Back before there was freeskiing, slopestyle or the terrain park, there was freestyle (aka ‘hot dog’) skiing. Wayne Wong is a name synonymous with this sport (he’s known as one of the Fathers of Freestyle Skiing), and who happens to call the Lake Tahoe area home. Suffice to say we were excited to talk with him in this edition of our Ask a Local Series.
Besides winning numerous freestyle skiing events, including the first ever Freestyle Skier of the Year award presented by Skiing magazine and Chevrolet, Wayne has appeared in numerous ski movies by Warren Miller, Dick Barrymore, and Greg Stump.
Wayne’s extensive career in the ski industry includes competitive skiing, research and development, sales and marketing, coaching, ski school directing, ski testing, television commentating, and guest speaking. He has received numerous awards and achievements for his influence on skiing, including being voted by Ski Magazine as one of the Top 100 Skiers of All Time, and being inducted into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame (2013).
His passion for skiing continues as he devotes much of his time towards charity events, corporate outings, and clinics. So far, he has helped raise more than twenty-six million dollars for charities. He currently works with Legend Skis, manufacturer of the Wayne Wong Series.
What brought you to Tahoe? I had visited Lake Tahoe back in my late teens on a ski trip. I came down from Vancouver with a friend and skied at both Heavenly and Squaw Valley and thought Tahoe was a cool place. I also competed at Heavenly during my freestyle career and thought it would be a cool place to live.
In 1988 my father-in-law, who was a builder in Tahoe Donner, made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. He told us that he would build us a house if we moved down there. I ended up moving the whole family into my father-in-law’s vacation home after Christmas of 1988, and in the spring of 1989 we built a house up there. I realized that Tahoe was a hotbed of skiing in terms of all the opportunities here (15 ski resorts within an hour of each other) which made it ideal in terms of my business. I also realized that during the winter that there was always something going on at the ski resorts, which made it very conducive to settling down here.
How did you get into skiing? I grew up in Vancouver and competed in the very first National Championships of Exhibition Skiing in Waterville Valley Ski Resort in New Hampshire in 1971. I took 3rd overall at that inaugural event. I ended up moving to New Hampshire in 1971 and taught skiing and coached there. I also competed for Waterville Valley and competed at the championships at Sun Valley and Vail. In 1972 I was named the Hot Dog Skier of the year by Skiing magazine and Chevrolet. So that was the beginning of the freestyle movement. I went onto compete around the world, won the first Europa cup in Germany in 1973, the Rocky Mountain Championships in Jackson Hole in 1974 and the Japan International in 1975. In 2009 I was inducted into Canadian Ski Hall of Fame and most recently into the US Ski Hall of Fame 2013.
Describe an ideal winter’s day. Waking up to about two feet of fresh powder overnight, clear blue skies, temps in the 20s, and you’re with friends and family tearing it up. The beautiful part is that we enjoy a unique climate here in that we get these 10 to 30 degree temperature swings during the day, which means we don’t get the extreme cold days that others do. The 300 days of sunny days are another plus. Not every ski destination gets that.
What’s one place a visitor can’t miss while here? I think that one of the most amazing images I ever had was the first time I came to Tahoe in 1967 and my friend and I went to the very top of Heavenly and I was absolutely amazed by the majesty of the area. The geography is so unique. You have the lake, the Sierra Nevada range, and then the desert of the Carson Valley, which I never would have imagined that because all you see are mountains at other ski resorts. The contrast between the mountains and lake and desert was awe inspiring. For folks from other parts of the world, that’s one of the coolest views you can see.
The other thing that’s really cool is that the Tahoe area is rich in ski heritage, what with Squaw Valley hosting the 1960 Olympics. If you’re visiting, go get your photo taken in front of Olympic Flame and rings. That’s pretty special to see and do that, and experience the heritage of ski racing and skating events that happened there.
Another favorite spot in North Lake Tahoe is Fanny Bridge in Tahoe City, where you can watch the trout as they enter the headwaters of the Truckee River.
And if you’re looking for a personal challenge, try racing the tram down the face of Gunbarrel at Heavenly (preferably when it’s bumpy). For me it was a personal best to do that, and I was so proud when I did it. I’m not sure I could race the tram now and win, but it was one of my goals when I came to Heavenly.
Posted by Jenn Gleckman