Any Board, Anywhere
Thomas Wilson’s Competitive Snowboarding Journey
Backcountry partners with the National Ability Center (NAC) around our shared mission of breaking down barriers to the outdoors. Based in Park City, Utah, the NAC empowers individuals of all abilities from across the globe through outdoor recreation. To support their work, we feature stories about adaptive athletes and serve as an outfitter of NAC athletes and guides.
Surfing, skateboarding, snowboarding—if it involves a board, Thomas Wilson is probably in. Now a competitive adaptive surfer and snowboarder, Thomas got his start as an athlete in swimming, which took him from his home of North Carolina to the University of Colorado. This winter, he’s training for snowboard competitions with the National Ability Center (NAC), while continuing his studies at the University of Utah. We talked to Thomas about how he’s chasing his goals and why he’s so passionate about snowboarding.
Why do you love snowboarding so much?
Snowboarding is freeing. A stress reliever. Exhilarating. Expressive. It’s a fun way to be outdoors.
How does adaptive snowboarding differ from adaptive surfing?
Aside from liquid versus solid water, there are more classifications in adaptive surfing than adaptive snowboarding. It’s hard to describe … surfing is more based on quick, snappy, full-body movements, whereas snowboarding (racing specifically) requires more precise movements.
What do you wish everyone knew about adaptive sports?
There’s always room for progression. Everybody’s path is different. It’s all about the people you meet along the way who mold you towards your goals. The community is so strong and supportive of one another’s dreams.
Did you compete over the last year?
I competed in one event last year—my first banked slalom. It wasn’t para-sanctioned, but it was an awesome experience to be able to compete in an event alongside able-bodied riders and show that it is possible to compete at a high level even with a disability.
Why did you choose to study kinesiology?
I choose kinesiology because I want to go into prosthetics—the clinical fitting side.
Has anything you’ve learned from your courses affected how you train?
It’s been an awesome opportunity for me to apply the most relevant exercise research to snowboarding. Learning about things from body physics to nutrition and sports psychology has given me an edge over my competition—other riders need a nutritionist or sports psych for insight on something I just wrote a paper about.
What does your training regimen look like right now?
Through the National Ability Center, I get to train with coaches at an elite level. Each week, I am on snow for 3-4 days with a day of recovery. The other two days I spend working out on a stationary bike or doing bodyweight exercises. During the season, I tend to keep dry land exercises low intensity so that my body is fresh for days on snow.
Do you do any mental training?
I do quite a bit of visualization of previous competitions—it helps me to break down a course in my head turn-by-turn. Visualizing how I could pass someone in a turn or the move that I need to make over a feature. This is important to do before a race because once I get going, it’s too late to come up with a game plan.
Has the lack of snow so far this season affected your training?
Not too much since my season began in Europe with a training camp in Landgraff, Netherlands. I was also able to put in some days at the Woodward indoor training facility in Park City.
We hear you traveled a lot this year, what was one of your favorite places to visit?
One of my favorite competition destinations this year was Lillehammer, Norway. This was the location for the 1994 Games. It was so cool to get a little taste of that spirit which is still present in Lillehammer.
Did you have any favorite foods?
One thing that I was able to share with the Norwegians was their love for fish. I probably ate fish three meals a day while I was over there.
Do you have anyone you would consider a mentor?
I have had so many people support me in this awesome journey so far, and my coach Colt has been consistent even in a year like 2020-21. We still trained and he pushed me even in last season with no competitions.
You recently went through qualifiers for the Games, what was that experience like?
In my first year on the circuit, I did not expect to be a contender for the Games. However, after giving it my all this season I came very close to being nominated to the U.S. team. This was an awesome experience and has me hungry for more podium finishes next year. While I am extremely bummed that I will not be competing in the Games, I am redirecting this frustration towards my training and am working harder than ever to prepare for the next season.
Did you learn anything you’ll apply to future competitions?
I learned that it is very important to come more than prepared for competitions. In a sport that is progressing so quickly and everyone is striving for the win, it is important to be ahead of everyone else physically and mentally.
What competitions are on your radar for the future?
I still have a few comps later this season. A banked slalom coming up quickly at Woodward Park City next weekend and a boardercross in Copper Colorado at the beginning of April.
Thanks for chatting with us, Thomas, and good luck!