Stowe’s 19-year-old super star rider weighs in on the Fenway Big Air, Gus Kenworthy and her first year at Brown University.
Adele Walker used to walk into the offices of The Stowe Reporter with photos of her pre-teen daughter, Ty, and news of her results. “Check out my daughter,” she would say with enthusiasm, “she’s killing it out there.” Ty Walker was small, all smiles, and, as her mother predicted, going somewhere.
The family moved to Stowe in 2007 and that very winter Ty started turning heads. Four years later, at the age of 14, she joined the U.S. Snowboard Team and began a steady stream of podium appearances at comps across the globe. At 16, she was named to the Olympic team for Sochi, Russia (where a bruised heel held her back from competing at her highest level). Last season, she won the first-ever FIS World Cup Big Air competition in Istanbul.
Ty Walker, who turns 19 in March, is often held up as one of the brightest stars in a sport that’s searching for the next Kelley Clark or Shaun White. On February 11, Walker will be among the headliners competing for $150,000 in prize money at the “Beantown Throwdown,” a U.S. Grand Prix Big Air competition on a snow-covered ramp at Boston’s Fenway Park.
You had a great season last year, winning the World Big Air Cup in Istanbul. What was that like? Istanbul was amazing. I love traveling and when I heard about the World Cup happening in Turkey I really jumped at the chance to go. The first day we were there, we went on an all-day tour to see historical sites in the city. Honestly, that was probably the highlight of the week. Winning the event was just the icing on the cake.
After Istanbul you went on to have a good season, but then you were injured. What happened? I tore my ACL on the second day of training for the U.S. Open on March 2. It had snowed overnight before practice and the course was really slow. You really needed to keep your speed in order to clear the first jump. I tried a new line through the rail section and I guess I just didn’t come out with the same speed as I’d had before. I crashed really hard and I just felt my knee “pop.” It was disappointing because it was the last event of the season. I had a really busy contest season and was finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and I was so excited for spring free riding before I got hurt.
Where did you get the surgery done and how are you feeling? One of orthopedic surgeons affiliated with the U.S. team, Dr. Brian Huber, is actually from Stowe. I had my surgery done at his clinic (Mansfield Orthopedics) in Morrisville, and Dr. Huber did an awesome job. I feel great going into this season!
You’ve been home in Stowe riding. How did that feel? This fall was my first time on snow since I was injured. It was amazing! I actually couldn’t pick up my season’s pass the first day I was home, but I was so eager that I ended up hiking to get my first run. My knee felt good! Too good, almost. It was hard to keep both feet on the ground.
What do you love most about riding in Vermont? When I’m in Breckenridge, I’m pretty much lapping the park for training. Vermont, and Stowe, specifically, is where I go to enjoy snowboarding as a fun activity or a hobby. I’ll go up to the mountain with my family and friends and explore the mountain. I’m not a professional athlete anymore, just another person who loves snowboarding.
How do you balance an Ivy League education and training?Freshman fall at Brown has been a whirlwind. It’s going to be ugh balancing snowboarding with school, but I’ll be with my team for all of January and will be able to ride during my breaks and on the weekends. Going forward, I’m going to take two semesters off before the Olympics so I can train and compete again full-time.
Switching gears a little: There’s been press in the past few years about the decline in the number of people snowboarding. Why is this happening? It’s a combination of things. First off, people don’t need to start snowboarding in order to get in the park and do tricks now. Most people start out skiing, and since freeskiing has gained popularity, those people who are interested in doing tricks can do that without having to learn a new sport. Perhaps the sport could be doing much better if we had a governing body that provided better leadership. Right now, there’s a huge mess with FIS (Federation International Ski) and WST (World Snowboard Tour). There are overlapping events, events with different judging formats. It’s sloppy. It’s not an easy sport to follow.
One of the greatest freestyle skiers of all time, Gus Kenworthy, came out as gay in October. On your Facebook page you said: “You (Gus) have no idea how much this is going to help the skiing and snowboarding community.” What do you mean? I think that a lot of times in the snowboarding and skiing world, there are very rigid lines that define what’s cool and what’s not. People are encouraged to conform to this “ideal snowboarder/skier” type. The sports are supposed to emphasize individuality, but there is a very specific type of “individual” that you’re supposed to be if you’re a “true” skier/snowboarder. Gus is one of the best freeskiers there is. His coming out shows people that you don’t necessarily need to follow convention or fit into that box in order to be a badass, incredible, true skier.
Some say the decline is due partly to a lack of huge stars, like Shaun White. We’ve heard it said that you have the ideal qualities to be even more of an ambassador than you are now. Thoughts? Thank you, I appreciate that. I’d like to think that I’m a good ambassador and a good role model for girls and kids in snowboarding. Going back to priorities though—I care about my education, my family, my friends, and doing what I love. I’m ambitious, and I work hard. There’s definitely a big “core” side of snowboarding with an image that I don’t really fit. I’m a little, blonde teenage girl. I’m an Ivy League student. I’m not exactly the ideal representative for the carefree, rambunctious, hardcore side of snowboarding. It’s sometimes tough to be a star ambassador for the sport when I don’t really represent that “core” aspect at all.
What would you like to see happen in women’s professional snowboarding? I don’t think women get the respect and sponsorship attention they deserve. I know it’s not this black and white, but if a company’s goal is to sell product, then they should promote and support their female athletes (selling women’s product) just as much as they promote male athletes (promoting the men’s product), or at least at a ratio similar to what women spend in the market. Are we doing the same tricks as the guys? No. But we still “sell snowboarding,” take the risks, and devote our time and energy to exercising, competing and training.
What’s next? Can you balance an Ivy League education with your aims to compete in the next Olympics? That’s the plan. This year I’m taking it easy. I want to take a step back from competing to get stronger, progress, and focus on school. After next fall, I’m going to take some time off from school so I can train and compete and go for the 2018 Olympics—which is perfect because I’ll get to postpone Organic Chemistry for a year or so.
Where can we see you compete this winter? The only event that I have big plans for, so far, is the Big Air Fenway event in February. It’s going to be awesome to compete on the East Coast again—especially at such a landmark spot. I can’t wait!
Update from Ty on Feb. 11, 2016:
Quick and very unfortunate update for anybody hoping to watch me compete at the event tomorrow.
On my last run of what was otherwise a great practice session I took a bad crash and ended up fracturing my back at my T7. I’m really disappointed to miss out on this event and to have this happen just after coming back from a long ACL recovery, but I’m confident that I will be back on snow again soon. I’m forever grateful for all of the love and support I’ve been receiving surrounding this event, and (from those who have heard) about my injury. Tomorrow I’ll be cheering my teammates on from the stands…