Austin Smith’s Alaska Full Part & Interview

Interview: Taylor Boyd | Photos: Andrew Miller

Let's talk about Alaska, where this part was filmed.

Alaska's the greatest place to snowboard on earth, and it is also the most misrepresented snowboarding landscape on earth.

What do you mean?

What you see from Alaska isn't all of what's up there. What you see from Japan looks so fun. It's super deep powder and all these little poppy tree runs, so now everyone's going to Japan 'cause it looks so fun. And it is. But what you see from Alaska is the 1%—the gnarliest part. Like Manuel Diaz snowboarding in Alaska is one of the coolest things there is, but there's so much more to it than the crazy steep spines you see in the movies. It's 5,000 vertical foot flowing fun runs with mini kickers the whole way down. I haven't snowboarded that much up there, but as I get a little older Alaska is the growing focus and desire of where I want to spend my time snowboarding.

So how did the trip come together? 

It was just kind of mid-winter, and my truck broke down in Nelson, BC. I found a cheap flight to Alaska and decided to jump on it. Honestly at that point I was wondering if being a pro snowboarder was going to continue for me.

Austin, armed in AK.

What did you imagine your life looking like outside of professional snowboarding?

It wasn't all gloomy; I still had good things going on with Nitro and Smith but not finding an outerwear sponsor after the Swoosh pulled out made me wonder if I was doing something wrong. I only wanted to ride for The North Face, but they said no at first. So I rode their gear anyway and drew "TNF?" on my snowboard until it all worked out. If it didn't happen I probably would've just lived in my fire truck, snowboarded everyday, and Airbnb'd my house. I just knew while I was still pro I wanted to go back to Alaska.

Pretty much the same thing you did this winter anyway. 

Pretty much. I’m gonna snowboard as much as possible no matter what.

So you decided to head to Alaska…

Yeah, so me, Curtis [Ciszek] and Bryan [Ciszek] headed up and hit Seth Huot up and asked him if he wanted to go to Alaska and be there in 36 hours to film, and he said he was down. We were the first crew up there, and they had just opened up the heli operations. No one had skied or snowboarded on any of the peaks yet, so we were kind of opening up all the zones with the guides, which was exciting. We weren't filming for any specific movie or anything, but it turned out to be pretty good. We got some decent footage. It's not incredible; there are definitely people who do much better things up there, but we're all pretty green when it comes to Alaska. We just had a lot of fun up there. And then Curtis and Bryan had to leave.

The other kind of faceshot. Well, ya know, the other, other kind.

And you stayed.

Yep. And I linked up with Lucas Debari, which was a dream come true for me. I grew up riding with Lucas Debari, and he's someone who I've looked up to a lot to for his snowboarding in Alaska. So that was really cool to be with Lucas in Alaska, essentially on his last trip as a professional snowboarder before he retired.

He quit taking a paycheck from The North Face—and the rest of his sponsors—right before you joined the team. There's a bit of irony there. 

Yeah, I was most excited to join the team with Lucas, but then he pulled a quick one on me.

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He also freed up some budget. 

It's true. So thank you, Lucas. But we were supposed to do this together!

Are there other people you're excited to work more with after signing with TNF?

I'm really excited to go on trips with Blake Paul and work on projects with him. He's very talented and also has great hair. And having Jake Blauvelt join the team—he's one of the more talented snowboarders there is. I'm excited for us to push each other. And Xavier De Le Rue—I wanna do one batshit crazy trip with him or Conrad Anker. [Jim] Zellers, though, is my favorite affiliate of The North Face.

It's just crazy. I went to the athlete summit, and there were like 100 athletes there, all from different realms, rock climbers, mountaineers, runners, skiers. They have a diverse group of people involved, and I hope to get into some uncomfortable situations. I like to be outside my comfort zone, and with a brand like The North Face, I think I'll have plenty of opportunities to be outside my comfort zone, like shitting off the side of a port-a-ledge, thinking, "What the hell am I doing up here?" but having a great time doing it.

Alaska, not looking very mellow.

You're in BC now for a little expedition. Who's out there?

Jake Blauvelt, Blake Paul, and myself—new guns on The North Face program. Going campin'. Goin' from the fire truck to a tent. I don't know if it's a downgrade; I'd say it's a straight across trade. The tent is more expensive than my fire truck was.

How much was the fire truck?

$5000

You'll probably get to go on lots of these trips. So let's say it’s you, Jake Blauvelt, Blake Paul, Cole Navin, the De Le Rues. Who else rides for The North Face?

Me, Jake, and Cole are new guys. And then Blake, Victor and Xavier De Le Rue, and Mark Carter, DCP, Nils and Hans Mindnich, and Ralph Backstrom.

And you all get stranded out there. Who gets eaten first?

Both Blake and Jake are even Steven on this one. Jake's kind of a lodge life guy. He's a man of many comforts, and then Blake, you know, they call him Prince of the Backcountry. I think Mark Carter would probably eat both of them.

Alaska, looking almost mellow.

So Carter's last man standing in this scenario?

Yeah, I'm going with Carter.

Do you have to snowboard with an ice axe now that you ride for The North Face?

We haven't had that conversation, but I don't think so. I did bring a couple different axes on this trip and a saw, but not said ice axe. I don't really want to snowboard with an ice axe because I don't like to snowboard on the ice. I like all conditions except ice.

All conditions? You don't think you're a pow jock?

No. Well, I was. And that's why I moved into the fire truck. I was turning into a powder snob, where I'd only snowboard when it was really good out, and I wanted to break those habits, so I moved into the fire truck to force and enable myself to snowboard every day no matter the conditions. So, I'm an ex-powder snob. I'm now a 15-year-old kid again, and it's the best. Two days ago, it was pouring rain, and I was snowboarding all day and I loved it.

This is how you become a powder snob.

Must be that fancy new outerwear. I'd say you're in a cushy position as far as modern professional snowboarding goes. Do you consider yourself fortunate?

I consider myself very fortunate. Not just 'cause I ride powder, but what my knee surgeries have taught me—and I've had a lot of them—is to appreciate this snowboarding gig. I love it. I just snowboard every day now. I've been snowboarding less and less for the past ten years, and I have factual evidence of that because Mount Bachelor tracks your days, and I can see a declining trend of me going snowboarding 'cause I'm caught up with the other aspects of being a snowboarder—the business side of it and the obligations, which are cool too in their own way, but there has been a lack of snowboarding in my life, and this year my focus was just to snowboard every day. I think that's what a pro snowboarder should be doing.

True. But it also seems that in order to maintain a successful pro career these days it helps to be doing something more than just snowboarding. I'd say you've achieved longevity at a relatively young age. So what do you think is required to make a living as a snowboarder today?

It's definitely more than just filming a video part or winning a contest. For me, I'm snowboarding whether or not it's my job. So, I'm gonna try to live the same lifestyle that I do right now. I'm still gonna go to the Dirksen Derby; I'm still gonna go to LBS. I'm still gonna put on the Rat Race. I'm still gonna go to Alaska even. Like last year, I didn't have support from sponsors to go to Alaska, but I went there, and I paid for it myself.

I try to give back to snowboarding by doing events and such. We do the Rat Race and now Double Tap; we make movies. Maybe that makes me more involved with snowboarding as a whole than just on a personal level.

The ability to look this casual at this moment is pretty damn professional.

Right. For you maybe it's Drink Water as a cause and as a catalyst for movies and events. What Leanne Pelosi's done with Full Moon also comes to mind. I just think that now more than ever, it helps for riders to be multifaceted.

Yeah, what Leanne did with Full Moon is a contribution to snowboarding. It was so much more beneficial as a whole than just a personal video part. I think every pro snowboarder should consider what are they doing for snowboarding, not just themselves, not just, "How can I get more sponsors? How can I do this? How can I do that?" Being a pro athlete, you are self-centered by default. It's an ego-driven career, and we're all kind of egomaniacs, but it's important to look at snowboarding as a whole and try to make it a better place, because we're on a roller coaster right now. We need to make sure snowboarding is headed in a good direction.

Austin’s Kit:

NFZ Jacket

Free Thinker Bib

Premonition Jacket

Free Thinker Gloves

Austin’s friend Bernie

Check out Austin’s fire truck here.

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