Aspen skier nabs top honor from Colorado Ski Country
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN – Walter Wood remembers the call from Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club freestyle ski coach Elana Chase well.
“You should probably drive up and come see the X Games,” she told him back in the winter of 2008, “considering you’re going to be competing there in the next few years.”
Wood, a refreshingly humble 17-year-old, had his doubts.
“I was like, ‘No way. I don’t think so,'” said Wood, who hails from Evergreen but trains with AVSC year round. “But then the next year I find myself standing at the top of the biggest halfpipe in the world. It was very intimidating and very scary. … It was like any kid’s dream.”
If 2008 was his breakthrough year – he competed in his first World Cup halfpipe and was invited to some of the most prestigious competitions – then the winter of 2009 was the time Wood put the freeskiing world on notice. He logged a top-three finish in a World Cup event, landed the sport’s first-ever 1620 (4 1/2 rotations) – a trick he affectionately refers to as the “Tootsie Roll” – and dropped into the massive Buttermilk superpipe at January’s Winter X Games, with thousands watching on site and on television.
He grabbed the attention of Colorado Ski Country USA, which last week named Wood its male athlete of the year. AVSC skiers Taylor Seaton and David Van Atta joined Wood on Ski Country’s All-Star team.
Wood is the first club athlete to win the award since nordic standout Simi Hamilton in 2002-2003.
“We’re incredibly proud that not only is Walter a tremendous skier, he’s a terrific person as well,” AVSC freestyle program director Eric Knight said in a news release. “He’s the perfect ambassador for Colorado and the sport of freeskiing.”
“It was a shock. … When they first sent me the e-mail, I didn’t know what to think,” Wood said Saturday. “This has kind of been like a dream come true. … When I look back, I think ‘Wow. I really did come pretty far.'”
He has made great strides in a short amount of time. Wood, the son of former Berthoud Pass ski patrollers (the resort closed in 2001), tried racing and moguls before making the switch to twin tips little more than three years ago.
It was then that things finally started to click, he said.
“I liked how it was free, how you were able to do whatever you want,” Wood added. “It was very creative, kind of like an outlet for me.”
Wood met AVSC freestyle coaches Chase and Geoff Stump at multiple competitions. Two years ago, they invited him to join the club.
It was the opportunity he had been waiting for.
“Before, I was kind of doing the solo thing. … It’s really eye-opening to see what the club can do,” Wood said. “The coaches and the program are incredible. … They are so interactive with the kids. I only wish I could live up there instead of commute.
“These have been the best two or three years of skiing in my life.”
Wood opened last season with a bronze at the New Zealand Open in September, finishing behind Tanner Hall and Justin Dorey. He took ninth at a Dew Tour stop in Breckenridge and 14th in his first Winter X Games appearance in late January.
“I was speechless, and didn’t quite know what to do,” Wood said of the X Games. “What a great experience.”
He burst onto the scene one week later in Park City, Utah, vaulting to the top of the leaderboard after one run in the U.S’s inaugural World Cup halfpipe competition. He wound up with bronze, finishing behind Winter X Games gold medalist Xavier Bertoni and Kevin Rolland.
In March, Wood picked up a ninth-place finish at the World Ski championships in Inawashiro, Japan, and a silver medal at the national championships in Squaw Valley.
“Coming into this year, expectations were high,” he said. “I trained a lot over the summer, lifting, going to the gym, driving to Aspen every chance I can. … You know, the sky’s the limit, and I just tried to do my best.
“I never thought this would happen.”
His impressive rise through the freeskiing ranks has Wood aiming high. He’s eyeing a potential Winter Olympics berth in 2014 in Russia.
“That’s been my dream since I was a little kid,” he said. “I’m pushing for it. I’m dying to have it.”
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Had Hailey Swirbul decided against going to Europe, she would not have finished with a career-best result in Friday’s World Cup opener. Yes, there was a time, and not long ago, when the U.S. ski team member and Roaring Fork Valley native questioned her desire to put on a race bib.