The Maine man
December 20, 2005
“I’m so tired,” Simon Dumont said recently, before slumping into a chair at Bumps restaurant at Buttermilk and then slipping off his bright orange jacket and black Red Bull hat.Only two days in to a four-day photo shoot for his clothing and goggle sponsor, Oakley, the two-time defending Winter X Games skiing superpipe champ looked like he was ready for a break. A flight back home to Maine to spend Christmas with family and friends awaited at the end of the week, but not before taking care of business responsibilities.As usual, business for Dumont consisted ticking off bursts of spins and grabs while boosting out of the superpipe as high as possible. Higher than friend and competitor Tanner Hall, who was also in town for the Oakley shoot. Higher than his previous mark last February, when in front of a national television audience he soared 20 feet out of the pipe on all three of his runs. The second run led to an unbeatable score of 92.66, leaving Hall with the silver.When asked about that win, Dumont’s tired eyes couldn’t disguise enthusiasm. After a scary fall in Utah in March that put him off skis for nearly two months, it was great to be back in the pipe, he said. “I’m just really, really excited to defend my title,” said the 19-year-old Dumont, referring to the upcoming Winter X Games at Buttermilk in late January. “Today was pretty much the best day I’ve ever had in the halfpipe.” The crash that could have ended his bid for a three-peat, possibly his career, was a result of poor planning, Dumont said. At an early morning photo shoot in Park City, Dumont volunteered to be the first skier to grab a snowmobile tow and test out a huge tabletop jump. He seriously overestimated the amount of speed needed to clear the gap between the jump’s lip and the landing transition.
“I figured I’d rather go a little big and not hit the knuckle. It was so icy and I just went ridiculously big,” he said.Witnesses said Dumont launched off the jump’s 80-foot-tall ramp, then sailed 200 feet through the air. He missed the transition entirely and fell on hard, flat snow.”I probably fell from 100 feet onto the flats,” he said.Then a deliberate pause.”I probably should have died.”The impact from the fall fractured his pelvis in three places. His spleen ruptured. After coming to, he was rushed to the hospital. Doctors, however, decided against immediate surgery to remove his spleen. Within a day, the organ began to heal itself.”I got pretty lucky,” Dumont said.Five days after the accident, Dumont was released from the hospital and allowed to return home to Bethel, Maine. A month and a half later, the fractured pelvis had healed and Dumont started walking again. Once he was cleared by doctors a few weeks later, he was back on skis at Mammoth Mountain in California, followed by summer training in New Zealand.If anything, the accident has made him more diligent when it comes to checking out jumps and landings, Dumont said. Before the injury, erring on the safe side meant going big off a jump, just to make sure not to come up short on a landing. Dumont said he now knows that there is such a thing as “too big.””I’m just going to start speed-checking a little more. Feeling out trannies [transitions]. I just get really excited,” he said. “I’m still going to charge. That’s pretty much my mentality, but I’m definitely going to look into things, be a little bit more careful.”Kristi Leskinen, another Winter X Games star and a good friend of Dumont’s, said the accident has changed him. “He’s no longer a rookie in the sport. He’s been around for a long time, and he’s seen some crazy stuff,” she said. “I think injuries always put things in perspective. That’s how you learn your limits, by pushing it so far that you get hurt.”
Before the injury, limits didn’t seem to apply to Dumont. At the last two Winter X Games, no competitor went as high as he did in the pipe. Other skiers, like Hall, strung together more technical runs. But Dumont’s rare air was more impressive, more daring.The natural comfort in the air stems from 10 years of gymnastics, which Dumont eventually walked away from to focus on skiing. Before the superpipe final last January, Dumont shrugged off questions about his gymnastics training, noting that “I can pretty much still do anything, but I’m kind of over it. It’s a little bit gay for me.”But there’s no denying it’s one of the things that sets him apart, Leskinen said. That, and a compact 5-foot-6, 150-pound build, which helps with spring and aerodynamics.”He’s just one solid muscle, that kid,” Leskinen said. “When you look at all the other kids in the industry, everyone’s an athlete, but he’s just kind of that kid who is solid as a rock. He’s just so strong. He’s able to work the tranny better than anyone else. For his size, he’s stronger than anyone else around.”Typical of most Winter X athletes, Dumont’s fiercest competitors are also some of his closest friends. After Christmas, he’s moving to Mammoth to live in a house with T.J. Schiller and Jon Olssen – two of the biggest names in the industry.
Olssen, who hails from Sweden, was third in the superpipe final last year – the sixth bronze medal of his X Games career. Schiller jump-started his career by beating Hall in slopestyle at the U.S. Freeskiing Open in Vail two years ago.Hall, however, is Dumont’s biggest rival. The volatile and often outspoken Montana native is also still the biggest name in freeskiing, despite failing to win a gold medal at last year’s Winter X Games.For his part, Hall thought he was “robbed” of his fourth consecutive slopestyle title when he was edged by Charles Gagnier of Quebec. He mocked Gagnier for what he labeled “rollerblade skiing” and singled out judges for picking the wrong winner. He wasn’t too happy about losing to Dumont in the superpipe, either. Despite his growing celebrity, Dumont said Hall is still the benchmark in freeskiing.”Tanner is just ridiculous. He’s on another level,” he said. “Last year at X Games, he was way more technical. I just went bigger. I’m still behind him.”Hall had a catastrophic crash of his own last March in Utah, barely two weeks after Dumont’s wreck. And though he’s recovered from two broken ankles, Hall continues to insist he won’t compete in the Winter X Games this year. He wants to push freeskiing’s progression by filming in the backcountry, not by being scored by judges, he said.Dumont respects Hall’s decision, but isn’t swayed by his thinking.”I think I know what he’s going to do, but who knows? He might come out and surprise everybody and do the X Games,” he said. “Personally, I’m excited about them.”Even though Hall doesn’t want to compete in front of judges, Dumont said Hall will always compete against other skiers. Last week, the two could be spotted from the chairlift racing down the Buttermilk, weaving between intermediate skiers and snowboarders.”That’s all we know. All of us are competitors in everything we do,” Dumont said. “Me and Tanner went on a rail trip last year, and we were literally running up the stairs just trying to get to the rail first. It’s such a competition. It’s so unspoken, but it’s there.”
Dumont is outspoken himself when it comes to the future of freeskiing. He said it is ridiculous that the sport hasn’t been considered for the Winter Olympics. Halfpipe snowboarding has been a part of the Winter Games since 1998 and boardercross will make its Olympic debut this season. Freestyle skiing at the Olympics, however, is still relegated to traditional moguls competitions and aerials. As a sport, Dumont said freeskiing is at a critical junction, striving for recognition. If snowboarding was worthy of the Olympic spotlight, then freeskiing should be as well.”It’s at that level where it can either blow up or die away,” he said. “It’s incredible. I talk to so many people who don’t know much about freeskiing. They’re like, ‘Oh, do you do the Olympics?’ I’m doing well with my skiing, but everyone knows the Olympics and I want to be connected to that. I want to be, like, ‘Yeah, I did the Olympics.'” For now, the Winter X Games suffice for freeskiing’s default Winter Olympics. Since he can’t win gold in the halfpipe in Turin, Dumont plans on winning the next best thing – another gold in Aspen in January. “There are so many young kids out there coming up,” he said. “I can’t wait.”Nate Peterson’s e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org