At age 17, most of us were visiting colleges and filling out applications, trying to do decide where we would spend our undergraduate years. Louie Vito was landing a backside 1080 at the Australian Open, breaking out onto the snowboarding half-pipe circuit by taking home his first, 1st-place finish in a major international competition, and doing a trick that snowboarders weren’t doing too much.
“I was just stoked,” says Vito. “It was cool to do something that not a lot people were doing—it was like, I did something that’s different than everybody else, I’m not just following. And I was young at the time.”
That was 2005. Back then, Vito was just beginning to make a name for himself in the snowboarding world. The Columbus, Ohio, native had been schooling the slopes from an early age, riding first with Louie Sr., his dad, and then heading off to the Stratton Mountain School in Vermont, juggling class time, schoolwork and a full slate of snowboard training.
“My dad would always be just as stoked as me to go snowboarding,” says Vito. “And then, [at Stratton] it was cool—I got to travel a lot and it opened up a lot of doors for me. And it made me realize I did have a passion . . . Just an understanding of, ‘Wow, here’s something I wanna do for the rest of my life.’”
Vito hasn’t looked back. Since finishing at Stratton, he’s gone on to compete in a slew of professional competitions, including first-place finishes at the Grand Prix events in 2008 and 2009, and a first-place finish at the 2008 Jeep King of the Mountain event. This year’s Vancouver games marked his first Olympics. And while Vito didn’t get a podium spot in the half-pipe event (he finished fifth), he left Vancouver with a resolve to conquer the half-pipe come 2014.
“When you look back, fifth place isn’t that bad. It just lights the fire underneath you to make the next Olympic team, and then put it down so you don’t lose, feeling bummed again.”
How’d it feel to be competing in your first Olympics?
It was crazy. It didn’t really hit until you’re walking in opening ceremonies. That’s the craziest thing. You’re with the USA team, and different teams are chanting their different chants. And you walk into the stadium and 65,000 people are just screaming and there’s, like, fake snow coming down and everyone is looking at you because you’re walking with Team USA. We stayed at the village for the first 3 days, and then we got a house for the half-pipe riders. That was just cool. You see every country’s here. And you go to the dining hall, and it’s like, ‘Oh, there’s Russia sitting there, there’s Italy sitting there, there’s Canada sitting there.
Are you pleased with your finish in the half-pipe? Was there something you think you could’ve done differently?
For me, I wanted to come in and obviously get a podium. I was kind of favored, I guess, to do well and I’m confident in my run. But getting fifth, I was kind of bummed. I was really bummed I didn’t get top three. You know, you’re trying to please five judges, so it’s whatever they’re looking for; you can only control what you can control. But the crowd was stoked and I’ve had good feedback on my run, so I can’t really complain.
You and Shaun White are known for doing Double Corks and other crafty tricks on the half-pipe. Is there a bit of rivalry between the two of you?
In snowboarding you use him as a driving force. You want him to push you, and I definitely like to put a little heat on him so he definitely knows he has to work because there’s a bunch of people comin’ up on him. But it’s not intense, it’s not like we have this huge beef going. It’s definitely cool to have someone like him leading because you always want someone pushing you and pushing you to keep riding better and better.
Who has the better hair?
Shaun’s hair’s pretty flowing, but I like my hair more, obviously. But he’s definitely got some luscious locks goin’ there. My hair though is funny, because my hair’s not normally dirty, but I hate when it’s freshly washed. That’s why, like, as soon as I wash my hair I throw a beanie on. I hate when it’s all poofy.
What’s a normal day of snowboard training like for you?
Wake up . . . depending on where I am, find out where all your friends are at. Because in snowboarding, it’s all about riding with your friends and pushing each other. If you have practice for a contest, you’re only doing 2 hours, 3 hours a day, because you’re hiking too. If you’re riding with friends, you can put in 4 or 5 hours. That’s a pretty long day. It’s funny, it’ll be like, you go ride for 2 hours to practice for a contest, and people will be like, “That’s it?” I’m like, hiking up a half pipe every single time, and you’re not at sea level. It catches up. But you’re hanging out with friends, pushing each other. It’s all about riding with the crew, because those are the people that are gonna push you. Yeah, coaches and stuff push you, but not as much as a homie would do.
What’s your favorite trick to do on the pipe?
I like frontside Double Corks just because it’s such a cool trick to do, and I’ve gotten it to the point where I can do them pretty consistently. It’s just a fun trick, and it’s something really new.
What do you do when you’re not on a snowboard?
Chill, play some Xbox, hang out with friends. If I’m home, I’m just chillin’ with my dog. I’m barely home at all so when I can get home I like hang out. If it’s in the summertime I like to try to skateboard.
Finally, what’s more difficult: boarding the half-pipe during the Olympics, or dancing to “Get Busy” while on Dancing with the Stars?
Dancing with the Stars was way harder for me. Just going out in those clothes made it hard. I’m wearing clothes you’ll probably never see me wear on Halloween, doing a dance I don’t really have much confidence in, in front of a live audience, spotlight on. And 22 million people watching at home. Whereas [with] snowboarding, I know I’m good at it, I know what I’m doing, I’m wearing what I wanna wear. I mean, I wasn’t even that nervous at the top of the half-pipe at the Olympics. I mean, Dancing with the Stars went harder, but snowboarding obviously hurts more if you mess up. But I was feeling good [at the Olympics], and I think Dancing with the Stars helped.