These are heady times for the sport of halfpipe skiing, what with its popularity being at an all-time high and its Olympic debut coming next month at the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
At the forefront of the sport’s charge to mainstream recognition is David Wise, the 23-year-old native of Reno, Nev., and owner of two X Games gold medals in the superpipe, who will be among the 200-plus athletes on hand when the 2014 Winter X Games take place in Aspen/Snowmass, Colo., Thursday through Sunday, Jan. 23-26, on ESPN and ABC.
“I’m honestly really proud to have been part of the wave of getting this sport into the Olympics,” Wise tells Zap2it. “I’ve been competing in the halfpipe for a long time, and we honestly thought we were going to get into the 2010 Olympics, and then that didn’t happen. But basically the high points of my career have been the times when we were looked at [to be possibly] put into the Olympics or not. So I’m proud of this sport getting into the Olympics and being able to be a part of the first wave.
“We’re going from a sport that only people who ski watch,” Wise continues, “to something that worldwide people care about, whether they ski or not, which in my opinion is really cool; it’s exciting for our sport. We are basically the representation of what the sport is going to look like to the world. You know, I’ve been skiing my whole life, I’ve been a part of the industry for a really long time, and I’ve always cared about skiing and where it’s going, so it’s definitely exciting to be able to be there to represent the sport the way I think it should be represented.”
But before he heads off to Europe to be the global ambassador of half/superpipe, there is the business at hand in Aspen, where he comes in as the two-time defending champion. Though he’s considered a favorite to defend his gold medal, he knows to take nothing for granted.
“The exciting thing about our sport,” Wise says, “is that there’s a lot of guys who could win on any given day. There’s Torin Yater-Wallace and myself, [who] have basically been dominating for the last couple of years, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a bunch of guys who could beat us. So it really comes down to who is having the best day on that day.
“There are a lot of young guys coming up who are showcasing their skills now, too. … So that’s what’s exciting. It’s not one of those sports where it’s almost a sure thing for one guy or another to win. It’s really going to come down to rolling the dice and see who wins it on the big day.”
Dubbed “The Undude,” Wise isn’t the typical action-sports athlete, nor does he look like one. While many sport a mane of long hair and have a surfer-dude bearing about them, Wise wears his hair short, is married with a 2-year-old daughter and is devoutly religious. Basically, he’s the rebel to a sport full of them.
He’s also aptly named, as he comes across as possessing a wisdom that belies his 1990 birth date.
“Honestly, it’s not as if I was trying to be different,” he says. “The reality is I’m just being who I am, and a lot of people like to latch onto that and say that I’m so very different, but the reality is I’m just being who I am, and I just love to ski like everybody else.
“I don’t want people to think that I’m holier-than-thou or above them or anything, because I just like to ski as much as they do,” Wise continues. “I just happen to have a little bit different approach to it. I have a little different family life.
“Like I said, I’m just being who I am as best as I can be, and I kind of strive not to let the industry change me because I think I’ve seen that a lot of times with young guys. It’s a young sport, and the industry can kind of mold you into what it wants you to be, and so it’s not that I’m trying to be different; it’s just that I’m trying to be who I am the best I can.”
When freestyle skiers enter Sochi’s Fisht Olympic Stadium for the Opening Ceremonies in February, one figure will loom large. Sarah Burke, the Canadian freestyler who died as a result of injuries sustained in a superpipe crash in Utah two years ago, was one of the driving forces to have superpipe added to the Olympics as well as being one of its most accomplished athletes. Had she lived, she’d likely be considered one of the favorites for gold in Sochi.
“You can see Sarah’s influence on everybody,” Wise says.” She’s somebody we all looked up to when she was skiing, and we can all continue to look up to her legacy now that she’s gone. She had the greatest attitude about skiing. Skiing for her was never about herself. She just loved the sport that much, and she was doing something that she really enjoyed. And she wasn’t arrogant, she wasn’t cocky. She just loved to ski, so that’s something that I try to draw inspiration from when I’m out there skiing, and I think that you can kind of see that influence in everybody who knew her.”
And the probably the best way to pay tribute to a fallen star and the sport itself is to give a gold-medal performance and show a new audience what it’s all about, which Wise plans to do.
“I’ve always been a fast, high-flying kid,” he says. “I like to jump off things, crash, go fast, so that’s what drew me to the sport initially and now it’s just become a part of my life. It’s something that as I’ve gotten better, I’ve begun to love more and more, and yeah, I just like the freedom of it.”