From left to right: 2nd place JJ Thomas, 1st place Louie Vito, and 3rd place Mason Aguirre, celebrate their Dew Tour podium finishes at Killington, Vt.
By Peggy Shinn, KILLINGTON, Vt. - The halfpipe at Killington's Bear Mountain was still empty when Louie Vito showed up early Thursday morning to practice. The 22-year-old snowboarder wasn't wearing his usual hoodie or anything flashy. He wasn't even wearing his Dew Tour competitors' bib. Just an unassuming black and blue coat, black pants, and a black helmet.
For the next two-plus hours, he did laps in the halfpipe - one straight air after another on the halfpipe's 22-foot walls, no fancy double corks or backside 9s.
"Just feeling out the pipe before I do any tricks," he said. "Working on holding my edge all the way through."
At least twice, he walked to the top of the pipe after a run - a workout within a workout.
He practiced until they closed the superpipe for maintenance.
For a guy perhaps best known for his moves on the dance floor in the reality TV show, "Dancing With The Stars," Louie Vito looks as if he's on a mission this year.
In previous seasons, his best results were second at the 2010 U.S. Open and two U.S. Grand Prix wins (one in 2008, another in 2009). His best result at the Winter X Games was fifth in his debut in 2006.
At the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, he was considered a favorite to win a medal but finished fifth, 3.4 points off the podium and 9 points out of first.
Talking to the press immediately after the Olympic competition, Louie looked dejected.
"I'm happy I landed both runs," he said. "That's all I really wanted to do. But obviously, I wanted to get on the podium even more. It is what it is. Those guys rode great."
This season Louie is the guy who's riding great. He has won every contest he has entered - the first Grand Prix of the season, and the first two stops of the Dew Tour.
At the Killington Dew Tour, held this past weekend, Louie led the competition his first run, but then outdid even himself. On his second run, he performed back-to-back double corks (two flips and one spin, performed off-axis), a frontside 1080 (three spins), and a frontside tail grab. His top score of 93.00 was five full points ahead of runner-up JJ Thomas and 6.5 points ahead of third-place finisher Mason Aguirre.
Thomas won a bronze medal at the Salt Lake City 2002 Olympic Winter Games, and Aguirre finished fourth at the 2006 Olympics in Torino, Italy.
Many of the riders at the Dew Tour said Louie is "riding amazing" this year, and according to Thomas, better than he's ever seen him ride before.
Louie is in good position to win the overall Dew Tour Cup and the $25,000 cash prize that comes with it. The Dew Tour concludes with the Toyota Championship on February 10-13 at Snow Basin, Utah - just a few miles north of Louie's current hometown of Sandy, Utah.
Louie's new focus on snowboarding started after the 2010 Olympics, says his dad, Lou Vito, who traveled to Killington from Ohio - where Louie grew up - to watch his son in the Dew Tour.
"I think he was maybe a little disappointed in his score [at the Olympics]," says Mr. Vito.
But Louie didn't let the disappointment drive him from the sport.
"He could have sat back and said, 'The heck with this, I'm not going to do this anymore,'" adds Mr. Vito. "Instead he's gone the other way. He's said he wants to do so well, that he is going to win by so much, that it doesn't matter. And he's working hard to get to that."
In the past few months, Mr. Vito says his son has developed "total laser focus."
"He works out all the time, it's crazy," he says. "His focus is unbelievable. He's become an animal."
Louie is also giving back to the community. On December 26, 2010, he hosted Louie Vito's Rail Jam in Bellefontaine, Ohio, where he grew up. The autograph session was slated for an hour, but Louie stayed for over three hours until he had met every one who was standing in line.
But it's not only focus and maturity that's driving Louie to new heights. He hired a coach who knows how to reach the podium's highest spot.
Bud Keene, who coached Shaun White to both his Olympic gold medals, is now working with Louie. (Keene also coached Louie several years ago when the young snowboarder was a student at the Stratton Mountain School in Vermont.)
"The big story with Louie this year is that he's just hell bent to get on that Olympic podium in 2014," says Keene. "For him, that process started six months ago."
"There is nothing that's more important to him than standing on that podium in 2014," adds Keene. "He's not ashamed to say that, he's not ashamed to do every single thing that he can do to achieve that end. He pays attention to his diet, he's working out like a fiend. He's very, very focused."
Keene knows of only two athletes who have taken this approach.
"One was Shaun White, the second is Louie Vito," Keene says. "They want to leave no stone unturned and no doubt in their minds that they gave it their absolute best shot."
His new focus and work ethic can perhaps be traced to his experience on "Dancing With The Stars" during the fall of 2009. For almost three months, Louie worked with Chelsie Hightower, a professional dancer, for eight-plus hours a day on dance moves that were totally foreign to him. He found the pressure and stress was far more than he expected.
"This is my line," he says now. "I'm wearing outfits that I wouldn't wear on Halloween. I'm doing a dance that I could never do perfectly. There's always something I could do better. Then live audience, live judges, spotlight. It's on TV live to 22 million people."
In comparison, he found snowboarding competitions easier, even at the Olympics.
"Snowboarding, I'm wearing what I want to wear, I'm doing tricks I can do, I know I'm good at it, I'm in my comfort zone," he adds.
And yes, he would do "Dancing With The Stars" again - "in a heartbeat."
Meanwhile, he has set aside the glitz to focus on snowboarding. At the Olympics, he sported a double-finger diamond ring, the first piece of jewelry he bought as a reminder of what he could achieve if he worked hard.
At the Dew Tour, the only bling on his fingers was his Olympic ring.
Louie is now headed to the Winter X Games, slated for January 27-30, 2011, in Aspen, Colorado.
There, he will face White, who has been taking a post-Olympic break and has yet to compete this year. White isn't working with Keene this year either - but the coach says they will resume training next year and through the 2014 Olympics.
But Louie isn't worried. Asked who his biggest competition is, he says, "It's always myself."
"There are so many good riders you can't really worry about one person or what anyone's doing," he adds. "You can only really worry about what you're doing and try to do the best run you can."
The week before the Dew Tour at Killington, Louie worked on basic riding techniques, not specific tricks, with Keene in Stowe, Vermont - where Keene lives.
Louie was the first rider to throw a double cork in competition and was at the forefront of the halfpipe trick "arms race" before the 2010 Olympics, which led to White's famous 1260 McTwist.
But Keene is mum on what new tricks he and Louie are developing. He will only say that they are working on "some new and spectacular things."
Then Keene adds, "We're going to see a whole new treasure trove of tricks come out this year, next year, and the year after, and Louie will be part of that for sure."
And hopefully, that treasure trove will lead to gold bling in 2014.
Peggy Shinn is a freelance contributor for teamusa.org. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.
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