Snapping your fibula over the top of your ski boot might be a disappointing way to cap a dominant World Cup season. But when Toby Dawson broke his leg while practicing a Cork 540 at a halfpipe competition last March, he embraced the setback. "I felt a little bit of relief, confesses the 25-year-old Vail resident, who'd already sewn up the number-two spot in moguls. "I needed time off, and I knew I'd be back on the snow soon.
The injury gave Dawson a chance to hobble around his hometown, reflect on his six-year U.S. men's team career (World Cup wins in '01 and '03 and two World Championships bronzes in '03), and bask in the glory of his recent mogul assault. In 2004, he nabbed seven podiums: three golds, a silver, and three bronzes—enough to wind up just behind Finland's Janne Lahtela in World Cup standings.
Dawson has built a cult following with his off-axis tricks—like his signature Cork 720 and Iron Cross—and he's always trying to rejigger halfpipe aerials for bump competitions. But his trademark innovation happens on the ground: Instead of ramming moguls head-on, he carves his tips into them and then springs off. It's a technical maneuver that makes for smoother absorption and increased control. "Who do you want to emulate—a racer smearing down the course, or a racer who is carving? explains Dawson. "I'm just taking skills that make a good skier and incorporating them.
Off the hill, Dawson, who was born in South Korea and adopted by two Vail ski instructors at age three, is trying to reconnect with his native peninsula. His rags-to-Rossis story has made him a celebrity in Korea, where news organizations are helping him track down his biological parents. But, broken bones aside, he won't be distracted next goal: 06 Olympics in Turino, Italy. "I need to hold the same level of consistency I had at the end of last year, says Dawson. "If I can do that, I'll have the confidence to make it.
Born: November 30, 1978; South Korea
Foreign Fan Club: As in Korea, Dawson has a huge following in Japan. "They like me because of my Asian descent, he says. It might also have something to do with the 2004 World Cup in Naeba—Americans captured five podiums, led by Dawson's gold.
Let's Hear It For The Boy: A bad joke to a reporter a few years ago spawned the rumor that Dawson warms up by listening to the Footloose soundtrack. He denies it—but admits he can probably quote the entire movie.
Pimp My Ride: Dawson drives the only vehicle in Vail without a ski rack—a stylin' '53 Buick Super with a red body and black top. "I can't take it into the mountains. It's a lead sled, says Dawson, who restored the car himself. "If it starts sliding I can't stop it. That's why I only insure it three months at a time.