On a Saturday night in late January at Park City Mountain Resort in Utah, Louie Vito found out he would officially be part of the three-member US Olympic Snowboard Halfpipe Team. Barely 22-years-old, the selection of the Columbus, Ohio, native to the 2010 Winter Olympic team came as the culmination of an adolescence dedicated to boarding. As a child, his father escorted him from gymnastics competitions to snowboarding competitions, often scheduled back-to-back and across state borders. From eighth grade onward, his parents enrolled him at Stratton Mountain School in Vermont, a state more conducive to winter sports than Ohio, and that’s where he realized he had real potential on a snowboard. Though at times demanding, the time commitment and financial investment of his youth now seem well worth it, with sponsorships from Monster Energy, Omatic Snowboards Vestal watches and others—and, of course, a ticket to the Olympics where he placed fifth in the half-pipe snowboarding final.
Vito’s gymnast background might be one factor that has allowed him to fall into the company of renowned boarder Shaun White as the first two competitors to perfect this season’s hot trick: the back-to-back double cork. Or maybe it’s the body awareness he learned on Dancing with the Stars when he was a contestant in September 2009. Probably, it’s just a relentless pursuit to work his way to the top: “If you’re good enough, they can’t ignore you,” Vito’s father used to tell him. Whatever the root of Vito’s expertise, it has allowed him to join the most successful Olympic snowboarding team since the sport entered the Olympics in 1998.
Not many would guess that a world-class snowboarder picked up his skills at a 300-foot mini-mountain in Ohio. Mad River Mountain in Zanesfield, Ohio, is where Vito first began boarding, and he still returns annually to host a charity event. Compared to 3,100-foot Park City Mountain, where Vito found out he had garnered his berth to the Olympics, Mad River Mountain seems a mere bump in Ohio’s otherwise uniformly flat terrain—and thus far it's been the only bump in Vito's career as he keeps exceeding all expectations. Check out our exclusive Q&A and photo shoot with the snowboarder from Ohio that nobody is ignoring.
Q & A » » » » » »
You trained in gymnastics before moving to boarding. Why the move?
I started out with gymnastics when I was really little because it was something my parents got me into. It was actually pretty funny because my dad was a big-time wrestler, so everyone thought I would be a wrestler. Then it came to a point where the competition season for gymnastics is in the winter, and snowboarding is always in the winter, and it was hard to balance both. I’d be in Chicago one day for gymnastics, and then my dad would drive me through the night to go snowboarding in Pennsylvania the next day for a competition. It just became too much, and I had to choose. I was starting to get older and realize that the whole formal training of gymnastics wasn’t really for me. I was more into the free-spirit lifestyle of snowboarding.
How many pushups can you do?
On a perfect pushup or normal?
If I do perfect ones, they’re a little harder. I could do over 100, I bet. I’m a snowboarder, man, I’ve been snowboarding recently. I’ve been into all my legs. I mean, if you want to talk squats, or something [laughs]. But yeah, I could do over 100.
What is your total now on jewelry expenditures? What’s your favorite piece?
I’ve been trying to buy slow because I buy a piece of jewelry after every season, kind of as a way like, if you look down, you’re like, “All right if you want more of this, keep pushing yourself, keep doing well.” Obviously, jewelry isn’t a good investment. So, I’m trying to save up and keep buying things that I might need, keep my sled running and up-to-date and all that stuff.
You and Shaun White are the only boarders who are currently able to pull off back-to-back double corks. What exactly is the trick and what makes it so hard?
Back-to back double corks are two flips, but I don’t do them directly head-over-heels. I do them off access and the rotations equal out to 1080 degrees. It’s two flips off access while spinning a 1080, and then back-to-back would be you do one and then you land switch, which is your opposite foot forward, and then you do another switch front side one. Shaun and I do them differently. Shaun’s are more flippy and mine are more cork-off-access.
Who are your sponsors? How do they help and hinder your progress?
They help. What’s good about sponsors is that they first off obviously financially help you and get where you need to get. If I go to a contest, or if I need a place to stay, they help with that. They also help from a promotional standpoint, and that helps you progress because that adds fuel to the fire. The more your name gets bigger and bigger you’ve got to step it up and live up to that name. They also send you on trips—whether it’s sending you on a heli’ trip or going filming somewhere. You’re always challenging yourself or you’re with other people who are pushing you. You just surround yourself with good people.
Do you regret not going to college? Where will you go when or if you decide to?
No, I do not regret going to college. I’m loving life right now, but I give my friends mad props for going through school and doing what they’re doing. I envy them in a way because obviously I love my lifestyle right now, but I think it’s really cool that they’re graduating from college with a degree and I respect that. Right now, I love waking up and going snowboarding everyday and traveling all over the world. In the summer, there are months where you’re just relaxing and you’re still getting paid for it. I would love to go to Ohio State—I’m a huge Ohio State fan.
What is your finest achievement yet?
I’m really stoked where I am in snowboarding and how far I’ve come, where I’ve been. And making the team was huge. I wanted, and probably expected, to get on the podium which I fell a little short on, but it’s always a good sign when the whole crowd boos your score [laughs]. But I look at it like this: The Olympics is the "world stage" and the biggest contest in snowboarding, and I went there and landed a run. I can only control what I can do, not what five judges think, so I actually care less what they think. I was stoked on my run, the crowd was stoked on my run and I got good feedback, so it's all gravy. I just got second at the US Open of snowboarding. It's a contest that has been around for a long time. There is a lot of history behind it, and so many of the snowboarding legends have been apart of it. Once again, the whole crowd booed my score, but once again, I landed a run I have never done. People were hyped, friends were hyped, so there is nothing I can really do.
Skiing is for _____ and boarding is for_____.
Skiing is for normal people, and boarding is for people who want to really have fun and get creative with it.
You grew up shredding Mad River Mountain, tell us about that.
I grew up at Mad River, and it’s crazy because when I was younger, they didn’t really have a park or anything. I was always getting my lift ticket pulled for something, from doing flips to taking a snow skate, which is skateboarding on snow. I mean anything, that was me. Now, it’s cool because they’ve designated almost half of the mountain to the park, which is the way I think it should be. When I come back, they help me out, and it’s easy to get lift tickets and go cruise. I feel as if they’re one of my sponsors. That’s how good it is.
Compared to all other athletes in the world, where do you rank a snowboarder on utilitarian skill and ability?
Me, myself, I feel like I’d be ranked pretty high because I can do a lot of that stuff. But for the average professional snowboarder, they’d be good at anything that doesn’t involve a lot of running or balls. I think we’d be good at the sports where you need to be agile, quick and have good air awareness—I don’t really know how good they could do with a lot of running. I’m not like the average, normal snowboarder shape, probably.
What is your favorite movie?
Man on Fire, with Denzel. I love Inglorious Basterds, I don’t know if it’s spur of the moment because I just saw it. And I’m going to have to throw this one in there because it’s one of my all times favorite classics—I like Belly a lot.
You are walking down death row—what was your last meal?
Italian food, for sure. Probably ravioli or penne or baked ziti, I’d be fine with any of those three—homemade. We do homemade sauce, we don’t do any of that Ragu stuff, all homemade.
If you weren’t boarding or skating, what would you be doing?
Going to school.
If there were a TV show about you, what would it be, and what would it be called?
It would be about my life, and what I’m doing on the road, and the people I come around and see. It couldn’t really be called Life of Louie because they’ve already done things like that, but that sounds nice. I like Screwy Louie.
I noticed you have some tattoos—what are they, and what are their stories?
I went to the VMAs one year with one of my friends, whose dad is partners with the Maloofs, and we were staying at The Palms and our fake IDs weren’t working anywhere. My buddy Carey Hart owns a tattoo place in The Palms called Hart and Huntington, so we went there. I knew I wanted something that had to do with my Italian heritage, and I knew I wanted something that had to do with family, but my friend already had “family” tattooed on him because in Italian the way we were brought up family comes first. I decided I was just going to get it, and I realized I wanted “Vito Family” in Italian tattooed on the inside of my bicep. The next year I went to Vegas, and I got St. Christopher on my forearm. My mom always had me saying St. Christophers when I was little, traveling and going to boarding school, I always had a St. Christopher—safe travels and protection—but I’d always break the chain, lose it, whatever. So I was like, “Perfect, I’ll just get it tattooed on my arm, and it will never go anywhere.”
What is your favorite tradition from your childhood that you would like to pass onto your children?
I just like the family gatherings, Christmas time especially. We always go over to my grandparents. Anything with family and the values we have. Just keeping family close is important.
How many hours of sleep do you need every night?
Do I need or do I get? I run efficiently on seven, I like to get eight. I’ve gotten four today.
What conversational topic do you avoid at all costs?
Politics is probably the biggest one. I’m at the point where you’re going to have things you like about this guy and don’t like about this guy. He’s going to say one thing and not do it, and everyone’s going to get mad. Man, I just watch too much 24, so I think everyone’s corrupt anyway.
What cologne do you wear?
If you could have partaken in any event in the past, what would it be?
Gladiator days, those were sick. I’d be one of them. I wouldn’t want to be a spectator, I’d like to have a major role in whatever event I went back to. I wouldn’t want to go to a concert, I’d want to be hanging out with the guys at the concert. Even during the Martin Luther King days—yeah I’d like to be there, but I’d like to be a main dude in it—actually have a big time effect.
What is the best music video of all time?
That’s easy. Shawty Put, Lil Jon and Too Short: “Dat Baby Don’t Look Like Me,” because I got a cameo shot in it.
What is the brattiest thing you used to do as a kid?
I definitely had a big old tongue on me—I would talk a lot of smack to people.
Are you involved in a charity or support a cause?
I do my charity every year, which is Rail Jam at Mad River Mountain, and instead of an entry fee which most contests have, it’s a canned food or paper product, which is all donated. All my sponsors kick down gear from outerwear, to boards, to car stereos, to watches, to shoes, to everything. My Rail Jam is all about giving back to the kids who are growing up and riding Mad River just like I did because I know how stoked I would be if I had a contest like this and an opportunity where I get this much free stuff to come to my mountain, I would be so hyped.
What is the oldest piece of clothing you still wear?
Probably nothing really. I’m 21-years-old. As soon as I hit 18 I started to really—I mean I was kind of a late bloomer—so I hit 18,19, I started to fill out a bit. And all my clothes I really wear are sponsored clothing. My style has changed. I used to be really into tall tees when I was younger, now I don’t wear those as much. I ride for 686—OK, a 686 shirt, two years from now I’m going to have 30 more of them. I kick down a lot of stuff to friends because I have a lot that I won’t even open.
What is your favorite word/phrase?
I say “hyped” a lot, “sick” a lot.
Got any pets?
A dog named Gucci. A pit mix, I adopted her.
What three CDs would you want to have on a deserted island?
Dr. Dre, 2001. And I’d probably have some kind of Biggy’s Greatest Hits and Tupac’s Greatest Hits.
Tupac or Biggy?
Eminem or Fifty?
Eminem. But they both had phases they went through where I wasn’t really backing anything.
How did you celebrate your 21st birthday?
I had a huge party. We had a contest in Vermont at the U.S. Open. My friends own a big house with a barn; it’s perfect for a party. We had a DJ come in, and we let loose after the contest.
Who do you find yourself quoting the most?
What is your baddest car right now?
I own a 2500 Silverado, ‘08, four-door. It’s pretty big, but it’s pretty easy to get it somewhere. I dented the tailgate, but it’s OK.
What do you wish you had invented?
The computer would be pretty sick to invent, that would mean you’re wicked smart.
What is the most “out there” thing you’ve ever eaten?
Probably something in Japan that I didn’t even want to ask what I was eating. I was eating this pizza, and it had some weird stuff on it that I preferred not to ask about. You don’t ask, you don’t know, it tastes a little better that way.
Do you wear turtlenecks?
No. Yeah right.
Where can you get the best meal in town?
Waffle House. I love the Waffle House, I don’t even know why. They all say, “Hi,” to you when you walk in.
What do wish people would stop wearing already?
I’m not really into the guys wearing girl jeans. It’s whatever you want to do, I’m just not a big fan of it.
When did a game become a sport?
Probably in eighth grade when I started to go to boarding school. It’s kind of hard though because anytime I would enter a competition, I’m competitive and want to do well. I think by eighth grade I realized I actually had some talent in it. I was from Ohio, I was in the middle of the pack. But now I was out in Vermont, I had the coaching, I had the mountains, I had the school backing me. Everything I had was now coming together, I just had to take it to the next level.
Women are the best at_______.
Time is __________.
Fleeing. Tempus fugit, Latin term. I took Latin for four years.
Do you have a post or pre-tournament ritual?
No, I try to keep it all the same. I’m not going to sleep in extra long if I have a later heat. I just listen to a certain jam before I drop in, normally it’s the same song unless I fall, I switch it up. This last contest I did it was the Clipse’s, “Popular Demand,” off of their new album Till the Casket Drops.
Who is your hero?
Do you have a nickname?
Yeah. “LV," obviously because of my initials, “Veets,” and of course, the one that’s really embarrassing to say: “Tiny Dancer.” They actually played that when I dropped in. I had music in so I couldn’t hear anyway.
Best advice you have ever received? Who was it from?
“If you’re good enough, they can’t ignore you,” and that’s from my dad.
What keeps you motivated?
You’ve always got to remember yourself why you do the sport. That it’s because you love it, and it’s the most fun thing you could do. And that keeps you motivated. And plus waking up every morning and going snowboarding motivates me because I don’t want to go start a nine-to-five job anytime soon.
What do you want people to know about Louie Vito?
Most of the time what you see is what you get. Whether I’m on TV snowboarding or doing Dancing with the Stars, that’s how I am. And I’m a pretty down to Earth person. I hope no one is ever too shy to say, “What up?” to me because 99.9 percent of the time, I’m not going to blow you off because I like to talk to people.
How hard was it to be judged by the dancing judges?
It was hard because I never knew what they were looking for. I would do my best dance ever, and they would tell me it was my best dance ever, and I would get a crappy score. And then someone would stumble all over each other and the judges would give them a bangin’ score, and I’m like, “What are you guys looking for? What don’t you like about me?”
What is the best advice Shaun White ever gave you?
He’s big in the game, but we’re on different levels. I’m a lot more personable than he is. He does a lot of big-time interviews, but there’s not advice he can give. I know how to deal with the media, I know how to deal with paparazzi, I know how to deal with all that stuff. He might have done it times ten, but I’m not worried about any of that stuff, I know how to do all of that.
Are you friends?
Yeah, we’re cool. We’ve been hanging out a bunch. And it’s nice because I’ve kind of been cruising by myself lately because I have a program in my head of what I want to do. He always cruises by himself, so we just kind of linked up, pushed each other because it’s always good to ride with the best.
What’s the last line you used to get a girl?
I don’t normally have to drop lines.
Who is more likely to win a championship first: Cavs, Browns or Indians?
Cavs. But I would say the Bengals because I like the Bengals more than the Browns. I like Ochocinco, what can I say?
You took home the Bronze at the first-ever European X Games and opened with three wicked tricks. Break it down for us.
I dropped in and did a frontside double cork 1080, switch frontside double cork 1080, to a double crippler, backside 900, frontside 1080. I was stoked. No one has done three doubles in a row, and I was just happy to land that run for the first time.
Rumor has it you have an app coming out. What’s up with that?
Yeah it's pretty cool. It links up my twitter to it, exclusive photos and videos I add and it has a pretty cool snow report, too—it's free!
What is on your plate for the rest of 2010?
I have a bunch of team shoots, and I'm going to try to enjoy the spring sun and soft snow and ride with friends and jump a lot. I have done so many contests and halfpipe stuff this year, I haven't got to hit as many jumps as I would like.