Unless you ski at Squaw Valley or you closely follow the Subaru Freeskiing World Tour, you probably have never heard of Kevin O'Meara. Here's what you need to know about him: After taking a few years off from competition, O'Meara is back to being a standout on the FWT, with a third place finish at this year's tour stop at Ski Arpa, Chile, and a second place at last season's Kirkwood, Calif., contest.
Originally from the small town of East Orange, Vt., O'Meara has lived in North Lake Tahoe for the last 12 years. Now 32 and a coach for the Squaw Valley freeride and freestyle team, O'Meara was a mainstay on the FWT until 2008, when he dropped out of the scene. "I stopped competing on the tour for a couple of years because I was doing it for the wrong reasons," he says. "For me, trying to win meant one thing -- a spike in stress levels and anxiety attacks."
There was also another reason he stopped competing. At the 2008 finals at Alyeska, Alaska, O'Meara witnessed the unthinkable: the death of fellow competitor John Nicoletta. "I was just getting to know John Nicoletta. Then I watched him ski to his death ... on what was my safety line," O'Meara says. "He was a great kid and a good friend. The competitor in me died with John Nicoletta."
Three years after that accident, O'Meara returned to the FWT last spring with a renewed focus. "Coming back to the tour my main objective is to have loads of fun and to do what I want to do," he says. "My primary goal for the FWT this season is just to make it to all of the stops and maintain an energetic, positive presence."
So far, he's doing just that: "For small ego and big talent, Kevin is definitely one of the top competitors on the Freeskiing World Tour," says 2011 overall FWT champion Drew Tabke. "He seems honestly surprised when he ends up with a top ranking even though his big mountain technique is rock solid and he's one of the only competitors consistently stomping 7s and flips with grabs."
O'Meara's success hasn't come without its share of injuries. Ten years ago, he broke his neck attempting a backflip at a big air contest and then, in 2003, he got caught in an avalanche in the Alpine Meadows backcountry and dislocated his spinal cord from his pelvis. "I fell about 30 to 40 feet and my hip caught a rock outcropping. I nearly ripped my body in half," he says about the avalanche. "The recovery was painful and long."
But now, O'Meara is back and feeling stronger than ever. He competes on a pair of skis he designed and made himself, produced by the company Praxis, which was started by O'Meara's cousin Keith in a garage in 2003.
"I currently compete on a model we call the Mtn. Jib, in essence it is the way that I like to ski around the mountain," O'Meara says. "I constructed the pair that I use right now and it's such a great feeling to stand atop a line or in the start gate on my own skis."
Up next, you can find O'Meara competing at the Revelstoke, BC, stop of the Freeskiing World Tour, coming in January.