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Pittsburgh native Wallisch is savoring his X Games gold in slopestyle event

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Friday, Feb. 3, 2012

Tom Wallisch scored the highest marks in the history of the slopestyle event to win gold at the X Games in Aspen, Colo., last week, but he took his first jumps ever as a pint-sized skier at Wisp Resort in Garrett County, Md.

The Pittsburgh native graduated from Chartiers Valley in 2006 and headed west for the University of Utah and, of course, more snow. In the nearly six years since, Wallisch has become one of the best slopestyle skiers in the world.

It's a distinction he admits isn't typical of someone who grew up in Western Pennsylvania. But the 24-year-old resident of Salt Lake City said that's the beauty of slopestyle, a discipline that involves performing tricks on terrain park features such as rails, walls and jumps. You don't need to have access to the biggest, steepest mountains to do it.

"You can have any size hill, big or small," he said. "As long as you have some snow, you can put together a terrain park."

Sometimes, you don't even need that.

As kids, Wallisch and his friends used to strap on their skis, jump onto trash cans then jump onto any rails they could find around the Green Tree and Mt. Lebanon areas, where his family still resides.

"You'd ruin your skis, but anything to simulate what the people were doing in the movies we were watching," he said.

By the time he was in high school, Wallisch was competing in — and winning — big air competitions and rail jams from Seven Springs to Maryland and Harrisburg.

Now, he's doing the same thing, but in the sport's biggest stage. After a shoulder injury cut short his 2011 competition year, Wallisch is undefeated this season with gold in the first two of three Dew Tour events as well as his first gold at the X Games. And in November, following the decision to include slopestyle skiing in the 2014 Olympics, Wallisch was named to the inaugural U.S. Freeskiing Slopestyle Pro Team.

"He's basically the epitome of what slopestyle is right now because his runs are flawless," pro team coach Evan Raps said. "The level of the sport is super high, but Tom's been able to put together runs with no mistakes all year. That's what the judges are looking for is perfection, and Tom's dialed in. It's impressive to watch."

As further testament to the sport's ability to draw athletes from non-traditional areas, the guy who finished second to Wallisch in the X Games was 17-year-old rookie Nick Goepper of Lawrenceburg, Ind.

"Kids nowadays are basically skiing parks and making their own features out of the urban environment," Raps said. "I'm not surprised there was a kid from Pittsburgh and a kid from Indiana behind him."

Even after six years in Utah, Wallisch still has a 412 area code cellphone.

"I refuse to change it," he said. "I gotta represent where I'm from."

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