What Makes A Snowboarding Legend?


Article from Whitelines 105

Words by Matt Barr

On the surface, being a professional snowboarder is a dream career. After all, you’re getting paid to ride, right? What could be better than that? Then there’s the travel. The adulation. The endless powder. The free kit. The hot girls/guys. Those massive bendy cheques you get for winning a contest. Yep, no wonder that being a pro shred is a much cherished ambition for so many young riders.

And yet, as with any seemingly desirable career from actors to rock stars, all is not quite how it appears from the outside. The truth is that for every Arctic Monkeys playing at the Olympic Opening Ceremony, there are countless thousands of landfill indie bands toiling away trying to climb the greasy pole to the top. Few of them make it very far past the toilet circuit. Snowboarding is no different.

I’ve had my own insight into this plenty of times over the years I’ve been working in snowboarding, but one occasion that stands out was a trip to Japan in 2004 with photographer James McPhail and British pros Johno Verity, Ewan Wallace and Adam Gendle. As the writer, you soon get used to being very much the junior partner on any such trip, but my time was about to come. We arrived at the deserted resort of Kiroro to find the place plastered with three feet of fresh, untouched snow. Jumping on a lift with a friend of ours who’d come along for the day, I spent the next six hours lapping the resort and not hitting another track all day. The boys and Jamesy, in contrast, spent those hours repeatedly hiking up and down the same run in order to try and get shots for the article. Johno’s face as I passed for the umpteenth time and sprayed him with powder was a picture. Just who exactly had the dream job here anyway?

Few riding careers last more than a handful of years…

That experience was way more representative of the reality of being a pro than any number of Shaun White MTV Cribs specials, front covers or glossy Transworld interviews. And there’s another problem for the putative snowboarding legend: longevity. Few riding careers last more than a handful of years; leaf through a few shred magazines from yesteryear to see the truth in that. Remember Ian Spiro? Lance Pitman? Thought not. Both former TWS cover stars and interviewees. Life moves pretty fast, as a great man once said.

There’s one pretty obvious reason for this. Professional snowboarding is very evidently a young person’s game. If you haven’t made it by the time you’re 16, forget it. If you’re still going into your mid-20s, give yourself a pat on the back for your versatility and luck with injuries. And if you still have a career of note into your 30s, your name is probably Terje Haakonsen. 

You get the point: if it’s difficult ‘going pro’ in the first place, then becoming a bone fide legend is next to impossible. So what does it take to make it happen at all? Luckily for you, here at WL we think we’ve got it worked out. Allow us to unveil the patented WL Legend equation:

Timing + (Skills x Style) + Attitude + Backing = LEGEND.

So who has managed to crack this snowboarding equivalent of Fermat’s Last Theorem, and how did they do it?  Let’s take a look…


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