Words: Blair Habenicht | Photos: Darcy Bacha
Jason Robinson is foraging for morels somewhere in the woods outside Whitefish, Montana. He has just seen a large bear, a grizzly he presumes, but debates himself on the observation. Friends are scattered in the trees, now and then yelling for Robinson who pauses me to assure them he's still on the phone. The interview takes an intermission when someone's dog wanders and will not respond. "They're losing their shit," he tells me. ''Hold on…"
Magazine covers, Rider Of The Year nominations, mind-melting openers and enders with Absinthe Films, acclaimed by the likes of Nicolas Müller and Wolle Nyvelt for his originality and verve, Robinson spent the better part of last winter finalizing the construction of his tiny trailer house and converting a weathered diesel pickup to run on vegetable oil. Not how you might expect one of the world's top snowboarders to be spending their winter. But he had made a plan: Come spring, he was driving his home to Haines, Alaska, to go ride lines. As he told me, "That's where my heart is at."
This was not a project for a snowboard movie that could be stage-built to look good on camera. Robinson has no facade. They call him "The Truth."
Robinson calls for the dog, who emerges from a bush 20 feet away. He yells to inform his friends the crisis is over. We finish the interview.
You drove your tiny home from Montana to Alaska last season. What did it mean to you to take your home with you? Were there any physiological advantages to it? Any disadvantages?
At one point driving up, I was just freaking out. Physiologically that was just this shot of endorphins, just such a natural high. Driving this massive load—two sleds, a 7,000-pound trailer house—all pulled off vegetable oil a restaurant had used to make french fries with and was going to throw in the dumpster. It represented all the uncomfortable and stressful situations I was dealing with. I had dedicated the early part of my season to the project and sacrificed riding to finish the house, just going, going, going, working on it every day, not even snowboarding. That was such a rewarding experience to be able to pull it off and get up to Alaska. I felt reborn; it was almost a spiritual experience.
The disadvantage was the actual physical aspect of transporting it. When you're on a smooth road, no ice, relatively flat, it's mellow. But if you're trying to climb a hill, snow on the road, semis passing you, that's no fun. You're going 25 miles per hour and the truck is still overheating. That's just a pain in the ass.
You were involved in the rescue of Bode Merrill after he was buried in an avalanche in Haines in April. What did you take away from that?
There were some takeaways on a deep level, but the most obvious, easily recognized and applied is how important it is to be on top of all your rescue practice and training: first aid, wilderness first responders, medical knowledge, crevasse and rope rescue knowledge—all the stuff you should know if you're out in those mountains, because those hazards are very present. Sometimes you don't realize it until you see it go down how important those all are.
It came together like clockwork the way they orchestrated the rescue. Hats off to Alaska Heli Skiing. All their guides and pilots, everyone at base including the athletes and media guys that were with Bode when it happened were all 100 percent on it. If not everyone was proficient with a beacon and search and rescue, it could have gone completely different. He could have died, for sure.
I think there comes a point when you've been turning your snowboard for 20, however many years, maybe you are not going to learn the craziest new trick, but as far as the snowboarding, you know how to do it. You know how to turn. You are proficient at using your board as a tool. I think the real progression from there on comes with getting the training and experience that will allow you to be safer in the mountains—learning more about snow science and what to do in the event of an accident. This showed me that I want to go further down that route of progression.
After all the helicopter operations in Haines shut down and your crew made their way back home, you stayed and went snow camping. Did that change your perspective of riding lines in Alaska at all?
Getting to stay late this season and do a snow-camping trip out there on the glacier was an awesome experience. I was kind of bummed I had never done it before, but at the same time it got me super excited to have this new approach to riding big-mountain terrain. It made me realize this is something that I can do long-term regardless of my snowboard career, because it is something you can do super affordably, without any big sponsorship money. You could work for a couple months, save a little bit and go on this epic camping adventure and ride amazing lines.
You have been through some hard times, most notably the passing of your brother, Aaron. Despite the inescapable pain that comes with such a loss, it seems you have been able to keep yourself open to new experiences and keep pushing forward, on your snowboard and off. What could you share that might help others going through hardships of their own to stay on track and accomplish their goals?
All I can really say is, "Stay true to yourself." I know that's cliché and hard to hear. It's hard to say. But it can be so tough to get by after something like that happens. You don't feel like you have any time to focus on what your passions are, what you really love to do. It might seem unrealistic, but you have to find some time for you. Whether it's 20 minutes or a whole day, if it's going on a hike or whatever you're into, I just think we need to treat ourselves right. Keep that fire burning in there on some level. Don't let it completely wither. I know you can't always let it burn like a wildfire. Situations can really keep people down.
Find what you love. If you have found what you love, then do it. I think finding it is the hardest part. Then it's just a question of whether you're going to say "yes" or "no" to that. Say "yes" to experiences; say "yes" to new things. If they are scary or overwhelming, it is probably going to provide a unique experience, having those emotions going into it. You're going to come out the other side. When you go in, face it, overcome it, and come out the other side—that's what I think builds character, strength, and confidence.
What are you hoping to learn in your lifetime?
Oh, man. I guess just more about my soul and its connection with this universe that we are all a part of. I want to find some sort of peace in all of it. All the ups and downs there are out in the world, I just want to find a way to be completely content with that and be completely content with whatever life throws at me, whatever experience I'm going through.
Learn more below about the vessel that allows J-Rob to chase his dreams at 25 miles per hour.