I was nervous when I met Shane Charlebois. Substantially better built and clocking in a good 12 inches taller than myself, Shane isn't someone I'd want to cross. Thirty-plus years of days spent deep in the mountains or among the waves will do that to you. Prior to his 15-year role as one of Absinthe's main filmers and editors, Shane even had a stint as a male model and acted as the face of Coca-Cola for the 2002 Olympics. He's full of surprises. And while his appearance and resume may be intimidating, I soon found his demeanor to be quite contrary.
Shane was born in Burlington, Ontario, before he moved to Buffalo, New York, where he spent his formative years. A skateboarder from a young age, Shane was introduced to snowboarding during the sport's infancy and soon was traveling around the East chasing a professional dream far before he thought such a goal was feasible. But it was—and shortly after moving to Burlington, Vermont, Shane had signed a contract with Burton. The energy of Burlington, and the people that were part of that vortex, at that time, were more impactful than all his years in school. Shane learned how to live his daydreams.
By the time he made the move to Salt Lake City, Shane had propelled himself well into the professional spotlight. But it wasn't long after that he broke his kneecap clean in half. "That moment will forever be a shift in time, where it was like, 'Alright, that's fucked up; now I need to start thinking about other things,'" Shane says. Like many before him and more to follow, other things meant picking up a camera.
For Shane, his tenure behind the lens began with 411VM, but it wasn't long before he teamed up with longtime friend and Kingpin Productions founder, Whitey McConnaughy. "I always say film school for me was drinking a beer with Whitey, him showing me how to load the film, and then saying, 'Tomorrow we’re going to do this,'" Shane recalls. And while Whitey taught Shane to load film, what he credits him with above all else is providing context to transition from in front of to behind the camera. Where it was once a check-me-out philosophy that drove Shane, as a filmer it quickly became, check these guys out. This shift in thinking would prove to be the backbone of his character today.
Shortly into his newfound career, Shane was introduced to the Absinthe crew while on a trip to Hemsedal, Norway with Jeff Anderson, DCP, and Gigi Rüf for Kingpin's Happy Hour. "I remember thinking, 'Man, they have such a rad crew.' Around that time you didn't really see a big crew together; most were autonomous crews based around particular filmers. The Absinthe crew, on the other hand, was this international crew that worked as one—it felt like a family. I wanted to be more like that," Shane remembers. It wasn't long after the release of Back in Black that Kingpin Productions closed its doors and Shane joined Absinthe. The following year they made Pop.
Shane's ensuing relationship with Absinthe would take him around the world with the best riders of the time—trips to Alaska with the likes of Travis Rice, Romain Demarchi, and Nicolas Mueller, to winning the first X Games Real Snow competition with Dan Brisse. Shane's firsthand experiences in snowboarding are hard to match.
Given this, I had initially anticipated our conversation to include frequent mentions of the "glory days." If there's someone whose career would allow for such claims it'd be Shane. But that's not who he is. "Energy moves forward. That's why I am still here. The best pow run is the last one you had. Those things fade pretty quickly, so you need to keep searching out the new," he tells me. His best life advice? "Keep your mind open."
This philosophy seems to apply to everything in Shane's life. When it comes to locations many are quick to call exhausted, Shane sees endless potential. When changes in the media landscape forced many production companies to close, Shane found inspiration in adaptation. He's a glass-half-full kind of guy. Even when his own world was turned upside down five years ago with news that he had testicular cancer he remained positive and continued on to beat it. "Life comes down to appreciation and thankfulness, more than expectations and thinking that you know or control things," he says. "We're just little dots going down mountains, or sliding on a piece of metal. It's so genuinely insignificant and stupid, but that's also what makes it so awesome."
This outlook is the foundation of Shane's character and the reason his intent has never been to instill the initial intimidation I experienced. He's done more in snowboarding than most and throughout his career has played an integral role in shaping the way snowboarding has been seen around the world. But none of it has gone to his head. He lives a life of balance. When there's snow, he goes snowboarding on his days "off." When there's not, he's living by the beach, editing and surfing the days away. That's the way he made the movies I found inspiration in as a young rider, and it's this same routine he took a break from to chat with me today.
Shane understands the foundation of his passion and has shaped his life accordingly—not only to enjoy it but also to share it. "If you've been blessed to fly around like Peter Pan and the Lost Boys, then you know there is no faking it, and there is no age limit. In some ways, when 'Pan' lives long enough, the role evolves into giving to others," he tells me. In appreciating this impact that Shane has made on snowboarding, what's most important to understand is that for him it all comes down to sharing the experience. It has never been about personal success so much as snowboarding's success. "The perfect movie hasn't been made—there have been things that were pretty close, but never being content is what continues to push me," Shane says near the end of our conversation. And as I begin the drive home and Shane returns to the waves, the sentiment echoes in my mind. There is always more to look forward to.