By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
The foyer at Steve Fisher's home in Breckenridge is crowded with swag from Sims Snowboards, O'Neill, Giro, PowerBar and Sprint, and his fridge is full of beverages from Vita Coco and Anheuser-Busch. Fisher's dog, Guru, is crazy for the coconut water; the beers come in handy with all the pro riders in town this month.
The U.S. Snowboarding team pays for Fisher's travel, training and health care — an important factor, given the two reconstructive surgeries he's had on his right wrist since he joined the team as a rookie in 2003. Breckenridge gives him season-long VIP access to one of the best pipes and terrain parks in the world. Sims makes a signature deck to Fisher's specs, involving him in every step of the design process; he's now riding a directional, twin-shaped Steve Fisher Pro with a poplar core and one-inch stringers to help him power through the transitions and maximize his pop off the lip of the halfpipe, plus rubber foil dampeners to smooth out chatter on the icy walls so that he can focus on his next trick. O'Neill manufactures a signature Steve Fisher Isometric jacket that he's thankful for when temperatures drop below zero, and Giro makes the spherical dual-lens Basis goggles that let him spot his landings in the pipe's varying light conditions. And when something goes wrong, well, there's the Shiv helmet.
A case of cereal boxes from another sponsor sits by the front door, inspiration for the weeks ahead.
"I haven't been on the front of a Wheaties box yet," says Fisher, lounging in his long johns after a long day of training on the mountain. "They only give that to people who win the Olympics."
This weekend, Fisher will drop into the superpipe at Copper Mountain, the first stop on the U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix, and start accumulating points toward a spot on the Olympic team. He has plenty of other things to think about — the Winter Dew Tour, Winter X Games, his upcoming wedding to Tricia Cole — but for the next six weeks, he'll have the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics on the brain. "What kid doesn't dream of going to the Olympics?" he asks.
The U.S. Snowboarding team has four spots for the men's halfpipe competition, and it will determine its Olympics roster between now and January 23, based on overall rankings at the Grand Prix series. After Copper, the competition moves to Mammoth Mountain for two contests, followed by two more at Park City Mountain, the venue where American snowboarders swept the 2002 Olympics and where the 2010 team announcement will be made.
Fisher figures that Shaun White — the "Flying Tomato" gold-medalist of Torino's 2006 Games — has one of those spots pretty much locked up. Danny Kass, who won silver medals in both 2006 and 2002, is in line for another. Mason Aguirre took fourth in Torino, behind Finland's Marrku Kosski, and Fisher thinks Aguirre's got what it takes, too. That leaves one spot, and Fisher plans to fight for it with everything he's got. But he has competition.
"I think there are probably a dozen guys with a really good chance competing for the four spots," Fisher says. That list includes his U.S. Snowboarding teammates Greg Bretz, Scotty Lago, Luke Mitrani, Elijah Teter and Louie Vito, this season's Dancing With the Stars also-ran; rookie team riders Ross Baker, Dylan Bidez, Zack Black, Broc Waring, Ben Watts and Matt Ladley, a young rider from Steamboat Springs whom Fisher has been mentoring, could also make long-shot challenges. "The level of riding is so phenomenally high across the board that we could see a completely different podium at each of these Grand Prix events," Fisher says. "There's so many factors when everybody's doing tricks at such a high degree of difficulty and really pushing it. It's a really exciting and nerve-racking time to be a pro."
Fisher missed the Torino cut by two spots and was left watching the Winter Games from his couch. Nursing a wounded spirit and the wrist he'd injured along the way, he began plotting his comeback. After winning gold at the Winter X Games in 2004, he'd gotten a taste for the glory that went to wunderkind White at the 2006 Olympics — and he's spent the last few years training at Breckenridge as a member of the U.S. Snowboarding pro halfpipe team to make sure he isn't aced out again. He beat White at the 2007 X Games to prove his point, and he's made the finals and fought his way to a medal in nearly every contest he's entered since then. Last season he tied Louie Vito for first place in the 2008-'09 Grand Prix series, and finished second overall on the inaugural Winter Dew Tour behind White. Now, as Fisher's name becomes part of the Olympic buzz, he's daring to dream again.
Snowboarders a generation ahead of Fisher didn't have Olympics dreams, because the Olympics didn't have snowboarding. The sport made its Olympic debut in Nagano, Japan, in the XVIII Olympic Winter Games in 1998, when Fisher was fifteen and contemplating launching a pro career from the pipe at his local hill back home in Minnesota. Ross Powers, one of his heroes, brought home the bronze that first year, but snowboarding's grand introduction on the world stage was marred by allegations that some competitors had used marijuana and cheeky color commentary about the athletes' baggy clothes and surfer slang. The media treated the snowboarders like a ragtag bunch of hooligans not fit to be called Olympians. And top international stars like Norway's Terje Haakonsen — then the world champion — boycotted the event because it was sanctioned by the International Ski Federation (FIS) and not the International Snowboard Federation, a perceived slight to snowboarders around the world.