Steve Gruber on his new video part with K2, a winter season like no other, and how snowboarding grew up too fast
Steve Gruber has spent the majority of his life strapped into a snowboard. Watching the sport evolve for almost three decades now, he’d witnessed nearly every possible scenario within the sport – until Covid.
“In the end, it was an amazing year because we had so much snow and not a lot of people around, but hopefully, we won’t see it again”
For more than half of his life, Steve has called Mayrhofen his home. Originally from Vienna, the K2 rider spent last winter experiencing something completely different – a winter in an empty valley with only his local crew around and just parts of the surrounding resort being open. Spending the season living in complete isolation had its benefits, but it’s not something he wishes to happen again.
We gave Steve a ring to chat about his new part ‘Last Winter’ with K2 Snowboarding, his life in the valley during lockdown, and to pick his brain on why snowboarding has evolved in the direction it has and where he wishes to see it go from here.
Hi Steve, how are you, how was your day?
I’m good thanks! We’ve had quite a snowy day today but it’s been super windy. We should have some good snow arriving overnight so we’re probably heading out to Arlberg tomorrow. Those guys always get more snow out there.
“From my perspective, people have to snowboard in order to understand snowboarding and I think for a while that wasn’t the case which then kind of cut off some of the roots of it”
Fingers crossed for that good snow! I just watched your new edit with K2, ‘Last. Winter’, and it really made me want to go and ride powder! Fancy telling us a bit about the edit?
Yeah, sure! So we filmed last year and I had a good friend who helped me out with filming. But, obviously, it wasn’t that easy with things being closed. A lot of the lifts that usually take us to the good spots weren’t open because they were having such a hard time with budgets and stuff. It was more or less only Austrians and the people who live here who were allowed to ride. It was an amazing year in the sense that we had so much snow and not a lot of people around, but hopefully, we won’t see it again. Thinking back, it was kind of weird…
I followed a lot of people making the most of the empty slopes in Austria during lockdown last year. Was it really as picture-perfect as social media made it out to be or…?
I would say it was pretty much perfect to a certain point but, as I said, not all the lifts were open so sometimes you really struggled to get to the best snow and find good runs. A lot of people — locals and seasonaires — who didn’t have much to do because of the pandemic were just riding the local resorts all the time, so a lot of the fresh snow got tracked out quite fast, especially on powder days. So that wasn’t great for filming, but that’s complaining on a really high level [laughs]. Now, you kind of wish you would have those empty slopes again, but on the other hand, it’s nice to have a social life again.
How was living in the valley during corona?
It was super mellow and it was good to have a community you met up with sometimes. But it was kind of weird. You’d have the best time on the mountain, everyone’s all happy and hyped, and then you get down to the parking lot, hang for a bit, and drive back home through the empty streets of the valley. It was a ghost town, nobody was around, and the contrasts between that and the fun we had on the mountain was kind of surreal.
If you think back about the whole lockdown, what would you say was your most valuable experience from it all?
It was really cool to experience the empty slopes like probably how it was 50 years ago. And seeing the locals being able to enjoy it too. All of a sudden all these people who work and own the hotels and stuff had the time to be on the mountain with their friends, and family. Some of them never had the chance to do it because it’s usually so busy. I was stoked to see people enjoying that place again, realising how great it is, what good times you can have. I liked that. And everyone was so relaxed, no stress, it was just super chilled.
So, how long have you been living in Mayrhofen?
About 23 years… More than half of my life [laughs]. The first time I came here was with my family for vacation, and then I started snowboarding and going to these summer camps. One of them was in Mayrhofen and after that me and my friends just kept on coming back. We left Vienna on Fridays after work, drove here and spent Saturday and Sunday on the mountains and then drove back to Vienna on Sunday after shredding. That was the game. It was epic.
“It’s always hard to look back at something, to understand the movements, but I think snowboarding should have stayed young for a little bit longer”
What made you want to stay in Mayrhofen?
I’d say I kind of drowned here [laughs]. I got to a point where I couldn’t get out anymore. It was basically because I started doing more competitions, more continental openings, and with a lot of travelling, it was just easier to go back to the Valley than to Vienna. And a lot of my friends were here and with Hintertux around the corner we had the possibility to snowboard 365 days a year. It just made sense.
You’ve seen the sport and industry evolve throughout the years. Looking back, do you wish something would have taken a different direction?
It’s always hard to look back at something, to understand the movements, but I think snowboarding should have stayed young for a little bit longer. Not because it hasn’t been good for snowboarding at some level to become so popular so fast, but in general I feel like everything in snowboarding developed too fast. I mean, it was great that snow parks and stuff came along so quickly, but I guess as soon as people saw that there was money in it, it all just skyrocketed and then came crashing down. Snowboarding started to go into different directions and became more of a mainstream sport, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I think it should have had 10 to 15 years more of growing first.
“We need to try and keep snowboarding as fun, and not only make it about spinning around, about who is the best, about the Olympic medals, because this can destroy the fun of snowboarding really fast”
People just jumped at it and there was one marketing manager after another coming in and trying to make it into something without really understanding what snowboarding is about. From my perspective, people have to snowboard in order to understand snowboarding and I think for a while that wasn’t the case which then kind of cut off some of the roots of it. I’ve seen people being pushed out from snowboarding because they’re too much of an individual because brands wanted to market a certain aspect of snowboarding instead of trying to understand what snowboarding truly was about.
We need to try and keep snowboarding as fun, and not only make it about spinning around, about who is the best, about the Olympic medals, because this can destroy the fun of snowboarding really fast. You need to find snowboarding for yourself. You don’t have to be the best at it to have fun doing it. Get on your board, be in nature and enjoy it. That’s what snowboarding is about and that has to be celebrated a bit more.
So where would you like to see snowboarding heading in the future?
I hope we can go back to having more gatherings, small competitions, and camps — things where people come together for the sake of the sport, for the sake of the fun, and can exchange these experiences. I think that’s why Banked Slalom is such a good thing because different kinds of riders can participate. Everyone from the freestyle guru to the pipe champion to the freerider and the local ripper can show up, hang out, and have fun. I hope the culture of snowboarding would become more celebrated, the creativity and the sharing of moments.
“I hope we can go back to having more gatherings, small competitions, and camps, things where people come together for the sake of the sport, for the sake of the fun, and can exchange these experiences”
And in terms of style? I mean, we grab for style points, we do creative stuff. For us, it doesn’t matter if the snow isn’t great, if we don’t have heaps of powder, you take a look around and think, ‘Maybe I can make that into a little quarter pipe and do a hand plant there, or maybe I can jib around this.’ Snowboarding is so variable, you can approach it in different ways, you can be creative and it’s up to you how you do it. And that’s the beauty of it, that’s why I like it so much, it’s just like a big playground.
I wish people could appreciate the mind space snowboarders have, and that it doesn’t just become about strict competitions. It’s a sport that brings people together, allows us to ride together, and as long as we don’t lose that, we’ll have a future. And finally, I think, it’s also really important for us as athletes to remember to celebrate our sport and try to make it more accessible for people.
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