When Shaun White parted ways with longtime sponsor Red Bull in July, one question floated in the wake of his departure: Who would replace White on Red Bull's snowboarding roster? Sure, that list still included Travis Rice, Mark McMorris, Greg Bretz, Eero Ettela, Heikki Sorsa, John Jackson, Marie France-Roy, Seb Toutant and Scotty James. But it was missing its marquee halfpipe rider. Who would be the benefactor of the private training sessions and secret halfpipes to which White no longer was privy?
That question was answered last week, when White's Olympic teammate, Louie Vito, signed with the energy behemoth. Now that the ink's dry on his new contract, we asked Vito what it's like to grow wings a month before the start of the winter contest season.
ESPN: You left your energy drink sponsor, Monster, before last season. Why?
Louie Vito: I left Monster right before Winter X. I love those guys, but I can support myself now, so I'm not afraid to make the choices I want to make. They were great to me, but it was time. We were going in different directions and I wanted to take a risk and see what was out there.
When did Red Bull become a possibility?
It was a long time coming. I rode for Red Bull when I was younger. But back then, I was a kid. With Red Bull, it's not just about a paycheck. I am over doing deals just to do a deal. The sponsors I have now are companies I want to have a partnership with and work together with. They support what I am doing and I support them.
Why Red Bull?
They have so much more to offer. Whether people like it or not, snowboarding is getting more intense. The tricks are harder and tougher to learn. And if you don't want to do it, there are kids who want to take your position. Whether it's double corks or multiple double corks or triple corks, you cant just go out and to them. Look at Travis Pastrana, he does crazy stuff, but he doesn't just go out and throw it. There is mental training, too, and they get all of that.
You've changed a lot about the way you look at physical and mental training. What has been the biggest change?
I haven't had a drink since May 10. I'm over partying. I'm 23 and I partied my brains out before I was even 21. Now I want to try something different. Guys like Mayweather and Ochocinco don't drink. I've been working out with Apollo Ohno's trainer and Apollo told me I have a chance to change the way my sport is trained. I want to do that. I'm surrounded by boxers and guys with multiple Olympic medals. They take this seriously. You only get one shot at this and you have to take advantage of as much as possible.
What do you think about the rest of the Red Bull team?
If you look at their athletes across the board, they have great teams in every sport -- basketball and even football and NASCAR -- and that says a lot. And they really support their athletes and want to get involved and they expect a lot. With action sports, they have training grounds and had a private pipe and jumps at Squaw and in New Zealand. How many people can afford to get an airbag or a private halfpipe? But Red Bull gives their athletes the opportunity to ride the best halfpipes and best jumps and foam pits. If I say, I want to go to the Olympics and win; they will help me reach my goals.
So have you asked when they break ground on your private halfpipe?
Ha. We don't want to bite anyone else's style. I don't like to ride by myself, anyway. I am really looking forward to riding with their snowboard and ski team, whether it's Simon Dumont or Greg Bretz. I respect them and you need to surround yourself with positive people.
You mentioned an Olympic gold medal. Do you have shorter-term goals they can help you accomplish?
The Olympics is every four years and a goal and on my mind. But there are so many things I want to do before that. I love contests and I would love to win the U.S. Open and the U.S. X Games. And the Dew Tour again. And now that we have a World Championship, I'd like to win that. Thee are a lot of tricks I want to learn and more aspects of snowboarding I'd like to dabble in. Before I signed, we talked about ideas and now they will start to come to fruition. I'm excited.
Have you started dreaming up something to jump over on New Year's Eve?
I'm not sure I'm ready to jump three football fields. Maybe down the road. Right now, I need my body to be healthy. But that just shows how much they support their athletes. Robbie Maddison comes to them with a crazy idea and they say, Let's make it happen. They not only help him prepare and create the stunt, but put it on a world stage. It shows they're not going to just dip their toe in. They jump in with both feet to support you.
What's the new helmet look like?
Well, I have a Red Bull hat on right now. They are working on the helmet. I am perfectly fine with them owning my head. I give them my head; they give me my wings. Good trade off, if you ask me.