At just 23 years old, freeskier David Wise is actually one of the sport's veterans and senior participants in the halfpipe. With freeskiing in its Olympic infancy as it makes its debut this February in Sochi with both the pipe and slopestyle events, it is the competitors still in their salad days -- mostly skiers in their teens or having just turned 20 -- who are intensifying the progression of the sport and have become the names to watch. Meanwhile, trying to keep the young pups at bay for at least another year, Wise is the old dog, still learning new tricks.
"We've had some of the most intense progression for the last couple years," Wise explained in October, "where it went from double cork to switch double cork, right-side, left-side, alley-oop -- every different kind of double cork that you can imagine. That's been kind of a rush to watch and be a part of. It's kind of an event where any guy could win on any given day. There's not necessarily somebody who is bound to win every single contest, so that really does encourage progression. It's encouraging you to take it to the next level, try to gain one step up on everybody else so that you can have that advantage."
The double cork -- the current buzzword of the action sports world -- is a bit difficult to explain, but it is a trick pretty much obligatory at this stage of the game and all the best possess it. Essentially, it is two off-axis rotations. It can also be thought of as two diagonal flips, where the athlete's head drops below their waistline during the trick. With an influx of new participants and the growing popularity of freeskiing, naturally this has created an environment where competitors are mastering these tricks and going bigger and bigger every season. Add in an Olympic year and everyone's eagerness to earn the distinction of being the sport's first-ever gold medalist, and it could produce limits being pushed ever further, though that might not even net the crown.
"The guy who wins isn't necessarily going to be the guy who's doing the hardest tricks," said Wise, a former ski racer and competitor in the moguls. "The reality of our sport is that every aspect plays into who wins or loses. We have the technicality of tricks that you do, the style that you do them with and how high you go. I think it's really going to come down to who can do some of the most technical tricks, but also make them look smooth. It's going to come down to who can combine the technicality and the major progression we have, with the style and the creativity of our sport."
Wise, the toast of the halfpipe for the last few years since exploding on the scene with Winter X Games Aspen gold in 2012, perhaps still had his best season in 2013. The Reno, Nev., resident repeated at X Games, won both the International Ski Federation (FIS) World Championships and the U.S. Grand Prix, notched his sixth U.S. national championship, as well as the Association of Freeskiing Professionals (AFP) halfpipe title. Yeah, he's good. Ranked No. 1 overall in the AFP halfpipe standings and fresh off a third straight gold at X Games, he's one of the favorites in Sochi.
The only question left is if the aged and more experienced Wise will be able to hold off the crop of budding talent once more, to seal his legacy as one of the discipline's top performers and forever become the answer to a trivia question. The other Americans looking to knock him off are a triad of Coloradans, 17-year-old Aaron Blunck, 19-year-old Lyman Currier and 18-year-old Torin Yater-Wallace. Whether it ultimately takes the smoothest run or the newest, biggest trick to win in Sochi, Wise said immediately following his season-opening Olympic qualifier victory at the Dew Tour in December to plan on him being a threat.
"This is just the first event," he said. "I have things that I want to do, a bunch of different grabs I want to try, so just keep your eyes out for it, for sure. I have plenty of tricks up my sleeve."