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Kyle Smaine

Kyle Smaine

Name: Kyle Smaine
Date of Birth: June 27, 1991
Hometown: South Lake Tahoe, CA
Mountain: Sierra-at-Tahoe
Sport: Ski Half Pipe
Top Results: Gold Medal, FIW World Championships 2015; 9th Place, X Games 2016; 1st Place, 2018 Mammoth Grand Prix Olympic Qualifier
Hobbies: Mountain Biking, Waterskiing, Hiking, Rock Climbing 
Sponsors: Fischer, Oakley, Sierra-at-Tahoe

Barton Athlete, Kyle Smaine, at Physical Therapy at the Barton Center for Orthopedics & Wellness in South Lake Tahoe, CA.

'Keep It Fun'

It wasn’t a fall that injured skier Kyle Smaine’s knee. It was just sheer impact from a huge halfpipe air. 

Smaine had been working on his double-corks in Colorado in preparation for the 2017 X-Games. He spun the two flips, landed just a little off, skied away, hopped out of the pipe on the opposite wall and instantly knew something was wrong. “When I popped out of the half pipe, I couldn’t straighten my leg all the way,” Smaine said. “I hadn’t even crashed, but I’d torn my ACL and my meniscus.”

Smaine was fortunate to get an MRI appointment almost immediately at the Steadman Clinic in Vail, Colorado, thanks to the relationship he built over the years with the orthopedics team at Barton Health, particularly Drs. Terrance Orr and Stephen Bannar.

“Growing up on South Lake Tahoe … I’ve had a lot of injuries over the years, relatively speaking,” Smaine said with a chuckle. “So, I know Dr. Orr and Dr. Bannar personally. I was on speakerphone with Dr. Orr during the whole thing. He was very involved within the first moments of the injury.”

Smaine headed straight back to Tahoe Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, under the Barton Health umbrella, in South Lake Tahoe. There, Smaine underwent full ACL reconstruction surgery with a patellar tendon graft; doctors also stitched his meniscus back together.

And so began Smaine’s long road to recovery — he waited a full 10 months before skiing again, he said.

“Ten months later, I was stronger and in better shape than I had ever been,” he said.

Getting to that level, however, required plenty of hard work, including rehabbing on a regular basis with Angie Hagenah and other Barton Health physical therapists.

“Angie and the whole Barton rehab staff are so knowledgeable and so aware of everything that’s on the cutting edge of what’s happening in rehabilitation,” Smaine said. “They always have access to the newest techniques and the newest technology out there to heal at the best of your ability.”

Smaine’s recovery also included an aggressive sports performance schedule with the crew at Barton Performance by ALTIS, led by Director Nick Ward and Athletic Performance Coach Justin Danover.

“The integration was great — just having the lines of communication open between my trainers and Angie and Dr. Orr and Nick and Justin, it really helped me progress,” Smaine said.

“It was a super cohesive system of moving through the healing process and the different stages of recovery from surgery. All my expectations were far exceeded. The knowledge and empathy of everybody throughout the process was really incredible.”

Ward lauded Smaine for his work ethic and tough-nosed approach he took to his post-injury training with Barton Performance.

That level of commitment isn’t easy for everyone, Ward said, considering the program pushes athletes harder than most regimens — notably through high-level endurance training to optimize peak performance with a careful balance of coordination and conditioning.

“Barton Performance by ALTIS was probably the last place Kyle Smaine wanted to spend six days a week,” Ward said with a chuckle. “But we were always working toward finding the optimal training program for Kyle, and he always put his utmost effort into the program.”

That kind of effort has been a hallmark for Smaine his entire life. The 27-year-old grew up skiing at the South Shore’s Sierra-at-Tahoe. He remembers racing his way through head-high moguls when he was five. It wasn’t long before he found his way into Sierra’s famous halfpipe. He started competing in slopestyle and halfpipe in the U.S. Snowboard and Freeski Association’s contests at age 14.

Smaine excelled in school and in skiing. By 16, he was hitting the podium at local events and traveling to competitions in Utah and Colorado. After graduating high school early, he enrolled at Sierra Nevada College.

He held a 4.0 grade-point average while competing in Olympic qualifying events. He earned his biggest result a year after graduating from SMC with a degree in ski business and resort management.

At the International Ski Federation World Championships in Kreischburg, Austria, in 2015, Smaine dropped a massive 1260 and back-to-back 900s to win halfpipe gold for the United States.

The trip was the highlight of his career so far, and not just because of the win, Smaine said. Because of FIS scheduling that year, many of his Lake Tahoe peers were in town for ski racing and snowboard events and the crowd was fired up.

“To go over there and to win under the lights was really cool,” he said. “But it was amazing to have hometown friends cheering us on. And people in Europe just get so excited about skiing.”

Back at home in the offseason, Smaine mountain bikes and rock climbs. On glassy mornings, he rips a few turns behind a waterski boat. His cross-training might include everything from standup paddling to skateboarding.

“These things build fitness and strength, but they’re not specific to skiing,” he said.

Toward the end of the summer, he starts spending a lot of time in the gym, preparing for the hectic competitive season. He focuses on his lower body and core, though some upper body strength is important, too, he said.

“Being fit all around and having some upper body strength is important,” Smaine said. “But building strength to handle the impacts and the g-forces of going through the halfpipe and having a solid core are definitely the most crucial.”

On the snow, Smaine travels to wherever the best halfpipe is. He also enjoys other disciplines within skiing. He loves to ski powder and doesn’t mind hitting the terrain park from time to time. When he’s training in the pipe, it’s a lot different than what people see in contests. Skiers rarely perform their contest runs in practice.

“There’s just enough risk in what we do that it’s not smart to train that way,” Smaine said. “You don’t want to go into a half pipe every day and do your full run. All the tricks have enough consequence that you would just get hurt before you got to the contest.”

He looks up to competitors like Truckee’s Daron Rahlves, who’s had a decorated career and still gives back to the sport. Smaine hopes to ski for many years. And he always wants it to be fun.

“For a lot of people it becomes a job and it isn’t fun,” Smaine said. “The people who can keep it at the core and remember why we all started are the most fun to be around.”

After his surgery, seven weeks on crutches and 10 months of physical therapy — and, continued work with the team at Barton Performance by ALTIS — Smaine was back to 100 percent in time to begin skiing competitively again this past winter.

And all that hard work paid off in an amazing way at the U.S. Grand Prix championships at Mammoth Mountain this past January. Smaine won the men’s ski halfpipe competition with a 92.20 score on his final run, capping an incredible comeback.

“The success I had this year was way beyond anything I expected for myself. With the Olympic qualifier at Mammoth, it was exactly 12 months to the day since I hurt myself that I qualified, and then a couple days later, I won the entire event,” he said. “It was such an amazing feeling of success to come back from an injury like that that gives people, a hard time for years and years.”

By Dylan Silver. Sierra Nevada Media Group Editor Kevin MacMillan contributed to this story.

Barton Athlete, Kyle Smaine biking, skiing and waterskiing.