Saturday, March 8, 2014
The Associated Press
For years, freeskier Simon Dumont has been a big name in a little-known sport.
In this January 2009 file photo, Simon Dumont, of Bethel, Maine, performs a flip to win the Skiing Big Air competition at the Winter X Games 13 at Buttermilk Ski Area, near Aspen, Colo. Dumont is headed to Russia to prepare for his first-ever Olympics. (AP Photo/Nathan Bilow)
He was the skier always soaring so high in the halfpipe and coming up with all sorts of imaginative tricks that led to numerous medals at the Winter X Games, his sport's biggest stage.
In a year's time, though, Dumont could be the headliner in front of a world audience when halfpipe skiing makes its Olympic debut at the Sochi Games.
To prepare, Dumont is venturing over to Russia for a little scouting trip. He will check out the halfpipe next week and get a feel for the quality of snow.
That way, when he returns next winter — yes, he fully plans on making the team and returning — he will know just what's in store. Because, no doubt, he will be one of the favorites.
Always is, even when he's banged up.
At Winter X last month, Dumont dropped into the pipe with a broken left wrist — held together by 11 screws and a plate — along with a fractured right hand after a recent training mishap. He couldn't hold ski poles and yet still finished with a bronze medal.
And that was Dumont being careful, too, because he didn't want to risk another bad wipeout. Then again, even ordinary runs for Dumont are really not all that ordinary. He's known for his big air and flawless form, even without poles that help him keep his balance.
"You do what you can do with what you got," said the 26-year-old Dumont, who's from Bethel, Maine.
Sure, winning bronze was rewarding. But so was this: The following day, Dumont cruised down the slopes with a 15-year-old leukemia survivor, who made the request to hang out with Dumont through the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Now, Dumont is off to Russia, a place he's never been. He's anxious to take a spin through the halfpipe before a World Cup event on Feb. 16.
That is, if the weather cooperates. A slopestyle competition was recently scrubbed because of a lack of snow.
Also scheduled to compete with Dumont are Winter X gold medalist David Wise and 17-year-old Torin Yater-Wallace, who captured silver. They could be Dumont's biggest rivals a year from now.
So could anyone, really. The sport is simply that wide open.
"Everybody is learning new tricks," Dumont said. "It's progressing so quickly."
That's partly due to the event being included in the Olympic program next winter.
For that he — along with everyone else — can thank the late Sarah Burke, a Canadian freestyle icon who died Jan. 19, 2012, following a training accident on a halfpipe in Utah. She was a pioneer whose passion helped slopestyle and halfpipe skiing become Olympic sports.
"One of the greatest people you've ever met," Dumont said. "You met her and you were touched. I ski in memory of her."
Maybe once freeskiers were considered a free-spirited bunch. No more, though. This is a big business and Dumont treats it that way.
Well, as much as he can anyway.
"I'm still my own program," said Dumont, whose sponsors include Red Bull energy drink. "I've never even had a coach.
"But I do understand I am a brand and this is my job. I take it seriously. This year, I'm really focusing on preservation and making sure I can stay healthy and prepared for the Olympics. If that means toning it down at contests, I'll do that."
After all, he's not even a year removed from ACL surgery on his right knee. He was competing at the European Winter X Games when, well, he's not really sure what happened.
"I didn't even do anything. Straight air, landed — nothing hurt, nothing popped," Dumont said. "I went to a (doctor) later and they said it was torn. It was freakish.
"But it also re-energized me for the Olympics."
Although he's so good in the halfpipe, Dumont envisions a career change down the road. Possibly swapping his skis for four wheels.
It's long been Dumont's desire to slide behind the wheel of a rally car. He's even attended a driving school and spent some time racing on a track in Virginia.
"The resume would look pretty nice — from skier to pro driver," Dumont said, laughing. "I'd definitely put everything into it. I could be successful."
But that's a discussion for a later time, like after the Olympics. For now, his plan is simply to "make it through this year, keep it mellow, have some fun."