Fisher: Hot talent, cool head
BRECKENRIDGE – It is December 2003. Steve Fisher has just won the Vans Triple Crown halfpipe competition at Breckenridge. His U.S. Snowboard Team head pipe coach, Bud Keene, and the rest of the national team – including women’s winner Hannah Teter – want him to join them for a celebratory victory meal at Sushi Breck.Fisher can’t. He has another engagement. Ah, the life of a snowboard pro … Magazine photo shoot? Autograph session? Does Fisher have to deposit his $12,000 winner’s check?No. He has a rec hockey game at the Stephen C. West Ice Arena that he refuses to miss. So he goes, he plays, he risks his career as he always does – then he meets up with Keene and the team for dinner.Fisher, 22, won the Winter X Games pipe contest in February live on ESPN. He made $200,000 last year. He travels the world and gets paid to do it. He has a speakers sponsor, for heaven’s sake!Faster than he realizes, he is quickly becoming one of his sport’s superstars. Not that he cares about that part.You see, Steve Fisher will always be just a normal guy – at least in his mind.”I try to be anonymous,” Fisher said recently in an interview at Breckenridge’s Peak 8 base. “Truth be told, I’m really kind of shy about that sort of thing (recognition). I really don’t know what to say when people come up to me.”Fisher, a pipe specialist who moved to Breckenridge from Mammoth Lakes, Calif., last October because he was sick of “getting vibed all day,” has to deal with the spotlight whether he likes it or not. Whereas most riders scratch and claw their way into snowboarding’s top level, Fisher has done it faster than just about anyone in history.
In addition to last season’s wins at the X Games – which earned him a summer trip to Tahiti from Head Snowboards (he’s their only sponsored American rider) – and the Breck Vans pipe event, he won the final Vans stop at Lake Tahoe and topped the podium at the Joetsu, Japan, World Cup competition. Then he won this year’s World Cup opener in Saas Fe, Switzerland, last week.The key to the sudden breakthrough?”I was just more mellow, more relaxed,” he said. “I didn’t really overstress at all.”According to his coach, Keene, Fisher’s ability to maintain his laid-back everyday demeanor in competition is exceptional – “he can lay it down when his name is called, 99 times out of 100″ – and reason to believe he’s on track to claim his spot next to some of the sport’s all-timers.U.S. Team manager and assistant halfpipe coach Mike Jankowski agreed, saying Fisher’s only limits belong to physics, nature and the terrain available to him.A garbage dump?Like many of Colorado’s top young snowboarders, Fisher hails from the Midwest – St. Louis Park, Minn., to be exact. Unlike many of his peers, his passion grew out of his experiences riding on a garbage dump. Really.The ultradifficult 1080 (three full rotations) that has become one of his stock tricks … Fisher perfected its ancestors on a pipe built into a hill that used to hold trash.”Yep,” he confirmed, grinning. “I started on that and couldn’t get enough.”He stormed through the local Minnesota competition circuit, winning more than he lost, and eventually moved on to bigger contests, such as the U.S. Snowboard Grand Prix and Vans Triple Crown events that take place across the country.
It was at the Breckenridge Grand Prix stop in 2001 that Fisher, then 19, caught his break. The U.S. Team’s program manager at that time, Margie Peterson, was impressed with Fisher’s riding, and asked if he’d be interested in forerunning the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic pipe competition.As Fisher remembers it, his response was, “Are you serious? Hell yes!”At the Olympics, Fisher “killed it,” Keene said, so much so that he was invited to travel with the U.S. Team to Japan for a World Cup competition soonafter. He got seventh at that event, and was named to the national team the following season.His performance that 2002-03 winter was good – he finished second in the Vans opener his first time on snow, .3 points behind the winner – but it was nothing like the success he enjoyed last year.Happy in BreckFinally, settled into a town that fits him, Fisher’s quiet yet gung-ho nature agrees with the locale: Whether he’s clearing a 30-foot gap jump on alpine skis just for the heck of it or mixing it up on the ice, he rarely holds back.In fact, the ice, even more than the pipe, is where Fisher’s competitive fire burns brightest.”That’s the one place where Steve isn’t so nonchalant,” said Fisher’s C League teammate and roommate, Jacob Youcha, who met Fisher on a playground in Minnesota when they were 4 and has been a close friend ever since. “He gets a bit of a temper out there.”Fisher follows in the footsteps of snowboarding Joe Montanas such as Todd Richards and Chad Otterstrom – each of whom made his name skying high above the 18 1/2-foot walls of halfpipe intimidation that keep Breck emblazoned in bold on freestyle snowboarding’s map.Otterstrom has lived in Breck nine years and virtually has seen it all during his time in the sport. Yet even he has trouble grasping Fisher’s rise to the top.
“He’s definitely got potential to be the next big halfpipe dude,” Otterstrom said. Then he paused and reconsidered. “Actually, I guess he already is the next big halfpipe dude.”Despite that label, Fisher almost didn’t make it onto the Breck Freeride Team last winter. Even after his agent tried to sell Fisher as a good addition, it wasn’t until the squad lost one of its riders at the last minute that team manager Amy Sabreen decided to take a chance on Fisher, who was then still somewhat of an unknown to the general public.”I like to call it the best decision I almost didn’t make,” Sabreen said. “I was really glad I didn’t ignore him, especially after he won the X Games.”Sabreen knows, however, that Fisher’s value to the team doesn’t end with results. Resorts dream of finding good ambassadors like him to represent their business on and off the snow. In that regard, Fisher – Midwest molded through and through – was a find.”He has the boy-next-door personality,” Sabreen said. “He’s so friendly and so much fun. He understands snowboarding as a business, that it’s not just about going out and bro’ing it out with your friends.”He doesn’t act like he’s all that,” Sabreen said.This is refreshing to hear, because in a lot of ways he is all that.True to form, after an hourlong interview, Fisher is in a hurry to leave. The life of a superstar beckons; he has places to go and people to see. Still, on his way to his car, he stops to congratulate a young couple on their new baby. He smiles politely at them as he leaves, toting the snowboard he’ll use this season to raise the bar even higher.Devon O’Neil can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 231, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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