Yater-Wallace continues to overcome with return to Olympics on the horizon

U.S. halfpipe skier Torin Yater-Wallace at the top of the X Games superpipe in Aspen for practice runs at Buttermilk on Wednesday night.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times |

Torin Yater-Wallace’s journey to the Olympics this year as opposed to his first trip in 2014 is much different. For one, the Aspen halfpipe skier really had to earn it this winter.

A teen prodigy at the time, Yater-Wallace was given the final discretionary spot for the Sochi Games after injuries kept him out of most of the Olympic qualifiers. Last week in Mammoth, his third-place finish allowed him to meet the objective criteria and earn his spot the natural way for PyeongChang.

“While everyone was battling in this hectic, competitive field for those four spots, I was able to go purely based off my previous year’s success,” Yater-Wallace recalled from the 2014 qualifying. “It really was such a miracle in itself that I made it there and I will forever be thankful.”

Yater-Wallace’s tumultuous journey to where he is now has been well-documented. There was the incident in 2014, before going to the Olympics, where a physical therapist accidently punctured a hole in his lung during a routine procedure. Then, during one of the qualifying events, he fell and broke his ribs, re-collapsing the lung.

He competed in Sochi, the first time ski halfpipe was an Olympic event, but was far from healthy. His best-run score of 39 was only good for 26th in qualifying and only the top 12 made finals.

Then, toward the end of 2015, Yater-Wallace developed a rare bacterial infection that resulted in him being put into a medical paralysis for 10 days where he fought for his life. This battle, along with his mother’s cancer diagnosis and father’s imprisonment for probation violations after multiple fraud convictions, were featured in “Back to Life,” a documentary about Yater-Wallace produced by Red Bull Media House, with ESPN. It recently made its debut on the World of X Games.

“I haven’t really opened up about my life story too much,” Yater-Wallace said recently. “I’m a pretty closed person, especially when it comes to my life and family.”

While still fighting minor injuries more often than not, Yater-Wallace, now 22, is relatively healthy and is set to return to the Olympics next month.

Like most others, he’ll get a final tune-up this week at X Games Aspen, where he’s won two career silver medals in the superpipe (2011, 2013). He’s won two gold medals at X Games, but both came overseas in Tignes (2013) and Oslo (2016).

“I’m feeling good. It’s always a special week being able to compete here in the hometown,” Yater-Wallace said. “The pressure around the entire event of the Olympics is similar to last time. There is definitely a lot more media and cameras on you as opposed to other years with different contests and that kind of never goes away.”

Despite his youth and natural talent in the halfpipe, Yater-Wallace can see this being his last go in the discipline. He’ll still be a professional skier, but he might decide to add a few new things to his portfolio after PyeongChang.

“Halfpipe has been awesome and it’s one of the places I’ve excelled through my career as a professional skier,” Yater-Wallace said. “But after doing a million pipe events, I’d really like to diversify and do a bit more slopestyle and ultimately get out in the backcountry a lot and put out video parts.

“By no means do I think I won’t be competing over the next four years, but maybe switch it up to a different avenue and a little different scenery than the usual I’m used to.”