Bradley Wilson entered last ski season with modest goals: make the U.S. Freestyle team’s “A” squad and get his name out there on the World Cup circuit. The Butte native ended the year with eight World Cup top-10 results, Rookie of the Year honors for men’s moguls, a gold medal at the Junior World Championships and a no-brainer promotion from the C team to the A team.
Entering the 2012-2013 season, he’s looking to build on last year’s success, position himself for the 2014 Winter Olympic team and, as always, measure his skills against those of his older brother, Bryon Wilson, an Olympic bronze medalist at the 2010 Olympics.
We caught up with Bradley during some rare downtime in Park City, where he’s been training at Utah Olympic Park.
Headwall: You travel a ton.
Wilson: This is really my first year being on the team, but I was fortunate to qualify for the World Cup tour last year, which requires a lot of traveling. Whereas before I was used to about four stops per season, last year we had 13 or 14. I got to see the world—Finland and France, China and Japan, we also went to Scandinavia and Sweden. It’s cool to see the different cultures. You look forward to the competition, but at the same time you look forward to seeing the world.
What’s been your favorite stop so far?
Wilson: We have a coach who is from Are, Sweden. We had a stop there and our coach arranged for a bunch of his friends to invite us to dinner for the true local experience.
What were you eating in Are, Sweden?
Wilson: Reindeer. It was actually really, really good. And the bakeries there were phenomenal. Sweden has great food.
Last season sounds like it was a breakthrough for you. Why were you so successful?
Wilson: I didn’t really have any pressure. I tried to keep my goals simple and just have fun.
Were you skiing with pressure before?
Wilson: Sometimes. Whenever I ski with pressure, I don’t ski as well. After getting Rookie of the Year I was favored to win the Junior Worlds. Then I went out and I only qualified 11th. It was the pressure. I told myself, “you know what, I’ve got to get rid of that and just let it go.” I had some fun in my finals run and that ended up being enough to win it.
At least you don’t have to worry about getting your name out there anymore.
Wilson: Right. [Laughs.] I actually had a conversation with my coach last year about that. He said, “you’re a fast skier and we can work with that. We’ll keep the degree of difficulty on the airs low.” So I’d throw in a Back-Full or Back X [backflips, either with legs extended or skis crossed like an X]. They’re easy compared to some of the other jumps being thrown, but with a backflip on the bottom jump it allows me to carry a lot of speed into it. I was able to compete with the fastest skiers in the world at the first couple World Cups, and now I’m known as a fast skier. It’s cool to have that reputation established.
Does the fact that it’s a pre-Olympic year change your approach at all?
Wilson: With the Olympics, you want to be able to throw the best you can possibly throw, air-wise, and be comfortable skiing into the jumps. This year I’m working on a Double Full, which is a backflip with a 720 [two spins]. I’m hoping to get comfortable with that and a Cork-7 [an off-axis move with two spins] on the bottom, so by the Olympic season it’ll be my bread and butter.
How do you practice something like that?
Wilson: We have a pretty sweet facility here in Park City. They have plastic jumps into a big pool of water. You just throw your skis on, throw your boots on, your life jacket, your helmet, and go huck yourself. It’s awesome.
Is it a matter of just building confidence in the move?
Wilson: All that confidence is there when you’re jumping on the water. Then when you bring it to the snow you have to build that confidence back up before you can start breaking down technique and making it the best Double Full. You do that process—build confidence, work the technique—with pretty much every trick.
Your brother’s not a bad skier. Is there a sibling rivalry between you two?
Wilson: I think it’s there, but it’s kept underneath. We root for each other.
Be honest: who’s better?
Wilson: I don’t know. If I say I am, then he’ll probably kick my ass later.
You and Bryon aren’t the only Montanans on the team. Is there camaraderie among you all?
Wilson: Oh, yeah. Heather McPhie is like an older sister to me on the team, and I think a big part of that is our Montana roots. There’s a kid this year, Cody Tempel from Missoula, and he actually lived with us for a summer in Salt Lake. Landon Gardner also comes from Missoula. I’m sure it’s like this with other places, but there’s something about people from Montana that keeps us close. There’s something about their character. They’re just good people.