silver and bronze medals at X Games contests in Aspen and Europe ever since he made his debut at the Games in 2011. His list of accomplishments also includes five World Cup podium finishes.
It all started in the Aspen area, when Yater-Wallace started skiing before he turned two years old.
"I think I was with my mom in a harness, but I probably started in the backyard on plastic skis," he said.
At age seven, he joined the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club where he began to hit jumps. His progression was swift. Eric Knight is the Freestyle, Freeride and Freeskiing Program Director at AVSC. He’s watched Yater-Wallace develop over the years.
"I remember his coach at the time putting him on the radar and telling me that he’s got this kid that’s incredible, and then I remember seeing him at one of the first competitions that he did that we hosted. It was an aerial competition."
He says Yater-Wallace’s talent was beyond his years. At age seven, the young freeskier was throwing 360-degree aerial turns. It's something other kids his age hadn’t yet mastered.
As he developed, Knight said Yater-Wallace gained the recipe for success in the halfpipe.
"A combination of just unbelievable talent, he’s a hard worker and he had just brilliant coaches at every single level."
"I was probably around 13 when I started realizing that I had a lot of potential," Yater-Wallace said.
"I won an event that got me prequalified for the Dew Tour, and so that next season when I was 15, like, everything before my eyes (changed): sponsors, events, traveling internationally, so it was a really big leap between 14 and 15."
In the lead up to the Olympics in Sochi, Yater-Wallace’s profile has gotten even bigger. His sponsors include big names like Target and Pop Tarts. And, he’s made appearances on major TV networks like NBC’s Today show.
But the last couple of months haven’t been easy. Around Thanksgiving Yater-Wallace punctured his lung during a physical therapy session. He was in the hospital for a week. Then he crashed during training for the Dew Tour and broke two ribs and re-collapsed the same lung.
"I haven’t really skied at all this season. In the early season I got to, a little bit, in November," he said.
He said there was a five week span in the middle of the season where he didn’t ski at all. Now, he’s back on skis and, he says, mostly recovered.
"I’m not really feeling any pain in the ribs, it’s been a good last three weeks of a lot of physical therapy and working with doctors to get me back to my fullest potential and I’m feeling really confident about it."
His event, Ski Halfpipe, will make its Olympic debut in February and, Yater-Wallace says that’s pretty exciting.
"It feels cool, you know, it’s the first team and it’s a historical thing to the freeskiers in the future."
Right now, he says he’s not spending too much time thinking about the pioneering nature of his sport, he’s just focusing on preparing for Sochi.