Barrymore's breakout year

Joshua Duplechian/ESPN

Wing Tai Barrymore competing at his first Winter X Games, where he tore both ACLs.

Wing Tai Barrymore started this winter as a relative unknown. That all changed when he won the U.S. Halfpipe Grand Prix last December at Copper Mountain, Colo., followed by a second-place finish at the Killington Winter Dew Tour stop. The 19-year-old was in the midst of a monster season when an errant landing in his first qualifying run at Winter X Aspen left him with not one but two torn ACLs. Born and raised in Sun Valley, Idaho, Barrymore recently earned a spot on the U.S. Halfpipe Ski Team. I caught up with him just a few weeks after his second knee surgery.

What was it like to get your first major win at the Grand Prix last December?
I definitely felt like I needed to prove that the Grand Prix wasn't going to be my only win. And I needed to keep qualifying. Basically my goal was to consistently make finals the rest of the season, be a contender. There was the thought in the back of my head, 'If I keep doing well, things are going to get even better for me.' All I really wanted to do was make it to Winter X this year and that first win gave me some good momentum.

A lot of skiers tear ACLs, but I haven't heard of many tearing both at the same time. What was that like?
It was frustrating -- I didn't feel a pop or anything. The crash happened on the fourth hit of my run, an alley-oop double flat 9, and the height meter said that I was 23 feet out on it. I popped a little too hard so I basically fell all the way to the flat bottom from there. I landed solid right on my feet but the impact was huge so I slid out onto my back. It was a big shock to my lower body, but I didn't feel much pain. I went back up to the top like I was going to take my second run but once my adrenaline started to calm down, I noticed that my tibial plateaus were throbbing because of bone bruising, and I was walking around and nothing felt right. I dropped in and slipped down the pipe for my second run. I was thinking, 'I need to take my second run. This is my first Winter X Games!'

As your career moves forward, do you see yourself continuing to live in Sun Valley?
Right now, I'm waiting to see what happens. I'll always come home to Sun Valley, but for the summer at least I'm going to be moving to Park City to do knee rehab. I got on the U.S. Halfpipe Team so I'll be able to work with trainers and physical therapists at the Center of Excellence. I'm going to take classes at Westminster College in Salt Lake City starting in May.

Now has got to be a tense time to have ACL surgery, with the Winter Olympics less than two years away. Is that weighing on your mind?
Not so much. You know, it's two years away, and I want to get back in there and be a contender no matter what and keep my spot on the U.S. Ski Team so that I have every opportunity to go to the Olympics when the time comes. I have some other goals though, like making finals at Winter X, just having two great seasons before the Olympics come around. I want to get back on my feet and ski solid, to be a contender with the top 15 guys.

I've seen photos of you doing some pretty rad stuff on a dirt bike. Did you do that in a competitive capacity?
I used to. I quit that the summer before my junior year of high school, when I started competing in skiing. I raced nationally all over the United States since I was about six. My dad and I would travel together to all the races but I sort of got burned out on that and needed something else to do so I joined the Sun Valley Ski Team. And then it just went from there. I never really thought about becoming a professional skier. It kind of just happened.

What skiers do you look up or get influenced by right now?
I love skiing with Duncan Adams and Noah Bowman. They're both my age. And it's so much fun to ski with them because the three of us feed off of each other. We're always working on new stuff. And then Torin's just phenomenal. The whole Canadian team, too, Dorey, Margetts and Riddle. They're pretty awesome.

What do you think was the best trick of the year in the halfpipe? And what do you think is coming up?
The trick of the year had to be Noah's switch alley-oop double flatspin 9. When he did it at Winter X, nobody else had done it yet, which I think is pretty awesome. Noah's also got a down-the-pipe switch double. I think he's going to link those and we're going to see the first back-to-back switch double. That will be pretty sick.

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