Cover photo: Zipline Poles
David Wise has multiple gold medals at both the Olympics and the XGames, he even holds a controversial World Record. This is something of a different interview in that we started it off at Audi Nines last April with the plan of publishing around now, but the day after, David fractured his Femur. An injury like that obviously changes the plans/life of skier, so we caught up again last week to see how the recovery was going and see if anything had changed...
Since our first interview, you had a pretty gnarly injury. Broken femurs are nightmare injury for most skiers. How is the recovery going?
I definitely don’t recommend breaking your femur, to anybody reading this! That was a rough one, for sure: in terms of both pain and difficulty to get back to strong and healthy, it was a really tough one. Even harder than an ACL or anything else. Bones do heal better than ligaments and joints, so now that the bone is healed, I’m certainly feeling strong and I don’t think it will really set me back at all, but man, that was a tough recovery. I’m glad to be at the end of it.
How has it changed your plans?
It’s hard to come out of an injury and set super high expectations, but at the same time, I’m not really worried about it slowing me down much either. I’m going to start the season slowly, I'm hoping to be back on snow in early November and see how it goes from there. I’m still planning on competing in all the contests that I had planned to before the injury. I also hope to be working on the film project that I was working on. I’m not going to be stressed about it either, I’m not going to say: ‘Oh I have to compete here!’. If I get on snow and I feel I’m not strong enough, or I’ve not had enough time on my skis, then I’ll take it slow. Knowing me and how hard I’ve been working to get back to skiing, I have a feeling that I’m gonna get straight back into it.
So did the injury actually come at the ‘right time’ in a way?
If you’re in my profession and you’re going to get hurt, you should probably do it at the time that I did. I missed a lot of fun spring skiing and a couple of film trips, so that was a bummer, but it gave me just the right amount of time to go through the recovery process, get strong again and be back for this season. If you have to get hurt, you should do it in the Spring, so you’ve got the whole summer to recover. It definitely threw a bit of a wrench in my summer plans, I didn’t have nearly enough time to ride my bike and do all kinds of fun stuff. Sometimes it’s good to have those resets, where you have to slow down. I’m the kind of guy who if I get the chance to do something active and exciting, interesting or travel, then I’m going to do it, but every once in a while, you need to slow down and take stock of things. It’s not been fun, but it has been good for me to go through the process.
Let's rewind to the Audi Nines. Was it nice to be at a more relaxed event, rather than the mainstream Olympic stuff?
I think it depends on your personality. Some people love that: hype at all times. In the spotlight and everybody wants to know what you have to say. For me, I get overwhelmed, obviously, I’m a contest skier, so I enjoy the spotlight and pressure, but I also like to take a step back and just be me again. When you’re skiing with friends you’ve skied with your whole life, there are no expectations, they don’t expect you to be ‘The Olympic Gold Medalist: David Wise’. I can just be me. It’s really nice, especially coming back here –this is like my 8th time at Audi Nines-- I've got a lot of history with Nico and the whole crew here, so it always feels good to come back.
Growing up in Reno, did you grow up skiing in Squaw?
I started out at a tiny little resort, outside Reno, called Sky Tavern. My dad was an alpine racer in college, my sisters --who are four years older than me—both raced, so that was a natural thing to get into racing got into first. I was always that kid that liked to jump off stuff, I liked to slide-tackle in soccer, I liked playing football because I could hit people, I was just a daredevil kid.
Actually, as a kid, I wanted to be a snowboarder, because that’s who I saw in the park. I was always like: ‘I wanna hit those! That looks fun!’ So I asked my dad and his rule was: ‘when you get to a certain level in skiing, then I’ll let you try snowboarding.’ By then it was when CR Johnson, Tanner Hall, and Candide were crushing it on skis. I was like: ‘I don’t need to learn how to snowboard, why don’t I just take skis into the park?’
My dad let me join the freestyle team at Alpine Meadows and it was like wild-fire after that. I competed in moguls for a couple of years. I was never very good at moguls, but I always had a love for halfpipe and slopestyle.
Why did you specialize in halfpipe?
I didn’t specialize for a long time. I competed in Big Air, Halfpipe and Slopestyle. It got to the point where the schedules were so tight —for me—that I needed to pick one and there’s something more intense about halfpipe than anything else, something more competitive about it and the pressure’s higher. It’s a little bit faster pace, it’s five or six hits and those all happen within 35 -40 seconds. There’s something about the pressure of that, that’s hard. Halfpipe’s scary and I’ve always gravitated towards the things that other people were scared of, because I —when I was younger—realised that you could master fear. You don’t have to let fear run your life. You can take something that’s scary and just get a little better at them. Obviously, you take a lot more heavy slams, than just about any other discipline, but the older I get the smarter I get about it. I try to train well and do things in a calculated way. Of course, I’m always trying to push my own skiing and improve, I’m kind of learning to improve at the right pace.
How friendly was your rivalry with Kevin Rolland?
Definitely a friendly rivalry. The year that I did the first double-cork1260 in the pipe, I hurt my knee the first contest of the year and then Kevin learned it because I put it out on video. My mistake! I wasn’t bitter, but I was like: “oh man!”, a little chapped about that. I respect him, he’ll win or die trying and I respect him so much. He’s got the heart of a lion and he’s super-passionate about skiing. We both respect each other, but of course, I always want to beat him!
As a family-man with faith, does that make you different from most other skiers?
If anything, I think I’m somewhat misunderstood. I’m not a bigot, I don’t force my views on anybody. I just own them and say: ‘This is what I believe and this is how I believe you can live the most fulfilled life you can.’
I’m a 29-year-old with an 8-year-old daughter and a 5-year-old son. Is that a little crazy? Yes. Did I expect that to be the way my life went? No, but it went that way and I’ve just embraced it and I love it. I’m living my most joy-filled life, because of my kids and because of my faith. I’d never force that on anyone though. I believe God made us all and he made things like skiing and snow for us to enjoy because he loves us.
You’ve talked about competing in hunting after your ski-career, so the big question: Skiing or Hunting?
Haha if I had to choose right now? Still skiing, for sure. One thing you’ll notice, if you talk to a lot of really high-level athletes, they always have a balance passion. There’s something that they do: for me it’s skiing, it’s what I’ve been doing since I was three-years-old and competing since I was 14. That’s become my craft and it’s something I’m still passionate about, I still love it, I still enjoy it, I still go out there and hammer –even when I don’t have to—because I like doing it. I have to have something that occupies all of my competitive sides, all of my brain, in order to, kind of, balance out that passion for skiing. There’s a time, in the year, when you’ve skied enough, and you need to take a break and do something else. I can’t turn that side of my personality off completely. I can’t go from being a skier, to be an everyday businessman, I have to do things that are exciting, interesting and a little bit aggressive. For me, the focused-element to competitive archery is really appealing. I’m going to start competing more in archery, in the summer, I hope to make a go of that professionally.
Will we see you compete in the summer Olympics then?
That’d be a really cocky claim, but it’s a dream that I would like to fulfill. I’d love to go to the winter and the summer Olympics, but that’s a super-long-term goal. The nice thing about archery is that I can compete in that for a really long time
For me the two passions keep the fridge full, I get paid to ski and at the end of the day, I provide for my family. The meat we eat is almost exclusively something that my wife or I have hunted. We do the butchering ourselves, we really believe in the food-side of hunting. I’m not that into the trophy-side. I don’t need to shoot the biggest animal in the world and show you how cool it is, it’s just the way I choose to feed my family. It’s sustainable, hunters were the first conservationists. Hunters were the first guys to say: ‘These animals are disappearing, I like eating those, so why don’t we do the right thing for the animals? Take the right amount of them, put them in the right places and because of the North American Conversation Model, we have an abundance of elk and we can hunt them. Hunting is sustainable, it’s almost the most sustainable way to get meat you possibly can. I’ve done some strength-testing based around diet, I’ve done vegan, I’ve done vegetarian and I’ve done all those things. Game meat, for me, was always the best, by a fair margin. I felt the most powerful and the snappiest, on a scientific level I was slightly physically-stronger when I ate the game protein. So it makes sense. Obviously, it’s something I enjoy anyway, but it also makes sense.
Ok, the big question: Olympic Gold or X Games Gold?
Oooh, that’s a tough one!
Just the Olympic idea in general --I’m the guy that’s won it twice, so I’m pro-Olympics-- before 2014, people were saying it wasn’t a good thing for the sport. I felt like if we –as athletes—could show our sport to that world, the way we want to, we weren’t going to lose our soul. What everyone was worried, in my opinion, was that we were going to turn into aerials or moguls, where the freedom of style was lost. For those first two Olympics, I felt, we really had a great crop of guy and gals skiing, that cared about style, cared about execution and cared about making things look good, just as much as they cared about technicality.
That was always my strategy about the Olympics: Let’s take this sport, that we think is dope, and do dope things in front of the world-at-large. The reality is, for skiing to grow is a good thing for everybody. Anybody who wants to make a living of skiing, or even just wants to get a couple of free products here and there, that’s great. In terms of respect for the sport, X Games is a really close rival. There’s no harder event to win than the X Games.
X Games is the top 16, or the last couple of years top 12, guys in the world invited to X Games. That might be 12 Americans. Whereas the Olympics you’re limited to a 4-man-field from each country. They definitely make the fields different, but there’s something beautiful about that, bringing all the world together and have everybody compete under their flag. That’s the long answer, the short answer is: I don’t know!
Plans for next season?
The stereotypical dream for any contest-skier is, compete for as long as you can and then ski pow for the rest of your life. I’m working on a project called: ‘The Transition’, about the transition out of half-pipe and into anything else, or just that I’ve been riding transitions my whole life. We’ll do a bunch more backcountry shooting or park. Just a bit more focusing on the style-side of things.
Trip: Japan. Anybody that likes to ski soft snow will end up in Japan at some point.
Trick: Backflip on jumps and Alley-oop flat 5 in the pipe
Track: Sweet Virginia by the Steel Wheels