Aspen’s Torin Yater-Wallace makes X Games return in ski knuckle huck fresh off plane from Japan
Had it been a more serious competition, Torin Yater-Wallace might have opted to go home. But, despite being only an hour or so off the plane from Tokyo, the Aspen freeskier went ahead and returned to X Games for Thursday’s ski knuckle huck.
It was a low-key return to the lights of Buttermilk for one of the sport’s biggest stars, who missed most of last season because of injury.
“I didn’t really think I was going to do it, because it’s just a knuckle,” Yater-Wallace said. “I booked my trip to Japan and then they hit me up. I wasn’t going to change my flight and I don’t know, I just did it.”
Yater-Wallace, the 24-year-old who grew up in the Roaring Fork Valley and won the first of his six X Games superpipe medals when he was only 15, wasn’t sure if he would ever compete in X Games again. Going into the 2018-19 competition season, his plan had been to spend it in the halfpipe before walking away from the discipline for good.
This was all expedited when Yater-Wallace crashed on his first run in Dew Tour’s modified halfpipe in Breckenridge on Dec. 16, 2018, essentially shattering both of his heels, among other maladies. He spent weeks in and out of the hospital, riding the couch in the time in between.
He made his return to snow on Nov. 7, roughly 11 months after his injury.
“Riding hardpack was a battle at first, but now my feet are feeling a lot better,” Yater-Wallace said. “So skiing resort and skiing park is feeling pretty normal again, but it’s sure nice to just ride powder all year.”
Yater-Wallace, who skis for Red Bull, spent about two weeks filming in Japan before returning home Thursday, landing only a few hours before the scheduled knuckle huck competition. Knuckle huck, an event where athletes throw a single trick off the rounded part, or knuckle, of the big air jump, made its X Games debut in 2019 with the snowboarders.
Thursday was ski knuckle huck’s X Games maiden voyage.
“It’s pretty mellow. I don’t know if the public can really relate to it, but for the skiers it’s a niche little category that’s cool,” Yater-Wallace said of the event. “I wasn’t sure if I was gonna, just being tired flying home from Tokyo today. But practice felt good and it felt nice to be skiing, so I went ahead and did it and I’m glad I did.”
Yater-Wallace didn’t have a favorite run in the 20-minute jam session, saying none “of them were that great, really.” The judges basically agreed, as he finished sixth in the eight-skier event, won by Park City’s Colby Stevenson, a 20-year-old X Games rookie. He held off Swedish big air legend Henrik Harlaut for the inaugural crown, or should we say knuckles, as the winner of knuckle huck does in fact receive a pair of gold knuckles as a trophy.
Winning or losing, or even competing, wasn’t important to Yater-Wallace, who seems to have moved on from that part of his life. He’s about making films — he’s headed to Canada soon for more skiing — but can’t rule out a return to X Games in the future, although probably not in halfpipe.
“Maybe I was hoping one day for slopestyle or big air. I was still hoping for that at some point. But right now I’m just focusing on making this movie,” Yater-Wallace said. “But it’s nice to be out here, under the lights and all. I don’t really have any desire to compete, but it’s always nice to be back. Hanging under the lights here will always be special.”
The men’s ski superpipe contest, sans Yater-Wallace, is scheduled for 7 p.m. Sunday. Fellow Aspen skier Alex Ferreira will compete, looking to defend his gold medal from 2019. Aspen’s Cassidy Jarrell, 20, was added to the competition Thursday after originally being an alternate, meaning he’ll make his X Games debut at 7:15 p.m. Friday during the elimination round. Ferreira goes straight to finals for having been on last year’s podium.
The snowboard knuckle huck contest is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Sunday, right before the men’s ski superpipe final.
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E-bikes can now be ridden for up to 20 minutes free in Aspen and Basalt as part of a pilot program from WE-Cycle. But after 20 minutes, it costs $5 a minute.