From relative obscurity to Winter X Games gold, Tom Wallisch has built one of the strongest names in freeskiing over the past several years. Through contest results and a ubiquitous presence in the industry, Wallisch has come a long way from the "Super Unknown" he was in 2007. But beyond the edits and afterbang, the Pittsburgh native is also a vocal advocate for multiple sclerosis awareness, and is slated to be the opening speaker at the National MS Society Conference in Dallas, Texas, this week. ESPN Freeskiing recently spoke with Wallisch about MS, his roll in creating awareness, and freeskiing on the eve of the Olympics.
You're the opening speaker at the National MS Society Conference in Dallas and last spring you did the MS walk in your ski boots. What is it about this cause that makes it so near and dear to you?
It's near and dear to my family because my aunt was diagnosed with MS 15 years ago, when I was pretty young. So my family grew up doing the walks in Pittsburgh and just supporting it any way we could. After last season finished up, I was on such a roll and such a high from an amazing year, it just made me start thinking a little more about what I could do to continue to do anything charitable and supportive. MS made the most sense to me because it was something that I really cared about and that's how the whole idea for the walk and doing it in my ski boots came up.
Speaking at such a conference seems like a drastically different undertaking than anything in the ski world. Will you relate your experiences as a skier into your speech or will it just be about your personal experiences with MS?
I definitely plan on at least relating to all the people there and the people that watch and follow me. I have an opportunity to reach out to new kids that may not know about the disease. One of the biggest things with MS is that there's not a huge awareness of it. The disease is so devastating to so many people, yet people just don't know about it. So I just want to help them see the possibilities in what I can do and what any other sort of athletes or people in the spotlight can do.
On to skiing, any big plans for the season?
This year is looking pretty similar to last year -- I'm going to get out and travel and ski a ton. We have a slightly different schedule. We're doing more FIS, World Cup style events, less Dew Tour, and still two X Games. I'm just going to try and do both X Games, Dew Tour, and then a couple of the World Cup events like the Sochi test event and maybe the Grand Prix. Do the big five or six contests and other than that, I'll focus on just getting out and filming. I think this is the last easygoing year in comparison to what next year is going to look like.
Do you feel any added pressure this season for the Olympic qualification process or is it just business as usual?
For now, it's pretty mellow. This year's important for country qualifications, for spots, but it's definitely going to grow and grow throughout the year. I think there's going to be a lot more pressure throughout the year leading up to next season when everybody starts to realize that it's happening.
With the Olympics approaching, have you felt a surge of non-endemic interest in freeskiing, or is that still yet to be seen?
I've seen a lot more interest and have been able to do a lot of different, cool, non-endemic stuff this fall. But, I definitely think it's not really started yet. The Summer Olympics just ended and I think once all those major corporate sponsors turn their heads and reset budgets after the end of this year, it's really going to become crazy.