“We’re just some dirtbags that want to be in the mountains.”
It all started when my buddy, Gabe Higerd, told me I should ditch the skis and give snowboarding a try. I rented a Sims board from Wave Rave snowboard shop, and we headed to our local mountain in the Sierras of California, Mammoth. I remember barreling down the bunny hill, and, for my 12-year-old self, there was no turning back.
Today, I snowboard for many reasons — the mental and physical benefits, the community, the adventure and travel opportunities — but my main motivation is that it enables me to explore the mountains. Snowboarding is my favorite way to connect with the wilderness. Some of the most inspiring moments of my life have occurred when I’m alone on top of a peak, just after the helicopter buzzes away. In these moments of solitude and silence, I feel overwhelmed with gratitude for where I am and what I’m about to do. The mountains can be unforgiving and treacherous, but they’re also incredibly rewarding.
“I feel overwhelmed with gratitude for where I am and what I’m about to do.”
The most memorable ride of my career so far was last year in Valdez, Alaska. We heard about this 4,000-foot, almost mutant-looking spine face way far out in the range that no one had ever ridden. When we finally located the spot from the helicopter, it looked totally unrideable — freaky is really the best word for it. But after circling for a second pass, I spotted something that looked somewhat reasonable. It was a bigger line than I’d ever attempted, with some nasty exposure. If you were to get caught in your sluff, you’d be in trouble. After staring at the line for a few minutes, I felt confident I could ride it and decided to get dropped off at the top. The only way to describe the sensation of riding that line, from the top of this beast of a mountain all the way to the bottom, is total euphoria.
These individual moments of intense challenge, achievement, and bliss make the sport of snowboarding unlike most others. Still, snowboarding — once thought to be just for outsiders and dirtbags — is now an Olympic sport. There’s an immense amount of training and no lack of tools to prepare you for competition. But let’s not forget the purity of the sport: the individual rider immersing in his or her surroundings. I’ve been stoked to see new film projects that focus on this free, unrestrained experience, like “Fruition” and “The Eternal Beauty of Snowboarding.”
For those new to snowboarding, I think patience and persistence are far more important than physical strength or athletic ability. Just give it three to five goes, and I wager you’ll be hooked. The first couple of times on the mountain, you might spend most of the day on everything but your feet. Keep a positive attitude, laugh it off and try to appreciate the beauty of the snow and the woods. Suddenly, it’ll start to click, and you’ll see progression every time you strap into your board.
Hometown: Mammoth, California
His crew: We’re just some dirtbags that want to be in the mountains.
Backcountry essentials: I always wear an avalanche beacon and stash a shovel, a probe, an extra layer, water, food and a small first aid kit in my backpack.
Favorite spots to ride: British Columbia, Japan and Alaska.
—As told to Erica Bellman