Wallisch shines in X Games ski slopestyle
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN – An untimely shoulder injury cost skier Tom Wallisch the opportunity to compete in last year’s Winter X Games.
The 24-year-old Pennsylvania native made up for lost time Thursday in the games’ first slopestyle competition under the lights at snowy Buttermilk in Aspen.
Showcasing the signature fluidity and near-flawless rail technique that have made him a two-time Dew Tour slopestyle winner already this winter, Wallisch laid down a technical third run that was rewarded with a score of 96 – the highest tally ever in event history.
The effort was more than enough to unseat Indiana 17-year-old Nick Goepper, whose second-run 94.66 vaulted him to the top of the podium for a few fleeting minutes in his Winter X debut.
“I was hoping it would (hold up), but I was definitely worried. Typical Wallisch, coming (through) in the clutch and stealing it from me again,” joked Goepper, who also finished second to Wallisch during a recent Dew Tour stop in Breckenridge. “It feels awesome to be a rookie and get on the podium. To take second is a dream come true.”
Andreas Håtveit, of Sudndalen, Norway, wound up third for a second straight year after a third-run 92.
“I’ve got some thirds now. For me, just to be on the podium is indescribable,” the 25-year-old said. “These guys are so good. They’re kind of hard to beat, but this is the best I’ve ever done in my whole life.”
Much like he has all season, Wallisch likely distanced himself early in Thursday’s second run after fearlessly tackling a difficult rail section. After airing onto a box at the outset, he ollied and slid across the top of a wall feature – a feat one commentator likened to jumping onto a kitchen counter.
“It was definitely a little scary. I definitely had to ad-lib a bit up top,” Wallisch said. “I was happy to finally figure out some rail tricks. It took the better (part) of three days to figure out a technical line up there. Rails normally are my thing, but those were funky for me. Finally, it all clicked here on the last night, luckily.”
After cleanly negotiating the rails, Wallisch landed a clean switch 900 and, just like Goepper, the top qualifier, finished with three consecutive double-corked 1260s.
“It was like the best return ever, I guess,” Wallisch said. “It couldn’t have gone any better.”
Wallisch was riding with friends in Park City, Utah, in early January 2011 when he hit a box, “caught my edge, got whiplashed, slammed off the edge of it and landed right on my back from pretty high up and fractured my shoulder blade.” He tried to ski through the pain for two weeks but ultimately decided to pull out of both a Dew Tour stop in Killington and the X Games.
“I was bummed not to be in it (last year), but I knew I had to heal up anyway so it was good to have a lot of free time,” Wallisch said. “Sitting out with a shoulder injury for the main part of the year was a pain … but to come back and do well here is amazing.
“That was just a whole lot of fun.”
All three agreed that competing under the lights added to the spectacle.
“I grew up skiing in Indiana under the lights. To ski an entire X Games course under the lights was insane,” Goepper said.
Added Wallisch: “(Goepper) grew up skiing under the lights in Indiana, I grew up in PA under the lights, and Andreas skis in his backyard under the lights. There might be some sort of thing here.”
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Prior to starting his trek across U.S., Larkins had never run more than a marathon and had never been to Colorado