For decades the man known as the pioneer of freestyle skiing has made the pilgrimage to Nashoba Valley Ski Area in Westford to teach new dogs old school tricks such as the Wong Banger, Slow Dog Noodle, and Worm Turn.
Wayne Wong, soon to be inducted into the US Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame, will hold clinics with former downhill ski racer and 1988 Olympian Pam Fletcher Saturday through Monday, focusing on techniques and tricks for intermediate and advanced skiers.
“I look forward to this every year,” said Wong Wednesday. “It is kind of cool because Nashoba reminds me of my grassroots in Canada. I grew up on a little ski hill in Vancouver with less than a 1,000 feet of vertical with a rope tow much like Nashoba was back in the day.”
Wong’s connection to Nashoba is through its owner, Al Fletcher. Back in the early 1970s when Wong was a 21-year-old Vancouver City College tricked-out-on-snow-student when he saw a magazine ad hyping a contest for a new sport called exhibition skiing at a faraway place he never heard of named Waterville Valley, N.H.
Long story short, the student council sponsored him $200 and he ended up taking the bus cross-country from Canada to Concord, N.H., where he hitchhiked the rest of the way.
Wong placed third and won a grand.
The next year Wong returned and watching the early hot-dogger was Fletcher and his 9-year-old daughter, Pam.
“He showed me tricks like a tip roll and some signature moves,” said Fletcher. “He took me through the bumps and I enjoyed skiing with him so much. My father asked him to come down and do some tricks at Nashoba.”
“He did a bunch of exhibitions, did a bump run and made it a big deal,” she said. “He would come back, not just do exhibitions, but take people out on the trails and work on their skiing skills.”
Fletcher, a 10-year US Ski Team veteran with six national tittles, says this is Wong’s 38th Nashoba visit.
Wong’s iconic career wasn’t only propelled by his athleticism but also by charisma, looks, and his propensity to give back to young skiers and promote the sport. His rise to fame was helped by a Pepsi commercial shot at Mammoth Mountain, Calif., while he tested skis, mashed through bumps and did aerial spins such as the helicopter. Thanks to YouTube, the groovy commercial lives and modern day freestylers can see Wong fly through the air wearing bold, white-framed sunglasses.
Over the years, Wong has earned awards, accolades, and been in many ski movies. In 1972 he was named Skiing Magazine’s Freestyler of the Year. Wong was the World Powder 8 champ three times from 1984-87. He’s on Ski Magazine’s Top 100 Skiers of All Time list, the Top 48 Greatest Skiers of Our Time from Powder, and in the Canadian Ski Hall of Fame.
He’s no stranger to the rest of New England, either. Wong has lent his hand in charities such as the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. He used to compete at Sunday River in Newry, Maine during its Legends of Freestyle days in the 1990s.
Next up is the US and Snowboard Hall of Fame induction come April.
“I guess this is a confirmation that I really made it in the ski business,” the Reno resident said with a laugh.
He joins a number of Canadians recognized in the US Hall.
“Back when he was competing, he realized how important it is to give back, give people more than what they bargained for on the slopes,” says Fletcher. “Wayne shows off his tricks of the trade but he also spends the weekend working with people on their skills.”
When not with the skiing public, Wong also makes time to do a clinic with the Nashoba staff.
“I’ve known some of these people for over 20 years,” the 63-year-old Wong says. “A lot of the ski instructors I clinic with are always looking for me and wanting to learn more.”
Fletcher, who won the 1986 World Cup downhill gold in Vail, Colo., understands how it’s often the little things that help skiers improve and that’s something she and Wong convey during their clinics.
“There is a difference in terms of eyes and what you see,” she said. “There are subtle nuances that make people better skiers. You just have to change a little bit to have a better stance on snow, have a better experience and get to the next level.”
Then there are those ballet-like tricks, which Fletcher also has learned over the years, like the Worm Turn, where you actually roll on your body over the snow.
“That’s kind of funny,” she says. The Slow Dog Noodle is “where you come into the bump really slowly, plant your pole, lean back and turn around the bump.”
As for the Wong Banger, Wong says the original was a pole flip.
“In reality it was a somersault using ski poles but everyone thinks this wheelie thing is the Wong Banger,” he said.
The black diamond Wardance trail will be Wong’s venue to showcase his prowess going through the bumps.
“If you have never seen him, it’s pretty special,” Fletcher says. “People come back to see him. Many followers have become friends. He’s great with kids.
“Last year he was like the Pied Piper with kids following him around doing the Worm Turn.”
For Wong, it’s about the kids.
“Every year I share my knowledge with them,” he says. “It’s nice to come back and see them.”
Sounds wicked cool.