KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — It was snowy and wet. Hard to see. The pipe was slow. There were lots of reasons to gripe about the biggest night in ski halfpipe history.
But the 12 skiers gathered atop their first-ever Olympic halfpipe threw down solid performances Tuesday night at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park.
Canadian Mike Riddle highlighted the most technical tricks in pipe skiing with back-to-back double-cork 1260s, earning silver.
Kevin Rolland showed how high skiers can fly above the pipe — it's much loftier than the snowboarders — and earned bronze.
And Nevada nice guy David Wise — a husband and father — combined the technical with amplitude and style to earn ski halfpipe's first-ever Olympic gold medal.
Wise won the gold, but all the competitors agreed that freeskiing won Tuesday night when it showed the world a whole new way of riding the halfpipe. Up to that moment, the skiers often fielded the same quizzical responses from nonskiers when they described their high-flying sport.
"Oh, like Shaun White, but on skis."
"I can't tell you how many times I've heard that," Wise said.
The 23-year-old came closer to a hidden wish when he won his sport's first Olympic gold.
"I hope that Shaun someday gets the, 'Oh, so you are like David Wise but on a snowboard,' " Wise said.
In many ways, there is a new ambassador to freeskiing, one who will bring the sport to the masses with a 2-year-old daughter on his hip, a darling wife by his side and a strong faith in God that helps dash the whole stoner-bro, hedonistic reputation of freeskiing.
"Dave is, right now, on top of the sport. He's the best, and he's proven it multiple times," said Crested Butte's Aaron Blunck, a 17-year-old teammate of Wise's on the inaugural U.S. freeskiing halfpipe team who finished seventh. "He comes out in every condition, and he has amazing fun."
Wise had reached a plateau in his late teens. He wasn't winning the big shows. He struggled with injuries. Then he met Lexi. They married. Nayeli quickly followed.
Suddenly, he started winning. Almost every contest he entered.
"I think that just leveled everything. There was no need to go out and compete just for competing. He had to learn to just kind of love and still come home to his family," said Tom Wise, tears spilling down his cheeks as he relished his son's magical moment.
At the bottom of the halfpipe, the Wise clan rowdily cheered for its man. Lexi — with the words "Go World" on her cheeks — waved a cut-out photo of 2-year-old Nayeli. Older sisters Christy and Jessica roared for every skier, not just their little brother.
"I was cheering for all of them," said Christy, who led a prayer for the safety of all the skiers before the contest. "Have a good run, and show the world what halfpipe can do."
Wise said he was honored to carry the banner for freeskiing. Everyone agrees there couldn't be a better ambassador.
"I'm not a selfish competitor," Wise said. "Even Kevin (Rolland) or (Justin) Dorey — who are my biggest competitors — if they have something they want to learn and it's something I already know how to do, I'm all about progressing the sport."