This article comes straight from Issue 24 of FreestyleXtreme Magazine. You can get a printed copy of the magazine for free with any order placed in our online store (don't forget to request one at the checkout) or read the digital version below.
We spoke to the American freestyle skier at the start of the Audi Nines competition about the bounce-back his career has seen - and how he got it rolling with one of the most dramatic Olympic gold medal wins we’ve seen. So how does it feel to be back at the top?
What was it like growing up as a rider in ‘Cowtown’ (Calgary, Alberta)?
I always felt out of place in Calgary. Not only is it cold as balls, but it had a real disconnect from extreme sports - or any sport which wasn’t hockey at the time. No one took mountain biking seriously. Being cold, frozen, and dark for half the year didn’t help either.
Enjoying the Audi Nine?
Yeah. The course this year is the most unique course for any sport that’s ever been built. It’s got a rhythm section or a speed section for ski-crossers, it’s got a really fast drop-in, some jumps, and then it goes into a hip - into a braided core section where you have to land on edge each time and land in a turn. It goes into this cool full pipe tunnel, that you can flash in, right into a loop - an actual loop which I never thought I’d see on skis in my life. And then obviously, it goes into what would be the standard nine nights type feature of a big old jump. And then it ends with the feature that I love the most: the giant quarter pipe.
It’s super fun... if anything there’s too much to do! I don’t know how to focus because I like the whole thing.
Sounds awesome man, glad to hear it’s as cool to ride as it is to watch.
We owe you a congrats on the gold medal – what did you make of the Olympics?
The Olympics were amazing. It was something that I have a hard time even talking about because so much happened in such a short period of time, but it was an amazing experience.
I really feel like the competition day for skiing in general was great. When I was getting ready to drop in for my third run - having not landed my first two runs - I was able to really say to myself, “Hey, skiing won today, whether I win or not. Whether I land this run or not, skiing really represented itself well and our sport looked good for the world to see.”
So, then I was able to drop in, fortunately landed my run and now I have the good fortune of being the representative of skiing again as Olympic champion. Amazing experience.
How’s the tone at the Olympics – is everyone super-serious? Did you come away with any funny stories?
Lots. When I was flying home and I had tried to get an upgrade so that I could fly home first class, but it didn’t go through. All of the Olympic people were on the same flight - so obviously there were people who are higher rollers than I am, so I got on the plane and I sat in my seat.
All of a sudden I see the pilot and the co-pilot walking up to my seat and I was like, “Oh man, yes I’m getting upgraded for sure.” But nope, they just wanted to take a photo and then they went back and flew the plane!
Have you got anywhere special you keep your medals?
They’re right here with me right now! I travel around with them a lot - I think part of my responsibility as the guy who won the Olympics is to share it with everybody who supported me along the way.
So it’s fun for me to be at an event like Audi Nines, and a couple of my sponsors are here, to be able to let them hold the medal and be like, “Yeah, you guys are part of this, it’s part of the journey.” So I travel with them a lot. But when I’m home they have a little case. They’ve got their own little special spot.
Out of all your medals and achievement, which mean the most to you?
Each one means a lot in different ways. I kind of had a dry spell where I didn’t win any competitions. I didn’t win any X-Games, gold medals, I didn’t win anything. So the X Games gold medal this year leading up the Olympics was a huge accomplishment. It was like a confirmation, yeah I’m still in it, I’m still on track to do well. But then, winning my second Olympic gold medal, it’s gonna be hard to beat that, ever!
What’s it like to be part of the US team?
It’s fun. We have a really, really talented crew of skiers I think. Just making the Olympic team this year was one of the hardest things to do, just cuz we have such a stacked team.
So I feel lucky to actually to be on the US team. It’s probably the hardest team to be on - or the hardest team to make for the Olympics, or World Championships or anything. Because we have so much talent. For me it’s a good thing because the guys that I feel like are my biggest competition are the guys that I ski with every single day.
I’m never surprised by people from the other countries I’m like, “Oh wow, I had no idea this was coming.” Cuz the guys who are pushing me the most are the guys that I ski with on a day to day basis.
What does your training schedule look like?
It depends on what time of year, but in the off-season I go to the gym three days a week - a couple of hours, three days a week - and then on the days that I don’t go to the gym, I either ride my mountain bike or run or do something endurance-oriented.
Because my - and every athlete’s different - but my body type is a lot heavier than I want it to be. If I just worked out and didn’t do some kinda cardio to counteract it, I would get really bulky, and heavy. And I don’t wanna be heavy, I wanna be strong but agile. So I’m constantly in a state of trying to be as strong as I can possibly be without being heavy.
How much does the support of your Olympic team affect that? Are there any new approaches to training or ideas they’ve introduced to you?
Yeah, one of the things I think that every country is realising is how important the mental side of being an athlete is, so yeah.
Over the last couple years, the Olympic team - both on the US side and the Olympic ski team side - have gotten a lot more involved in doing sport psychology and stuff like that, and that’s always something I’ve been fascinated with. I love psychology. It’s one of my potential future career paths actually, I wanna do sport psychology and be a mental strength coach for other athletes.
Because that was my biggest struggle as a young competitor. I could compete - or I could ski really well - but I couldn’t compete well because I wasn’t mentally very good at it. I had to overcome that and kind of learn the hard way. But I would like to help athletes by helping them learn the easy way, how to overcome this mental strength. How to stay tied to the moment not what happened last round, not worry about what might happen next time but right here, right now.
You had a tough time, personally and injury-wise, over the last four years - how did that interact with your ski career?
Yeah, I can say this now looking back, that I really am thankful for the hard times.
It’s hard to explain but when you’ve seen how bad things can be and you’ve seen how hard things can be - when they get a little bit better it feels amazing. I was injured quite a bit and had a lot of personal-life things happen - so feeling healthy again was like feeling the best I’ve ever felt in my life.
Being able to let go of the things that I couldn’t control and just go out there and ski, feels great. So yeah, I would say to anybody that’s feeling this, if you’re in dark times just be thankful for it - because everything you get through is something you can use in the future as a strength.
You do a fair bit of charity work as well – what can you tell us about that?
Every competition this year, every time I’m on the podium, I give 10% of my winnings and sponsorship payouts to an organisation called One Leg Up On Life, which is a non-profit that my sisters actually started.
One of my sisters, who’s a pilot in the Air Force, lost her leg in a boating accident three years ago. My other sister, her twin, is a surgeon and has spent a lot of time volunteering down in the Dominican Republic and Haiti - and realised the need that there is in third world countries for better prosthetics. There’s a lot of amputees in those countries, some of them don’t even have a walking leg or anything, whereas my sister who’s in the Air Force has a walking leg, a running leg, a biking leg, all these different cool things that help her enrich her life again.
So, their goal at One Leg Up On Life is to provide a better standard of living of these amputees in third world countries. It’s been fun to me to be a partner with them. Obviously, I’m a skier and I’m travelling around constantly - that’s what I do - so I can’t help as much physically, but I can help by supporting what they’re doing.
That sounds great man. While we’re on the subject of family, how are you finding being a rad dad?
A rad dad? Yeah, the interesting thing is that I was never very successful as a skier until after my daughter was born. And a lot of people wrote me off... I was 21 when my daughter was born and everybody was like, “Oh, well that’s the end of Dave’s career, that was good for him, too bad-”
Ironically, that was what freed me up to really compete well, because I realised the things that I was focusing on - the things I cared most about - at the end of the day they didn’t really matter.
Yeah, of course I wanna be successful, of course I wanna do the best I can in skiing, but the most important thing I do is take care of my kids, take care of my wife and be a good husband and father. So they’ve enabled me to just take the pressure off, shrug my shoulders, go out there and enjoy skiing. That’s made me a better skier, it’s made me a better competitor.
I really feel like they truly are the reason that I’ve done as well as I have.
How do you balance the family time with your skiing?
I feel like instead of my family being something that I have to balance, I almost look at it from a perspective that they’re what balances me.
I have a natural tendency, I’m relentless. if you talk to any of my competitors, the one thing they will say is I’m the hardest working guy out there. I will literally work until I can’t work anymore. And I have a tendency to get a little too caught up in what I’m doing, so it’s good for me to have this constant reminder: try to be successful, do the best you absolutely can, but at the end of the day remember what’s important.
What’s next on your agenda? Are you looking to the next Olympics yet?
The rest of the year, I’m going home after Audi Nines is over and just hopefully doing some back-country filming, building some jumps and just getting content in the back country.
Then the plan for the next four years is keep going. I’m really enjoying doing what I’m doing now, and hopefully I’m gonna be at it in Beijing for another Olympics. I’m already making plans - I’m already figuring out what run I think I should be doing next.
Sweet, thanks for the talk man, good look on Olympic medal number three!