Author: Travis Persaud
If there was an Olympic gold medal in the combined disciplines of honesty and humility, Canadian halfpipe skier Justin Dorey would easily find such a medal prestigiously placed around his neck come Sochi next February. There’s not, but fortunately it doesn’t matter because halfpipe is in for 2014 and Dorey has a bag of tricks deeper than the Marianas Trench.
I caught up with Dorey this past winter after he underwent surgery on a recurring shoulder injury that sidelined him for the better part of the season. We conversed about unhappy Russians, David Crichton, his thoughts on his past, present and future in halfpipe, and more. Ladies and gentlemen…Justin Dorey.
Justin Dorey. Photo courtesy of the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association
Do you have any inspirations helping you get through your recovery? Are there any skiers you’re watching in particular to keep you stoked?
Torin Yater-Wallace is out of this world. I really like watching him and David Wise. David’s been the best for so long, but he just never used to land runs. He’s toned it down in the last two years from what he could do though and now he’s finally landing runs. He’s not skiing anywhere close to his full potential right now. Nobody really knows that. He’s got so much shit that nobody knows about, but he’s just skiing conservatively. But Torin is probably favourite my to watch right now. Actually, now that I think of it, I’d say that Noah Bowman and Duncan Adams are my two favourites, followed by Torin.
What about Joffrey Pollet-Villard? He seems to be a lot of people’s favourite right now.
I love that kid. He’s a unique Frenchie. That’s the coolest thing about pipe, no matter what run you’re doing you can blow everybody away if you go bigger. Everybody can, it’s just if are you ballsy enough to do it, and he is.
You were recently in Russia to watch the Sochi test events. How was that experience?
It was good. It was a learning experience I would say, and definitely a lot different than anywhere I’ve ever been. The vibe over there is pretty serious – not a lot of smiles on Russians. The mountain itself is insane though. It’s the sickest mountain I’ve ever seen. It’s comparable to Whistler in terms of unbelievable terrain and has a similar climate.
Are they going to be ready for the 2014 Games? Obviously the cancellation of the slope test events created a cause for some concern.
They have a lot of work to do, but I think it will come together.
And what of the cultural differences? Was there anything way out of whack with how we do things here in Canada?
Yeah, you get patted down and frisked when you’re at the bottom of the gondola, and you can see snipers in the trees and shit. It’s crazy. There’s so many police and security around there, as there should be. I guess there was a suicide bombing at one of the checkpoints while we were there. The cops got out to search this guy’s car and he had a bomb in it. He killed three cops. We didn’t even know it happened until we were leaving and somebody told us.
Dew Tour. Photo courtesy of Alli Sports
With those events being the prelude to freeskiing’s Olympic debut, was the atmosphere pretty intense in comparison to the other World Cup events?
It was a pretty similar vibe to most of the World Cup events. It was pretty heavily weighted for us Canadians though, as it was one of the five events considered for Olympic qualification through Method A, so in that regard it was as big of a deal as X Games.
Yeah, the CFSA Method A selection criteria is really tight. It’s daunting.
Yeah, it’s crazy. I’m bummed that I couldn’t do it this year, but we still have Method B next year.
So let’s talk about your start in pipe. Halfpipes are a fairly rare commodity in British Columbia. What was your first experience skiing pipe?
We had a 12-foot pipe at my home ski hill of Silverstar when I was growing up, but that was back in the day when Mike Michalchuk was doing doubles in 10-foot halfpipes. We didn’t know any better and it was really fun. Pretty early on I wanted to do a cork five in the pipe. That was my life goal and I tried it for like two years straight. It would soften up in the spring and I would just eat shit trying to do a cork five. I was probably 13 or 14 and it might have been before I even was doing cork sevens on jumps. I don’t know who I saw do it – maybe it was one of the three Phils. I would just keep trying it and eating shit for two years. Pipe was kind of a fun side project for me at the time, because in that day and age everybody did everything.
What was the first pipe comp you entered while skiing with Silverstar Freestyle?
WSI. That was our first international contest where we got the chance to compete with pros and we never skied pipe at all, especially in an 18-foot ‘real’ pipe. It was a great learning experience but we didn’t do that well. I don’t think any of us made finals. The next season at WSI I did slope and pipe and made finals in pipe, which I was so stoked on. In finals I was just sending it and having the time of my life. I definitely wasn’t even expecting to even land a run and I ended up landing the run of my life. That was back in the day when you could get away with straight airs. I think I had two straight airs in my run, and I won. From that day on I got a ton of sponsor support compared to what I had the year before. I started getting paid and was given travel budgets. All of my sponsors thought I was a pipe skier, but I wasn’t at all. I sucked at pipe and wasn’t even sure I liked it.
Jon Olsson Super Sessions. Photo by Jeff Schmuck
So is it safe to say you’re a predominantly a pipe skier largely due to pressure from your sponsors?
Well I coincidentally happened to fall into pipe skiing and my sponsors definitely pushed. I got into X Games and was not even close to being ready for it, so I got like last place or something. I didn’t really like pipe for about a year or two there because I had so much expectations on me and I was a slope skier at heart. At that point I started going to all the pipe contests, and it wasn’t bad because I loved traveling with the team. I was with Dynastar and we would travel as a team all year. We went to places like Japan, where I did well in slopestyle but not pipe at Nippon Open and was like, ‘I don’t want to ski pipe at all.’ Then something clicked. I realized that pipe could be fun. I started skiing switch in the pipe, and as soon as I did that I realized it could be really cool. Nobody was doing anything that crazy in pipe yet, as everyone was just doing 5’s, 9’s and alley-oop flat 5’s. There was nobody doing switch stuff really and nobody was pushing it, so I saw an opportunity. It was also around that time that I realized if I focused on just slope or pipe instead of being a half-assed slope and half-assed pipe guy it could be a huge opportunity for me. I wasn’t the most talented guy, but I felt that if I put all of my energy into one thing I could probably be the best because nobody was doing that, so I made that call.
When did you link up with Trennon Paynter and the crew that came to be known as the ‘Unofficial’ Canadian Halfpipe Team?
I would be at all of those events and I would always see Mike Riddle, Matt Hayward and Trennon there. They had kind of a team thing going on, and while I was super focused, really wanted to win, and had a run that I could win with, I would just blow up at every contest and then party. I was a shit show. I saw what those guys were doing; Riddle just had the season of his life that year, so I saw that and thought, ‘Maybe I should try that out. It could be hugely beneficial, maybe cut down on the partying and try to be a little more together at contests.’ So I talked to Trennon and asked him what I had to do to be on the team. He basically said if I had an X Games spot and was doing all the same events as them I was welcome to be on the team. He was doing it out of his own pocket pretty much and was losing money every year. So we would try to cover all of his expenses. It was a huge sacrifice on his part, and the following year I joined the team. A couple of factors contributed to the way that next season went for me. I had a knee injury, so I had to ski a little safer whereas before I would just go for it and blow up all the time. So I joined the team, skied more conservatively, and placed top five at every event that year, which was insane for me. I even got a couple podiums that I deserved, unlike WSI, which was a fluke in my opinion. I’ve been on the team ever since.
Canadians were the first out of the gate with an unofficial then official national pipe program. How did that fit in a competitive landscape where coaching in a formal manner didn’t really exist?
Our sport kind of birthed from the rebellion against your typical coach-athlete-team structure. It was because Trennon was such a cool guy, and because his ideals and motivations were exactly in line with the athletes’, that people accepted him in our sport where it’s whack to have a coach. He was kind of like one of the athletes. He was accepted and it made sense. If we had somebody who didn’t know anything about the sport come in and tell us what to do we would have told him to fuck off. But we all respected Trennon because he’d done the pro skiing thing for a while and he’d even been to the Olympics. He’d proved himself in our eyes. We respected him enough to have a coach in a sport where nobody was doing that at the time.
Even though pipe wasn’t really a focus at Silverstar Freestyle, would you say they gave you the roots to get into pipe?
The Silverstar Freestyle program is the reason I am where I am. Trennon’s program really helped direct my focus, but I would not have any ambition or motivation if it weren’t for Silverstar Freestyle. I’d be a pro skier today without Trennon, but I might have gone a different direction to backcountry and/or slopestyle. But Silverstar Freestyle is the reason I am a skier today and Trennon’s program is probably why I’m a pipe skier.
Dew Tour. Photo courtesy of Alli Sports
Who was your first coach?
My first coach was Chad Sayers. He had a freeride program at Silverstar where every Sunday we would do whatever we wanted. We didn’t have to do anything, so we would go to the backside of the mountain to shred pow or hit the park and/or the air site. It was the sickest program ever because traditional freestyle programs are like, ‘Okay we’re doing moguls today,’ but we’d show up at the hill and Chad would just say, ‘What do you want to do?’
Then you left Silverstar to charge the pro circuit sans coach?
It was so different back then because you’d start off – I mean not everybody did – in a freestyle program for the lower levels and then you’d reach a certain point and then there would be no coaches. Usually if you start out in a sport, the higher level you get, the more support you get, but it was the opposite for us. It was kind of cool: freedom, you know? We partied a lot, did whatever we wanted, and screwed up a lot. That’s what I mean when I was talking about Trennon helping direct all this energy, but it was so much fun back then. Things definitely got a lot more serious when I joined Trennon and the team. It’s still fun, but it’s a lot different.
I was watching your Along The Way episode the other day and you mentioned wanting to get more into filming, but that was before the Olympics. Did the Olympics change that for you?
Yeah for sure. If it wasn’t for the Olympics, I know I would be shooting a lot more because I love shooting. Comp skiing has a very short lifespan compared to film skiing. You can only do it for so long. It’s so demanding and exhausting. It’s awesome, but it’s just so intense that it can only last for a few years. I will eventually start filming again, and I can’t wait to do that. It’s just one more year of dedicating everything to the pipe and then after that I can get in touch with what I grew up doing – filming.
You don’t see a lot of pipe segments out there. Do you think there are new avenues to be pushed for shooting pipe skiing?
Big time. All of our tricks that we do are comp tricks. We don’t have the time to learn a trick that we want to learn and is really cool, because it won’t do well in a contest. Our focus, everybody’s focus, with the exception of Duncan Adams, is ‘I want to win.’ That’s why people compete. There is no point in doing contests unless you’re trying to win. We don’t really have time to create what we want to see because the contests are directing all of our tricks. There are so many more tricks that we could do if we were focused on filming. Simon Dumont and I shot for a day and a half with Mike Clarke to make a pipe edit. That was just a day and a half and it wasn’t even a private shoot. The pipe was open and it was full of snow one day and that was still pretty cool. If we put a lot of energy into making some cool pipe shoots happen I think there is so much opportunity to do things that nobody has done yet. Simon’s cube pipe was insane, but there are still an infinite amount of ideas out there. I’m looking forward to doing some of that stuff after the Olympics because I haven’t done it in so long.
Justin Dorey en route to winning the 2012 Dew Tour iON Mountain Championships. Photo: Alli Sports
In issue 12.4 of Skier we talked to Candide Thovex, TJ Schiller, Peter Olenick and Jamieson Irvine about film vs. photo. Do you have a preference?
It’s way easier to shoot photos in my mind, because if you flail at the end of a trick it doesn’t matter, whereas filming is raw. You know exactly how good someone is by watching. Film doesn’t lie. With photos there are so many other factors that go into a good photo other than the athlete’s ability, but with film it’s 100% ability. I mean Clarke can make magic with his camera and take average skiing to make an unbelievable edit, but for the most part film is just the raw ability of an athlete. So I suppose it depends. I love shooting photos because it’s so mellow, but if you’re going to be really proud of something, having a good film shot or a segment is unbeatable opposed to a photo. A cover shot would be cool, but nothing comes close to having a segment that you’re stoked on.
Totally. Segments seem to hold up longer in people’s minds, like Dave Crichton’s segment in Forward. Dave is someone that pro skiers today still fan out over. Have you ever met him?
We met Dave two years ago in Whistler and all of us were so star struck. He hated it. He’s a super humble dude and was like ‘Shut up, you guys are way better than me.’ We were just like, ‘No, dude. You are the man.’
It seems like a lot of the young guns coming up now a days are much more likely to get into slope, especially in Canada. If you were at the start of your career right now, would you get into pipe?
If I was 15 right now, there is no way I would try to ski pipe. It’s so intimidating and the tricks that are being done are just so far out. It’s hard to be creative, but back then it was so easy to be creative and that’s totally why I started skiing pipe. I think Matt Margetts feels the same way. You could go invent a trick in the pipe because it hadn’t been done yet, which was pretty cool.
And lastly, The Kids. What’s happening with that? Are you guys going to make a movie?
Eventually. We wanted to do it this year, but with the Olympics coming up there’s just a lot of stuff going on that we can’t dedicate enough time to it. It’s our dream to make a movie, but the whole business aspect of a production is something that none of us are too familiar with. We didn’t really think that one through. We are still going to keep The Kids thing going though. It’s refreshing, especially for us comp guys, because everything we do in the comp world is so serious. We have to contain ourselves and can’t be too wild, but The Kids is just an outlet for us to be shitheads. I’m excited to see what happens with that over the next few years.
Justin Dorey with teammate Mike Riddle after winning Dew Tour’s 2012 iON Mountain Championships. Photo by Steve Horton