March 4, 2015 // By Matthew Owen
We hoped to make turns. Instead, we made a phone call…
Pro skier and full-time father of two, Mr. David Wise had family matters to attend. After a lengthy stay in Summit County, Colorado, (at about 9,000 feet elevation) it was time for the Wise family to descend. David and Alexandra’s four-year old daughter Nayeli and four-month-old son Malachi, needed the benefits of plentiful O2 at lower elevations. As David cruised down I-70 with a car full of ski gear and family memories, we talked shop, life, and literature.
Last winter was monumental for our sport. How do you think freeskiing will now progress as an Olympic sport?
In my opinion it was cool to finally get our sport in front of a broader audience. Obviously, people who ski a lot already knew what freeskiing is, but the world at large didn’t necessarily know about our sport. That’s what I was excited about with the Olympics—the opportunity to get our sport out there and to get more people excited about it. Since the Olympics, I’ve had a lot of young kids come up to me and say, “I want to be a halfpipe rider” or tell me they want to join the freestyle or slopestyle team. I think that’s cool. The more young blood we have getting into the sport, the better our sport will be.
Last winter was also monumental for you individually. How has winning an Olympic Gold Medal impacted you personally and as a skier?
Oh, man…Things are always changing your life. For me, my life changed considerably the first time I won the X-Games, and even the first time I won a pro comp. It seems like everything has been on an upward slant in my life for a while now, and I feel very fortunate. But the Olympics have changed things in my life more than any other professional competition. It’s just crazy the amount of attention you get. And it makes sense. After all, you don’t need to understand the individual sport an athlete does in order to understand the significance of the Olympics. Everyone can relate to it. Because they’ve watched the Olympics on TV their whole lives. The fanfare that comes with being an Olympic gold medalist is pretty surprising, and in a sense a little ironic. I went from being a complete unknown, to the hero of so many people who previously didn’t even know who I was. I am enjoying the ride, but at the same time I know people can be fickle. At one point you’re their hero and then they don’t even remember your name. It’s definitely been an interesting ride.
You are no stranger to winning competitions. With success comes accolades, but also pressure to continue winning. How do you manage that pressure?
Everyone feels pressure. No matter what they do. Whether it’s pressure to provide for their family, pressure to pass a class, pressure to pay the bills. Everyone deals with pressure. So it’s no surprise that I, as a pro-skier, deal with it too. Honestly though, I am content as a person. I love what I do and I love the people God has placed in my life. And at the end of the day, I am who I am, whether or not I stand atop a podium. So the pressure is there, but it doesn’t get to me too much.
In real life, it’s got to be tough balancing family and skiing. Would you say one is more important to you than the other?
Life is all about balance. Everyone is given different things to balance. Whether it’s a job, skiing, family, friends, etc. Honestly, for me, it makes me a better skier to have my family to focus on outside of skiing. It kind-of takes the pressure off. My wife, my daughter, my new little boy; they don’t really care whether I win or lose. They just want a good dad and husband. So my family gives me something to focus on that’s not necessarily tied to winning or loosing. While at the same time, I’m always going to be passionate about skiing. That’s the way I’ve always been. I’ve been passionate about skiing since the first time I put skis on my feet, when I was three years old. As for whether I love one more than the other, if tomorrow someone said I could never ski again or my family is going to die, then obviously I would say ‘okay I won’t ski again.’ Since my family is everything to me. But on a day-to-day basis I do my best to balance both.
How do you manage to balance the two?
Balance is kind-of an art. I’ve been fortunate enough to be competing on skis for twelve years, and I’ve done sports my whole life. I’ve learned that it helps to categorize things. When I’m out there skiing, I’m not thinking about anything else. I’m focused on skiing. I’m just thinking about what trick I’m going to do next and what I can do to make it better. And it’s sort of the same when I’m with my family. When I’m with my wife having a dinner, I’m not sitting there thinking about double corks and how I wish I did this trick, or I should have done that grab. I don’t carry baggage from one thing to the other. As a result, whether I’m skiing or with family, my focus is much stronger. To an extent, that’s my approach to life. I tend to give what I’m currently doing all my effort. Overall, I definitely wouldn’t say it’s easy to balance family life with my competitive lifestyle. But I feel it’s God’s plan for me. I didn’t ever plan to be married or to have kids by this time in my life, but God just put Alexandra in my life. And it’s like: ‘Wow! My life is just so much better with her!’ Additionally, I feel the same way about my little kids now. They enrich my life and make me a better person. They give me someone to fight for when I’m out there skiing.
It’s well known that you’re a Christian. Is your faith relevant to your skiing?
In my opinion, either your faith is part of your entire life or you shouldn’t have one at all. My faith plays a pretty significant role in who I am as a person. But also I think my faith makes me a better competitor, and better at what I do. People often ask me about the risks I take. They’ll ask, “how do you go out there and do what you do?” The answer, for me, is that I trust that God knows what He is doing with my life in the grand scheme of things. When I look back at different times throughout my life, it’s clear that God has taken care of me in some pretty amazing ways. I know that whatever happens to me is not outside the control of a God that faithfully cares for my family and I. The fact that God is in control over my life and my family’s life, takes pressure off of me. It makes it easier for me to go out there and enjoy the ride.
Are there any new tricks you’re working on putting into the trick bag? And at what point do you typically put new tricks into the competition bag?
I’m always innovating. That’s something I feed off. So even if I’m winning with specific runs, I’m always looking to modify them or to do something new. Because I think being creative is something that has been ingrained in us as humans. If I’m not creating something new, I get bored. So I’m always looking to try new things. And the X-Games are usually the time that I try to shoot for doing new things. Because it surprises people, and you want to kind-of keep people on their toes. You want people asking: what’s he going to do now? The X-Games are also the biggest stage we have from year to year, besides the Olympics. I’m definitely looking forward to the upcoming X-Games and trying to throw some new tricks.
How do you go about learning new tricks? Do you just wing-it and huck yourself?
For me it starts in the mind. A lot of tricks I do are things I’ve been thinking about for years sometimes. Sometimes it’s just months, but other times it’s years. A good example would be when I learned the double-corked 1260 for the first time. When I did it, nobody had ever done it before. So it was kind-of one of those things where I was like “I’m not really sure this is going to work.” But I had thought about it for so long and my skiing was at the stage where I thought it was possible and that I could be the one who pulls it off. By the time I tried it, I had been envisioning it for so long, that it was sort of like I had done it before. And it kind-of just worked. It was one of those things where I did the rotation, and it worked exactly how I thought it would. That’s not always how it goes. But that’s part of being an innovator. You have to be able to conceptualize things in your mind before you ever try it. Because if your just out there trying stuff, you may land something new, but you’re not going to be able to re-create it. You may land a trick that has never been done, but if you go and try it again without a solid grasp of what it is that you’re doing, then you’re just grasping at straws.
You remind me of Dave Mahre (Andy Mahre’s grandfather). He was a great mountaineer and family man. Fellow climber, Lee Maxwell, noted that Dave remembered he had family to support off the mountain. This influenced his safety measures while mountaineering. How do you as a father and pro-skier manage the inherent risks of our sport?
We do live in a sport where people die. We’ve lost a lot of friends, and I’ve lost a lot of friends. And it’s a sobering thing to think about. Whenever I’m out there innovating in the half-pipe, or out there in the backcountry—pushing lines, building hits, or jumping cliffs—I always have to be asking, “am I doing this in the most calculated way possible?” I’m a pretty detail oriented person, and so I’m always trying to minimize the risk as much as possible. When I went through my first missed season from injury, I realized it’s possible to ski in a way that’s a lot smarter than the way I was previously skiing. Before that injury, I thought I might get hurt once in a while. But I didn’t think anything would really keep me down. So I thought I would keep hammering and hammering, until I learned everything. Then I injured myself significantly. As a result, I had to sit on the couch for sixth months. I realized I didn’t want to do that again! I realized I needed to start taking fewer risks, and do things in a more calculated fashion. The same is true when I’m out mountaineering, or when I’m in the backcountry. For one, it’s important to surround yourself with people who know more than you. Additionally, you should always be aware of where you are. One thing that unfortunately happens in the backcountry is that people get excited, and forget what type of environment they are in. Everyone loves powder; it’s like a universal language. There’s no skier out there, who’s a true skier, that doesn’t love powder. So when you’re out there getting fresh snow, you can get really excited, and it becomes easy to lose track of what you’re doing. It’s all about perspective. It’s important to keep yourself grounded as much as you can. Having my family to support definitely helps keep me tied down a little bit.
Who do you admire on and off the snow, and why?
I always admire people who are more than just one thing. Guys like Shane McConkey. He was not only the best skier ever. He was also an amazing family man and husband. He was just an all around good guy. I tend to look up to people like that. Andreas Håtveit, is also a hero of mine on a pair of skis. It’s kind-of the same thing. He’s an amazing skier, he was the first guy to ever say: “Wow! Not only can we spin both ways, but I think we can do double corks both ways.” He sort of opened up a whole new aspect of skiing. He has innovated so many things. He actually innovated a lot of things in the halfpipe early in his career that I still use in my runs today. Yet at the same time, he’s also a dad and an amazing husband, and built his own house by hand. He is just an all around cool guy. So those are my two skiing heroes. And then I’m always looking up to people who have the ability to live outside themselves and inspire other people. Our society today says you have to look out for yourself and get as much stuff as you can while you can get it. But typically those who live the least for themselves are more happy than those who live for themselves.
What book is at the top of your “To-Read” list?
To read list…oh, that’s a really good question. I’m a huge reader. Well, I’m a huge fan of C.S. Lewis. I’ve pretty much read everything he’s written. From the time I was a child on, I’ve always loved Chronicles of Narnia. Lewis has the ability to take cool morals and cool lessons and knit them into a story. Lewis’s Narnia series is my all-time favorite, and probably always will be. But as for his works written for adults, I’m fascinated by the concept portrayed in the Screwtape Letters. It’s written from the perspective of a demon named ‘Screwtape.’ You kind-of see things from the side of evil. And it’s really interesting just thinking about the fact that there is true evil out there. We often, as humans, shy away from that idea and try to disbelieve it. When you realize that stuff is out there, and it plays a factor in your life, it definitely makes you think. Generally speaking though, when it comes to reading I’ll go back and forth between modern books and classics. I’ve read most of the popular Dickens books. I’m reading Tolstoy right now. I’m a nerd actually. I admit it. I’m a total literary nerd. You realize, when you read classics, that there is a reason such books have been popular for so long. Wisdom is timeless you could say.
This article was first published March 4, 2015 by SBC: Skier online. Though the interviewer is a philosopher by day, he’s a freeskier by night. His passion for freeskiing began at White Pass, Washington where he grew up sliding rails Andy Mahre built in shop class.
Featured image credit: Pierre Morel. David Wise at Winter X-Games Europe via Flickr. Used with permission.