My name is Gavin Smith and I love to snowboard.
It’s the thing I’m best at. Even in summer when my mind should be on boats and babes, strangely it isn’t. It’s dreaming of snowboarding.
At age 32 I thought my skills would have started to drop off by now as I face the realities of an aging body, but interestingly enough I have continually improved as an artist on my snowboard.
When the conditions are right nothing can touch me. My body becomes free from all the natural limitations of the world as my eyes grow big and a smile sticks to my face. Gravity and speed are mixed and manipulated as I ride. My path down the slopes becomes a rhythmic flow as I explode far into the air over trees, bumps and whatever else gets in the way. I can dive my board in and out of the powder the way a fish swims through the water. Or spin like a gymnast, and flex my board as if it were an extension of my body. I can pop and tap with full control or glide and carve like a strong skater. I mostly just do what feels right, and when this happens, I’m home.
This spring I met a couple of guys from New York City while I was down in Whistler for the weekend with my girlfriend at the time. We had beers and laughs the night before an epic day of spring riding. The two had traveled across the continent and were teeming with excitement and brand new boards to try out.
As the night rolled along one of them tried to get a handle on my skill level. He asked me in his thick downtown accent, “So you’re girlfriend says you’re pretty good, is there any truth to that?” I wasn’t sure how I should respond, so I thought hard and then spoke. “I have become a product of my environment.” I said. “I am a mountain person born and raised 2 hours from here, and I am everything you would expect to see in that regard. Whistler is an international mixing pot, and tomorrow I will be riding for British Columbia and Canada. Just to be clear, I’ll wear the jersey of the local hockey team so everyone knows it.”
The next day was unreal. The four of us killed it all day. The steep features of Whistler Mountain pushed us to the point of exhaustion. The universe became an endless playground and ever changing dance floor. I was putting on a clinic and turning heads with moves I would have never thought I could pull off. I was inspired to showcase every trick in the book and demonstrate the near mastery of the sport to my special guests from the east, who admitted that they couldn’t stop watching me as I continually played.
Later that evening when the day had come and gone my girlfriend and I sat licking our wounds over a hot meal. I was touched by what she said. “I didn’t see another person better than you today.”
She was right. We had just spent an entire day at the epi-center of snowboarding during the busy spring break and we didn’t see one other person that demonstrated the skill that I had. Maybe the slopes were full of tourists as they always are, or maybe all the good riders were hiding out in the park (which I’m sure is the case). But for some reason we didn’t see them. As we ate our meal, I relished in the idea that I was at the top of my snowboard game and in the prime of my life.
Fast forward two weeks later to Jasper. I had made the 4 hour drive from Prince George and slept in my truck the night before. This is a pretty standard move for me as I’ll go to great lengths to put myself in a snowboard park when the soft spring slush shows up. Alberta had the home turf now, and my Harold Snepts Jersey wasn’t going to be making many friends, or so I thought.
Again my eyes were wide with excitement as I charged at everything I could see. New features in a brand new park environment will do that to a seasoned rider.
Feeling inspired, it was once again time to push the boundaries and get out of my comfort zone. I reached down and unstrapped my back foot and pointed myself at a large table top jump below. One foot tricks are dangerous because there is a huge loss of control. Most people don’t like doing them for this reason. The stability just isn’t there.
It was all I could do to line up with the jump as I came in at mach chicken (very fast). I hit the lip of the jump with speed. So much speed that I floated high in the air past the smooth transition were I was scheduled to land and out into the painful flats beyond. My heart sunk as I realized my destiney was a hard crash landing. I had just enough time to swear out load as I dropped out of the sky with only one foot attached, this was going to suck.
The impact was fierce and it folded me in half, driving my knee into my face. I spun out of control and skidded to a stop by some teenagers. “Are you alright Mr.?” one said.
I was seeing stars. I had obvious trauma to my nose, mouth, and chin. The blood stood out brightly in the white snow where I had come to rest on all fours. My headphones had bucked clear off my head and dangled in a knotted mess around my neck.
The first thing I did was check my teeth. They were all solid. Next I checked down the side of my head. I quickly realized that I was fine and it was only my soft face meat that was swelling up and leaking a bit. It was a great relief to know that I wouldn’t be seeing the dentist during my visit to Jasper. “I kinda over shot that one.” I said. “Holly crap dude…you went huge” piped up one of the bystanders.
I gathered myself, shook out the cob webs and headed back up. Fifteen minutes later I was lined back up with the same big jump. The same group of teenagers stood by and watched in dis-belief as I un-strapped yet again. I guess it was time to get back on the horse. “This time I’ll be more careful…” I thought.
My speed was perfect. I popped 30ft into the air and kicked my free leg out like a martial artist. I had enough time I even pumped it twice as only a dancer would. That free leg is what makes one foot tricks look so neat. I landed smoothly and rolled up to the teenagers in full control. “How was that?” I said. They didn’t say much at all. They simply held up their hands for a round of high fives one from each of em.
I had also been practicing a difficult move by trying hand plants under the chair. It’s more than a little tricky to ride up, jump out on to your hands and then get that board back under yourself without wiping out. I was only getting about 2 out of every 10 attempts. The rest of the time I was stacking it while trying to keep my battered face from bouncing off the tarmac again. I’m not going to lie, I was getting laughed at hard. What could I do? I would just pick myself up, dust myself off, and with a shrug of the shoulders I was on the move again.
However sometimes the gods of shred part the clouds and shine on a person as they did on me that fait full afternoon in the Rocky Mountains.
A group of around ten highly skilled skiers rode up behind me as I approached for another hand plant. I could feel their presence and the pressure mounted. All eyes on the bloodied stranger in the Canucks jersey.
And then it happened. I aggressively dove my body head first straight at the snow. My hands and arms dug in stabilizing myself in a state of balance. I stalled out perfectly for about 2 seconds as my legs came around and stood straight over top of my inverted torso. It was a clean hand plant right under the chair and in front of a crowd. As I popped out of it and landed back on my feet, everyone in the group cheered and yelled. They were all around me at this point. It was like I had just scored a goal in overtime to win the series. The encouragement came from the chairs as well as peopled hooped and hollered. In these few short seconds time stood still as if someone hit the pause button. It felt like all my years snowboarding had lead to this moment and this was the highlight. A moment of honour.
As the commotion died down the skiers responded and got crafty themselves. They all formed up and linked arms creating this thing that can I can only describe as a giant shred snake. I tried to join but I had lost all my speed for my trick, so I just followed and watched as the line of tightly packed teenagers carved at high speed towards a huge roller in the middle of the run. Then just in front of the jump, the snake started to disband and break apart. As the skiers broke apart they began to pop fat air 20 feet up, one right after another in a massive high speed jump train. With each jump came a stylie trick. Everyone was good. “This is the craziest thing I’ve ever seen” I thought. I chased down the kids at these insane speeds as they headed back to the park. Again I relished in the fact that I had just received a cheering ovation from other legitimate riders. I didn’t feel my age anymore. I felt just like the other kids.
I joined the group and shredded with them for the rest of the day. I had gained their respect and that was good enough for me. As the day ended the kids headed for Lake Louise in two old beat up mini-vans. I headed back to work in Prince George. I wish I could have gone with them, but the responsibilities of adulthood were calling me down a different path.
A week later I sat at the top of the chair at Powder King in the Pine Pass. The legendary hill had lived up to its name and dumped buckets of powder snow the night before. Then the conditions had cleared with nothing but blue skies and sunshine for all. I felt lucky to be alive.
As I started my descent down one of the open runs I was immediately stopped in in my tracks. I couldn’t believe my own eyes, it was a tribe of snowboarding ewoks. I quickly looked around trying to make sense of what I was seeing. Was I still on planet earth? Wait a second….never mind. It’s just a group of 5 year olds carving it up. That is totally normal. Not! Most kids are 8 or 9 before they start snowboarding. No wonder it was such an unbelievable sight. Who would have thought that here at Powder King there was an entire heard of the little guys (waist high) pushing the limit and breaking the status quo.
Seeing those very small people so new to the world made me stop and think. Imagine the quiver of skills these young riders will one day possess. I wonder what sort of injuries they will have to sustain on their path to grace. Will the mountains shape their characters the way they’ve shaped mine and so many others? Will snowboarding be all they can think of too?
I look forward to returning to the hill as an old man to see what kind of riders they have become. I will want to watch as they dance and free themselves the way I once did. I hope to be inspired by them and smile. Maybe just maybe it will rewind time and make me feel like a kid again too.