You’ve got a cool story this year that was documented in the Beyond The Bib presented by Toyota documentary series, about getting back into the contest mix and this time aiming to represent Italy in the Olympics after previously repping U.S.A. in Vancouver in 2010. Let’s start there: what can you tell us about this change and what’s ahead?
It’s been great to go full-time back into the contest scene. Two years ago, the only contest I did was Dew Tour, and I only did that one because I’ve always loved Dew Tour and have such a history with Dew Tour – I won the overall Dew Cup twice back when it was a three-stop tour – so it’s always a fun event to come to. I started competing for Italy last January. For me, it’s all about honoring my grandparents and my Italian heritage. It’s been something that my dad and I had talked about for years; it just took a while to kind of get all the ducks in a row and make it happen. It’s pretty exciting for me to be representing my grandparents, you know, my family heritage. To be able to go back to the Olympics, and to do it for Italy, is a dream come true. And I really love just being out here competing, seeing a lot of the new kids coming into their own.
Can you shout out your grandparents’ names and tell us a little bit about their story?
Yeah! There’s my grandpa Louie – I’m Louie the third – and then my grandma, we called her Fil, which is short for Filomena. They’re both deceased now, so they’re watching over me, which is a full-time job. She came over when she was pretty young. And then my grandpa Louie’s dad snuck over, he was a stowaway, and we learned that he was never naturalized. So that was kind of interesting, you know, going through the family history, seeing pictures of the boat that my grandma came over on, and learning just kind of how everything was done back then. When they moved here, they settled in Rome, New York. Go figure! There are so many Italian grandparents walking around there; it’s like being in a city in Italy. And, as any Italian American knows, family is number one, and we’re very proud of our heritage. So it was pretty cool to announce to my family that I’d be flying an Italian flag for the contests this season.
I know it was heartbreaking for you to miss the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics with a back injury. In the four years since the last Olympics, we’ve seen the rise of Scotty James, just kind of dominating everything for a year or two, and then Yuto Totsuka coming up and taking that spot, winning everything last year. What do you make of how much the sport has evolved in those four years since you were last aiming for the Olympics?
It’s crazy. Whenever you think snowboarding, especially halfpipe, has progressed as far as it’s gonna go, it just keeps going and going. I think it’s great seeing different riders stepping up, adding their own style, progressing as far as big tricks, but also seeing people start to add a little bit more of their own flavor and style to it. And it’s good to see the battles because that’s what it’s all about! It’s always fun when you’re battling somebody, and it comes down to the last runs, and they drop in, put down a hammer, bump you down, and then there’s still one more chance to go and bump that person down. I’ve always had that competitive nature: you’ve got to be on in that moment, you’ve got to put down your best run, and you’re never safe because you always have such great riders behind you. I love it.
I almost never ask about sponsor stuff in interviews, but I know Dew Tour’s sponsor Toyota has also been a huge part of your path for many years. Now they’re also backing riders like Chloe Kim, Toby Miller, Evan Strong, and really backing the whole adaptive snowboarding team and the whole Paralympic movement. What does it mean to you personally to have a corporate sponsor step up for snowboarding at that kind of level?
I’ve been a competitive snowboarder and a pro snowboarder for over half my life, and you see these big corporate sponsors come and go. But to have a company like Toyota that really puts their money where their mouth is, and is not just riding the wave, is amazing. I mean, they’re one of the founding sponsors of Dew Tour, which is amazing in itself. They’re the biggest sponsor of the International Paralympic Committee and the U.S. Paralympic Committee. It’s amazing. And to see them making the switch from being just an automobile company to a mobility company, working on wheelchairs that climb stairs, helping people modify their vehicles, things that can really help people get from point A to point B, and supporting it is amazing. I mean, that’s hundreds of millions of dollars of research and development. I’m a huge Paralympics supporter, and, what Toyota is doing in the Paralympic space… no one’s ever done anything like it before. Toyota sponsors Evan Strong and Amy Purdy, and a lot of the Adaptive Action Sports athletes. That whole team in general – they’re based right here at Copper Mountain, and I love hanging out in the Adaptive Action Sports clubhouse because I love those guys so much. It gives me chills just thinking about being part of a company like Toyota that really invests that much into what they believe in. This is how you actually support athletes.
What are you looking forward to this week?
I’ve been riding a lot, and I love this event. I took a few years where I’d pick and choose the events I wanted to do very carefully – I have some great sponsors that allow me to do that – and Dew Tour has always been an event that I love to do. I mean, I feel like I’ve been a part of the growth of Dew Tour all along since the very first winter events. It’s just great to see that they’re still doing it, still going strong, and being a part of it has been great. This is my favorite part of the year.