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Truth: Tom Wallisch

On growing up in Pittsburgh, freeskiing’s Olympic debut, and why urban skiing is worth the effort.

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Tom Wallisch owes it all to YouTube. As an unknown 19-year-old college kid at the University of Utah he won an online film contest through Level 1 Productions and rapidly became skiing’s internet darling. The Pittsburgh native went on to film major segments with Level 1, Teton Gravity Research, Sherpas Cinema, and 4bi9 Media. And his own solo film, The Wallisch Project, came out last summer. He’s also a decorated slopestyle competitor, having won the overall Dew Tour title in 2012 and two X Games medals. Now 25 and living in Park City, Utah, Wallisch will likely be one of America’s top medal contenders when slopestyle makes its Olympic debut this February in Sochi, Russia.

The most common question I get is, “How did you become a pro skier coming from Pittsburgh?” The answer is, my parents bought a condo at a ski area in Maryland, and we’d go there every weekend. I’d spend the entire time seeing how fast I could go and what I could jump off. By the time I was a teenager, I’d become infatuated with skiing.

When I first got into skiing, I had no concept of becoming a professional skier.
It didn’t seem like you could become a pro skier like you could be a pro football player. But once I moved to Utah for college, I met some pro skiers and all of a sudden I was like, “OK, this is possible. I’ve got to work hard and get myself out there.”

The prime thing that made me what I am is the internet. Getting online communities to watch my ski edits and get my name out there is what made it possible for me to get on film trips. It made me a star overnight even before I had won a major contest. Lots of kids across the internet thought I was good, and eventually sponsors caught on.

It’s a huge opportunity to have the Olympics coming up
and to be a part of this pivotal moment in our sport. I’m looking forward to representing our country and representing our sport on the worldwide stage.

I like competing, not for the fact that I want to win or because I’m such a desperately competitive person. More so because I love the atmosphere of competing and trying to put together a run that’s the best you can do—that’s always a fun challenge for me.

It’s definitely tiring to always be trying to keep up with kids who are pushing themselves. The older I get, the harder that becomes.

Filming is where I started, and it’s the thing that I’ve always done. You’re creating something that you can go back and watch and remember. In filming, you have a bigger opportunity to be creative and express yourself than you do in a contest. It’s a chance to create something entirely your own.

Urban skiing lets you not be confined by daylight hours. Any hour of the day is a perfect hour to film urban. There’s unlimited possibilities—you get to choose and build the features you want to ski. I’ve learned a lot of lessons from urban skiing about patience, about taking your time to work on something. Whether you’re shoveling for hours or trying a trick on a rail hundreds of times, you’re focusing, you’re spending the time to really work toward something. You’re trying not to get frustrated and walk away.

We’re in such a dangerous sport and there are a lot of risks for injuries. I’ve broken my collarbone and shoulder bone and torn my MCL, but I count myself as one of the lucky ones. I’ve learned to deal with injuries, take time off, refocus, and plan for the future.

I’ve heard Travis Pastrana describe himself as a risk calculator. While he’s more insane than I am, I like that definition of what we do. Before I do something, I look at it and ask, “What’s the worst possible thing that could happen?” And then I make sure that thing doesn’t happen.

There’s this adrenaline rush and fear you feel when you’re trying a new trick or a new rail. Every time you get over that fear, that feeling of satisfaction is something I’ve become addicted to.