Tom Wallisch. PHOTO: Erik Seo/The Wallisch Project

Olympic aspirations are a new thing for Tom Wallisch. PHOTO: Erik Seo/The Wallisch Project

Age: 26
Hometown: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Olympic Discipline: Slopestyle
Career Achievements: 1st place, 2013 F.I.S. World Championships; 1st place, AFP Men’s Slopestyle Champion (2012, 2009); Three-time winner POWDER Reader Poll Award (2013, 2012, 2011); 2012 ESPN Action Sports Athlete of the Year; 1st place, 2012 Dew Tour Overall; 1st place, 2012 Aspen X Games Slopestyle; Three-time Dew Tour slopestyle winner; Winner of the 2007 Super Unknown Contest

Competing in the Olympics was never part of Tom Wallisch’s plan. As a kid hitting icy rails day in and day out on an East Coast hill that was just a few hundred feet tall, Wallisch dreamed of going to the X Games, filming for ski movies, and hitting huge backcountry kickers. He let go of any Olympic aspirations when he quit ski racing. But things change, and now Wallisch is working his way up the qualifiers to compete in the first Olympic slopestyle competition.

The thrill to enjoy the winter, be outside, and go fast stuck with me. It’s a virus that I’ve had for a while.

Growing up on a small hill on the East Coast, where there’s nothing else to explore once you ski down every run, instills a work ethic. Everything is a little bit icier, with less snow, shorter seasons, and night skiing. It forces you to make use of every single day.

The first thing I learned to do and what I’ve been best at is rail skiing and technical rail tricks. Being able to do stuff on the rails that not a lot of other people can do.

When I quit racing and quit doing moguls or any of the normal skiing competitive sports, I gave up any hope or dreams of going to the Olympics. I was happy about it. Until recently, when it came full circle for all of us.

When we got the announcement from the IOC that slopestyle was going to be included for 2014, it was eye opening. I was very competitive and high-ranking, and I hoped to hold onto it for another year or two to have the opportunity to go to the Olympics. But it still doesn’t quite seem real. It won’t until I’m out there.

I’ve been to Russia once before filming in downtown Moscow. It was a unique experience and a little bit scary. It’s a very historic country.

The U.S. is where most of the amazing terrain parks and halfpipes are built. It’s a very American sport. The fact that we have a limited number of spots and a highly competitive field, I think it’s going to be almost harder to make the U.S. team than to do well in the actual Olympics.

Everyone has gotten so good at their tricks now that it comes down to having perfect runs—absolutely perfect tricks, perfect landings, perfect grabs. And being able to spin all four directions—forward, switch, switch unnatural, forward unnatural. The double corks are huge.

If the course is built big enough and correctly, you’re going to see some people doing triple corks.

The Olympics are pretty much the opposite of what the basis for our sport was founded on. Everything from the first guys leaving the mogul field and doing their own thing, jumping the way they wanted to jump, partying every night, ridiculous outgoing people—the Olympics are completely different than the actual heart of the sport.