In 1999, a skier named Chad Zurinskas was hiking in the backcountry of Alta, Utah (a resort in which snowboarding is still banned) when he came across two mining piles. Looking at the giant gulley that had been formed by the mine, he wondered if it might just be possible to build a jump and clear the gap on skis. Together with three other skiers and a film maker he returned later in the season to attempt just that. They built a five foot kicker but Chad came up short – twice. Finally, a Frenchie named Candide Thovex launched himself over the massive precipice and landed clean on the far side. Despite Candide claiming the glory, from then on the fearsome jump would become known as ‘Chad’s Gap’.
Perhaps because of Alta’s hostile approach to snowboarding, or the fact that you must hit the jump at no less than 50mph to stand a chance of clearing the gap, Chad’s Gap was the preserve of skiers until 2004, when two snowboarders – a nutcase called Romain De Marchi and a rising star named Travis Rice – pitched up during filming for the Absinthe movie Pop and constructed a 14 foot behemoth. What happened next is documented in one of snowboarding’s seminal movie sections: between them Romain and Travis nailed a backside 540, switch backside 540, cab 720, backside rodeo 720 and a backside 180 – each of them 120 foot plus. As his American sponsors shouted from the rooftops, “Travis shut it down”.
It could be argued that this feat, along with two other jumps, have defined Travis Rice’s career so far. The first was back in 2001 – a 117ft backside rodeo over the giant hip at Mammoth’s Superpark – a trick that landed him his first ever movie part (the opening segment of the early Absinthe film Transcendence). The latest headline grabber came at the 2006 Air & Style event, when despite snapping the nose of his board on an earlier trick Travis won the final with a mind boggling double backflip late backside 180. When the chips are down, it seems, Travis Rice has the uncanny ability to strap on his balls and seize the opportunity.
For all this, however, it would be unfair to pigeon-hole ‘Trice’ as a stuntman – the snowboarding equivalent of Danny Way. In reality he is an all-round bulldozer of a rider – equally comfortable tackling rails, steep Alaskan descents, powder kickers or contests. He grew up in Jackson Hole, Wyoming (home to some of America’s steepest and gnarliest powder lines) and has been freeriding in this backyard from an early age. Perhaps this explains his burly style: unlike your average Scandinavian pro, who learns their tricks in the park and takes them to the backcountry, Travis is most at home shredding powder, and only learned to ride park later on. And for all his Yankee goof-balling, he has experienced the dark side of snowboarding – caught in avalanches in Alaska and riding alongside 19 year old Tristan Picot the day he was swept to his death in Jackson. His reaction to all these experiences has been to dust himself off and keep on charging, stronger and wiser.
Still just 25 years old, Travis Rice now ranks alongside Shaun White and Nicolas Müller as one of the highest profile riders on the planet. We were stoked to get him his first White Lines interview.GROWING UP
How much time did you get to ride as a kid growing up in a mountain town? Was snowboarding on the school curriculum or was it all about the standard American sports?
When I was a kid I was all about ice hockey. We had one of the best teams in a five state region, even though Jackson Hole is a small town. I was on the hill the rest of the time though. We lived pretty close to the mountain and my father was a ski patroller there so I was able to get a pass – I ended up spending a ton of time on the mountain just screwing around cause my pops worked there. Most of the day I’d hang out up in the patroller shacks trying to sneak a peak at a Playboy mag!
A lot of kids dream of living in the mountains – did you always enjoy it or did you sometimes wish you lived somewhere less quiet?
When I was in high school there was definitely a bit of an urge to get out of the small town and into a more urban environment. The country life is good though, rough and tumble in nature is an exciting way to stumble through life. It sure as hell is better than sitting in traffic listening to some hip-hop, materialistic bullshit music just cos you can nod your head to it.
Did you always snowboard or did you ski first?
I skied since I was like two. Then I was finally enlightened around twelve.
Where did the nickname Goose come from?
My pops hooked me up with that one, thanks Dad!
Is it a Top Gun reference? Maverick and Goose?!
No, it was just one of those strange nicknames that come about from something as random as a phrase (“silly as a goose”).
Who were your snowboarding heroes growing up, and why?
My heroes were guys like Bryan Iguchi, Brodi Dowell and Lance Pitman. They were the local guys who were holding it down for our little piece of the world.
Everyone has a favourite snowboard movie that they used to watch over and over till the tape broke. What was yours?
The vid I probably watched the most The Kingpin Chronicles.
How did you wind up shooting with a European video company (Absinthe)?
I grew up shredding with one of Absinthe’s main filmers, Rich Goodwin. He asked the director Justin Hoysteneck to let him shoot with me at Superpark in 2001. It was the first real event I went to and I ended up getting the MVP award. It was late April and Justin asked if I wanted to go to Alaska with Rich for one month, to see if could try to pull together a part. I said “hell yes!” It was a lonely but epic month (Rich and I were working alone) snowmobiling in AK, but I ended up getting first part in Transcendence.
The Absinthe films seem to inspire a lot of loyalty from the riding crew. People like you and Nicolas Müller appeared year after year. What made you keep filming with them?
The crew of people involved throughout the process is epic to ride and travel with. Nicolas and Brusti [co-director] are the ultimate travel companions. Their films also reflect a lot of what interests me, in particular exploring the world for unique terrain. They are the ‘no bullshit’ shred film producers.
How much work is it to put a section together? When does the process start and end?
It varies from rider to rider. For Absinthe I would spend a solid December to May every time I filmed with them. The only breaks were for a few weeks to go to contests. But for my sponsor’s films like Oakley’s Community Project – and especially the film we are currently working on, That’s It That’s All – it is a full, year round mission. I just came back from seven weeks of filming in the Southern Hemisphere.
Do you choose the tunes for your sections? Which is your favourite?
I’ve been able to choose most of my songs with Absinthe over the years. I think my favourite was being able to get Modest Mouse (‘Float On’) for the film POP. It was too expensive to get the rights though so I think it is only on the first round of discs. Limited edition!
Do you watch your old films much? What video part are you most proud of?
My goal is always to out spank the previous year, otherwise it gets stale for me.
But for sure the part I was most proud of was in the Bluebird movie, Water to Wine.
One of the parts you’re most famous for is Pop, when you and Romain De Marchi absolutely destroyed Chad’s Gap. How long did the build on that jump take?
How long was the run-in? Did you use a sled to get back up?
I’d say just under 300 metres. We were using a helicopter to hit it.
Who hit it first?
I hit it first. That was part of Romain and I’s agreement. If we built it then I had to hit it first!
How many times did you each hit it before calling it quits?
I think Romain and I hit the thing like seven times each.
There’s a bonus bit in the movie where some dude comes along and hits it without permission. Who was he??
That was Forest, he’s a buddy of ours. We had to head back with the chopper when we were finished with our main session, but a couple of the cine cams were still around so Forest manned up and hit it when the sun was setting. He stomped a backside 5.
Jim Rippey said in an interview for White Lines, “I think that to really see somebody’s style you need to see them make turns on a steep face.” Would you agree with this? For instance you have a really burly style that seems to have been born out of your background at Jackson Hole, whereas a lot of riders these days seem to be cloned park rats.
There is a lot of truth to this statement. I’ve always claimed that the best thing you can do for your park riding skills is stay the hell out of it. Above all, board control is paramount! Go shred the trees in sketchy situations for a while, then head back to the park and you’ll realise how mellow groomed kickers and polished rails can be. It’s about gaining a confident state of mind.
What would you say to young riders hoping to make it professionally, who are trying to find their own style?
I’d say just be sure to have fun with it. If getting up at 6.30 every morning to go train pipe is bumming you out, then go hike some freshies. Unless of course you’re training for the next FIS World Cup event. But then you probably wouldn’t be reading this mag anyways.
For me personally, I tend to do best at competition when I don’t take it so serious.
You always seem ridiculously comfortable rotating in every direction. Ever practiced on a trampoline or done gymnastics?
Yeah sure, I always poached the neighbor’s tramp. The more you get comfortable being upside down and in awkward positions, the more cat-like you can become. When it comes to hitting big jumps there are always lots of variables involved, and the better you get at recovering from the ‘Oh Shit’ type situations, the longer your season is going to last.
You seem to have balls of steel – what scares you on a snowboard?
Riding lines on huge terrain will always scare me. Looking down on a 2000 ft line when you can only see the first 100ft – you’re just so exposed to elements which out of your control. The day that it doesn’t scare me is the day I know I should stop doing it. Fear is your friend.
How much time do you get to just chill these days?
I might steal a surf trip or two and a couple weeks at home in the fall, but other than that we’re going for it year-round.
Are you a fan of contests?
I enjoy competition, I’ve just always been competitive. I mean come on, let’s battle!
Which win are you most proud of?
I think last year’s Air & Style in Munich was one of my prouder moments. Mainly because of the level of riding that everyone was throwing down.
How did you find that whole event? It must’ve been a bit worrying dropping in for a double backflip on a snapped board!
Yeah, especially that jump in particular, because it was a giant, fast, poppy ass kicker. It was my nose that was snapped so I knew I had to do something where I would land switch.
I heard a rumour you were hanging out with our British pal Ed Leigh during the event?
Of course! Wouldn’t you want to kick it with Ed given the chance?!
What did you think of the Gap Session experiment?
The Gap Session was great. David did a great job with that.
How did it feel to hit the jump?
The Gap Session Kicker was very well built, but on that same note you had to seriously hall balls to make it over. When you reached the bottom of the transition you were going so fast that your vision became blurry – just because of the small inconsistencies in the snow and the G-forces. David and Christoph did a hell of a job for their first time around trying to build this kind of kicker. It’s quite hard to construct a jump of those proportions and I think that this winter when they do it for the second time it ‘s going to be epic!
Will you be coming back to the next Gap Session?
If I can make it for sure. I’m looking forward to it.
Both you and David (Benedek) were pulling stuff at the Air & Style that you’d been trying at the Gap Session. Is this a sign that more progressive kickers and event formats are the way to push the sport forward?
Yes, it definitely helps. That or being able to hit perfect backcountry powder kickers. But moving into the future I believe that more progressive contest formats are the ticket to keeping snowboarding fresh.
So come on, which is cooler – double backflip 180 like yours or David’s 1260 double cork?!
Come on! The 1260 double cork, Bene style.
There’s a heart stopping moment in the movie First Descent when you get caught in a huge avalanche and disappear in a torrent of snow, then somehow pop out the other side. What was going through your mind at the time? (other than “shhhiiiiiiiiiiiit!!”)
I was just trying to do everything I could to get out of it, which in this case meant getting underneath it so the weight of the snow would push me down to the hard layer underneath. That way I could get my edge in and traverse out of there.
Was that the worst avalanche and the closest call you’ve ever experienced?
No, that avalanche was really pretty isolated, a small pocket that ripped out. I have been in a much larger one.
How did you overcome the tragedy of Tristan Picot getting caught in an avalanche on your home mountain? Did it raise any doubts about snowboarding as a career?
I try not to take the daily grind so serious and enjoy the ride. Rest in peace Tristan.
What was it like to ride Alaska for the first time?
It’s kind of like when your balls finally drop. It just raises the bar on your perspective of what freeriding can really be.
Is Alaska where you see snowboarding going to the next level?
There are so many ways progression in snowboarding can be applied but absolutely, the one I look forward to most is the big mountain canvas.
What do you think you’d be doing if you weren’t a professional snowboarder?
I have absolutely no idea…
The move to Lib Tech came a little out of the blue. Did you have other offers at the time?
I was in limbo for a while trying to figure it out. I’d been talking a great deal with Forum and almost signed on with them, but then I had the dream opportunity to go and ride for Lib Tech – and basically decided in one day to commit to them for all eternity. Mervin is hands down the best company in snowboarding.
Who do you work with on your graphics? Where do you get inspiration?
I’ve had the opportunity to work with some really talented artists over the years. It’s always a fun process and usually entails my coming to them with a concept and direction to follow and letting them translate that into their own words. We work back and forth on the new board until she is ready to rip. Inspiration is everywhere.
Is Magne Traction really any better than straight edges?
That’s like asking if the iPhone is really any better than Motorola.
What’s the best trip you’ve been on?
I just got back from a surf trip to Tahiti, led by Raimana Van Bastolaer (basically the mayor of Tahiti) along with Dane Reynolds, Todd Richards and Stryder Wasilewski. We surfed all over but I spent three days shitting myself at Teahupoo. That was definitely the best trip in recent memory. Reynolds is a freak of nature.
Was it cranking while you were there – and did you actually manage to catch any waves? That place is fucking
I was tripping sitting in the line up there. It was definitely pumping. I caught a couple of bombs and went over the falls on the biggest one I went for. It was mind boggling!
What other sports do you enjoy?
I am slightly consumed by the snow but I love to surf and skate when I’m able.
What’s the worst injury you’ve ever sustained? And are there any exercises you do each day to minimize the risk?
I ruptured my spleen about seven years ago. That sucked but at least I still have it! Drinking water and stretching are my only religious beliefs. It has kept me basically injury free for seven years.
What do you think of the conflict between snowboarders enjoying the natural environment but also contributing to global warming through flights, heli drops etc.? Do you worry about that stuff?
Yes, it is a constant contradiction that I’m surrounded by. In order to get to a lot of backcountry locations – both in terms of dropping riders off and filming them – we use a heli. Helicopters never cease to amaze me, but a full day of shredding will burn through like 600 pounds of jet aviation fuel (that’s 273 kilos for you metrics, lucky). Along with the fact that I fly about 100, 000 miles a year, I leave a pretty big carbon footprint. At this point I basically just try to offset this through different aspects of my life, like requesting renewable energy, learning about the specifics of climate cause and effect, supporting sustainable snowboard construction with Lib Tech, working on Quiksilver’s first completely green outerwear line, and just generally having the conversations about respect and the environment. There is a lot more involved than just green house gases.
What tricks can’t you do that you would like to learn?
I’d really like to learn how to do a varial, but I haven’t figured that one out yet. I saw a random guy try one at the 99’ US Open Big Air and ever since then I thought it would be sweet. It didn’t work out for him however.
If you had a day with no photo, contest or filming commitments, where would you go, who would you spend it with and what would you ride?
I would shred dumpy pow tree runs at Jackson Hole with Willie McMillon and Nico Müller.