Interview By Annie Fast
This spring, 21-year-old Travis Rice stood at the top of a 120-plus-foot gap with Romain De Marchi (and a heli circling overhead), preparing to drop in for the switch-five heard round the world. The ensuing battle for the rights to these images brought snowboard magazines to their knees.
Who is this kid, why can’t he sit still for even five minutes, and where the f-k does he get off making TWS break a sweat?
This interview started, of all places, in a dirt lot on the side of the highway a mile from TransWorld. That’s where, after five days, about fifteen different sets of plans made over the course of twice as many cell calls, Travis was unceremoniously dropped off by a friend … six hours later than expected. His interview lasted about twenty minutes, and we continued with Travis interviewing himself on the I-5 south to San Diego en route to meet up with the Boost RV at a DJ battle/basketball game. Listening back to the interview, it’s littered with “I got a text!” “Ring, ring, ring-hello?” and a gradual slide into rambling chaos, ending with Travis “over it.” “It” being the monotony of trying to focus on just one task. And it only gets worse during winter, unless, that is, he’s snowboarding. The pictures don’t lie.
It seems like one day Travis just strapped on a snowboard, started winning contests, and hasn’t taken a digger or a setback since. But it hasn’t always been clean landings. Only six years ago at the Mammoth Grand Prix, Travis ruptured his spleen and spent six days on the verge in intensive care-enough to put doubt in the heads of most sixteen year olds. He still has brushes with reality: this spring Travis broke off a cornice in Alaska and was sucked two-thousand feet down a slope in an avalanche and buried up to his armpits, bruised and sprained. He says, in an unusually serious tone, that his winter ended there. He’s seen riders like Tristan Picot and his friend Adam Harshman pass away in pursuit of the shred, but it hasn’t deterred him. If anything, these could be the moments of clarity that drive Travis to perform.
Travis’ background is different than most freestyle riders. He started off riding powdery backcountry kickers, only eventually fine-tuning his style in the park at Mammoth-the opposite of most riders. But Travis says it helped him: “Riding powder is so much harder than riding a groomed slope, and Jackson in general is a tough mountain. When it came time to actually hit a park kicker, as far as getting used to always knowing where your edge is and the balance of riding, it totally helped me.” Comfortable and accomplished in the park, pipe, rails, and backcountry, Travis stands out in snowboarding as one of the only all-around riders.
He says, “I like the fact that there’re so many aspects to snowboarding because it keeps it fresh for someone like me who snowboards all the time. Jibbing is technical-it’s got a whole different vibe than riding a powder kicker. If I did nothing other than ride straight pow, it would get boring.”
Travis’ snowboard career got started in 2001 when the sponsorless rider graduated from Jackson Hole High School. He poached Superpark and turned heads with a riding style that was described as hungry. His approach: I don’t give a f-k.
His progression since then has been swift.
Where did you learn to ride parks?
During high school we’d get to hit a kicker or ride a little halfpipe here or there. I’d work construction in the summers and save up to travel to the East Coast Nationals and down to Breckenridge with the Sun Valley Snowboard Team and the Jackson Hole Snowboard Team. I moved to Mammoth for a month the spring after high school and lived in a house with a keg and a stripper pole in the living room.
The backside rodeo over the 110-foot gap at Mammoth got you noticed. Had you ever done anything like that before?
It was actually 117 feet (laughs).
Okay, had you ever hit anything comparable to a 117-foot gap?
I don’t think so. Maybe some of those other jumps there, maybe some big powder jumps, but no, nothing like that.
How did you set up for the big park jump at Mammoth?
That jump was right underneath the chairlift, so you’d see the hip every single time you went up the lift, and it looked doable. It didn’t look like death if you screwed up. At the end of that day, I was with some other kid who wanted to hit it, too. We hit it at the hip a couple times, and then he guinea-pigged the gap and came up five feet short. I hit it right after him and made it to the landing.
The Big Time
Absinthe Filmer Justin Hostynek was on hand to capture Travis’ backside rodeo. Justin asked Travis if he wanted to try to make a video part for his movie. “I was like, yeah man, of course,” Travis remembers saying.
This was at was the very end of the season. Filmer Rich Goodwin and Travis headed up to Haines in Southeast Alaska, one of the last places with any snow left, rented two snowmobiles, and went out into the backcountry and spent a month exploring and finding some amazing stuff-just the two of them and a local guide. Travis’ efforts payed off big-time that fall with the opening segment of Transcendence.
The following year, Travis showed he had not only the snowboarding skills, but also the head game to dominate major contests. Right out of the gate, in December, he got second in the Breckenridge Vans Triple Crown Slopestyle behind Todd Richards. There was only one qualifying spot to get into the X Games and since Todd was prequalified, the spot defaulted to Travis. He took off to Aspen, Colorado for what ended up being a “surreal experience.” He says, “It was super random. I was so pumped to even go there and hang out with those guys. I had a super-clean run. I was just waiting for Kevin Jones to f-king annihilate me, but it didn’t happen-I couldn’t believe it.”
It was a finish worthy of a SportsCenter replay. It came down to the last run of the day on a now iced-over X Games course. Kevin sat down on an icy landing, leaving underdog Travis Rice with the gold.
All the victories piled on top of each other gave Travis clout, which he has used to pursue the lifestyle he wants. He has worked it out so that he’s got the best of all worlds. He can drop into Mammoth and easily fall in with the Grenerds-film some stuff for the next Grenade movie, then head back to his house in Jackson (with or without Grenerds in tow) and fall in with his crew there filming in his own backyard. Why have one scene when you can have them all? He says, “Jackson’s a great place to live. It’s really nice to be at home chillin’, but if I’m at home too long, I really start to twiddle my thumbs and feel like I need to go somewhere.” Last season he did go somewhere-he dominated the Arctic Challenge as the Overall winner and Quarterpipe champion, and then the U.S. Open slopestyle and rail jam. He also turned out a part in Saturation, delivering a long list of tricks off backcountry kickers and fluid AK lines, and even found time to ride park in Night Of The Living Shred. But the best was still to come.
On March 11, 2004 photographer Stan Evans called the phones at TransWorld from deep within the backcountry canyons of Salt Lake City, panting from hiking uphill, saying something about how he had just shot the best photos of his life. 120 foot gap, 1080. Travis and Romain. He wasn’t kidding. Hostynek, filming for Pop, said of that day, “Seriously, it was the most amazing thing I’ve ever witnessed.”
You were the one who wanted to build the jump. What was your motivation?
I was with Romain De Marchi, and I couldn’t think of anybody else who would be more up for hitting it than him. Romain’s hardcore-he doesn’t give a f-k. He was like, “Yeah sure, whatever, let’s do it.” I knew he wasn’t one to step down from that shit.
The jump took us three solid days of work-fully bluebird days. We shoveled until after sunset every day building it. We wanted to make it so perfect that there was no way we could hurt ourselves.
How did you decide who would hit the gap first?
We didn’t really talk about it until it was time to hit it. Romain had just guineaed the Dirksen Gap a couple days before, and I was like, “So, Romain, you want to hit this thing or what?” He looked at me and was like, “It’s your turn, buddy.”
What goes through your head as you drop in?
You can’t really think it out too much, you’ve got to feel it. I applied all my knowledge to it-my experience from the past kickers. I found the spot where I thought I needed to drop from to make it over. I was more worried about not clearing it than clearing it by too much. I ended up definitely clearing it-like almost overshooting it. It’s because we built the jump so perfect.
I did a backside 360 to feel it out, I went almost 200 feet and just laid it down. I signaled up to Romain that I went way too big, and then he hit it and also went way too big. We looked at each other and were like, “All right, at least that’s over with.” It was session on.
Stepping to this gap was about ability, but also a lot about confidence. Have you ever been totally confident about something and had it not work out?
If I’m confident enough in something, it’s usually going to work out. Sometimes there’re things you can’t foresee, but for the most part confidence is all you need-it really is all in your head. It’s all about timing and second nature. You just “do” and you know it’ll work out.
Did you leave Chad’s Gap up or did you “take it down” after filming on it?
Romain and I destroyed it. There were some other snowboarders who wanted to hit it the next day, and we were like, “F-k this, we put all of our time and effort into it, what’s a little bit more time to go tear it down?” If people really want to hit it that badly, they can spend their own time building it up. It’s dangerous to leave that shit up. Some kid’s going to come and try to hit it and just work himself. For the kids! Keep the kids safe!
Some people don’t get Travis, ’cause he can’t remember meeting them or because he’ll be talking to you one minute and walking away the next, and he can’t put down his damn cell phone. But he’s humble, and he’s not a jerk. He just has about ten times more energy and half the attention span of your average person.
He doesn’t go into each winter with a set of goals or a trick hit list: “Goals are too much pressure and stress.” Besides, he says, “I don’t try stuff unless I think I can do it,” and his trick hit list does exist, but it’s in the back of his head, sort of a subconscious thing. When he does sit down and intentionally focus his energy, though, big things happen on and off his snowboard. This winter he picked up an 8mm film camera and, after barraging Hostynek with questions, mastered it, capturing time-lapse footage of boats coming into the harbor in Venice, tides cycles in Scandinavia, and weather moving through the mountains. (Check it out in Pop.)
As for who inspires him in snowboarding, he says, “Iguchi is my biggest influence in snowboarding because he straight-up kills it, and he loves to ride no matter what the conditions are-even though he’s been riding hard for like fifteen or twenty years.”
Everyone wants a piece of the Trice. Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the fact that a lot of people depend on you for their own success?
I can’t make it without the help of the filmers and the photographers, and they’re not cashing in without my help. It’s more like a support group. We’ve got a real symbiotic relationship. It works for everybody.
How hard is it to get a good film part together?
I’ve spent so much of my time this winter, so much effort-only the people who do it know how much energy it actually takes to put a film part together. It’s dealing with snowmobiles, hiking around the backcountry, waiting for perfect snow conditions, hoping the camera guy’s getting the shot. It’s not like you just go out there, and it all comes together, and you just land your trick and go home in time for a cup of cocoa and some hot wings.
The gratification comes when I’m with Justin Hostynek and all my buddies from Jackson, and we’re editing six months of hard work into a video. It’s like, here’s what I’ve been doing with my time.
It’s a testament to the energy you put into anything, whether it’s working at some company, or winning a case, or writing something. It’s something that you’ve done and that you have, and it’s yours and you can be proud of it and look back on it and say, “I remember that year, I remember every single one of those shots.” I can look back on a five-second shot in a movie and remember which friends were there, all the stupid shit we did hanging out aside from snowboarding, the people we met, and all the crazy things I learned.
Are you going to shoot with Absinthe Productions again this year, or do you have some other plans?
We’re going to do things a little differently. I filmed with Absinthe for the last four years, and they’ve been some of the raddest years of my life, especially this past year-it was definitely so huge for me. But I’m going take a year off to break it up a little bit. A couple of my buddies and I are going to put together a movie.
I want to go out and film with whoever we want-just keep it open and not have a set crew. We’ve been calling it The Community Project because we’re going to work around everybody else’s schedule, and people can work with us as much as they want to. We just want to ride and try to get away from the politics of movie sponsorships. Just do what we do because we like to do it.
Does anyone ever try to tell you what to do?
They try to, yeah. My sponsors really help me to be what I want to be and they give me the freedom to travel everywhere. As much as I have a lot of commitments, I also have so much freedom-that’s why I ride so much, so I can set my own schedule. But really, it’s not that big of a deal. Say I have to go to New Zealand with four of my best friends, it doesn’t feel like I have to do it. It’s more like, “Hell yeah, let’s do this.” Riding’s fun. That’s the basis of most of my decisions-f-king shredding.
Are you ever not f-king shredding?
I’m not snowboarding right now. I’m not snowboarding at this exact moment right now.
What Travis Has Accomplished In Four Years …
1st Place Artic Challenge Quarterpipe
1st Place Boost Mobile Pro and Best Trick
2nd Place U.S. Open Slopestyle
2nd U.S. Open Rail Jam
1st Place The Session at Vail, Rail Jam
1st Place Montana Christchurch Big Air, New Zealand
1st Place Artic Challenge Quarterpipe
1st Place Nissan Tokyo Dome Big Air
1st Place U.S. Open Jib Jam
3rd Place U.S. Open Slopestyle
4th Place Winter X Games Slopestyle
Gold Medal X Games Slopestyle
1st Place Breckenridge Grand Prix Big Air
1st Place U.S. Open Quarterpipe
2nd Place U.S. Open Slopestyle
3rd Place Vans Triple Crown Halfpipe, Snow Summit
Nominee for TransWorld Rider of the Year
Superpark Standout, Breckenridge Cutter’s Cup
TransWorld Rookie of the Year
2nd Place Vans Triple Crown Big Air, Breckenridge
3rd Place Vans Triple Crown Slopestyle, Breckenridge
Grenade Night Of The Living Shred (2002), Full Metal Edges (2003), Revenge Of The Grenerds (2004)
Absinthe Transcendence (2001), Vivid (2002), Saturation (2003), Pop (2004)
Standard Blacklight (2001)