Text by Tetsuhiko Endo; Photographs by Matt Gillis
Travis Rice is snowboarding’s Renaissance man: He’s a filmmaker, contest organizer, X Games gold medallist, backcountry hellman, and one of the most influential riders of his generation. He is also very good at being the center of attention. When ADVENTURE tracked him down in New York City a few weeks ago, he was standing on top of 90-foot, snow-covered scaffolding, which was acting as the take-off ramp for Red Bull’s Snowscraper contest–a $50,000 big-air competition put on in East River Park.
Despite the T.V. cameras, the people, and the van-size speakers pumping Pantera to the entire Lower East Side, the mood was sullen high on that windy scaffolding with temperatures quickly slipping into the single digits. There were problems with the ramp. The riders were having trouble getting the speed necessary for the amount of air they wanted. And there were more than a few grumbles.
Rice didn’t seem to notice. He laughed and joked, constantly bouncing back and forth on his board with a nervous, excited energy awaiting his turn to drop in. When asked, some complained about the speed or the feel of the landing, Rice responded simply: “It’s rugged, man!”
The rider before him, a young Norwegian kid failed to maintain his speed and narrowly avoided falling into the gap between the ramp and the landing. Back up on the scaffolding everyone groaned. Rice, poised on the icy lip of the 90-foot runway turned back with a trademark smirk: “Who waxed that guy’s board?” Then, in one quick motion, he spun and popped himself into the air, dropping onto the runway then flying off the end three seconds later, grabbing his board and tweaking it smoothly before nailing the landing.
Rice is known for going big when others can’t or won’t. In order to do this on a broader scale, he has used the help of his big name sponsors to push snowboarding in new and exciting directions. Last February he organized the Natural Selection contest in Jackson Hole, which judged riders on how they descended natural back country lines instead of man made kickers and half pipes. Heading back up the ramp in an elevator after he had signed some autographs and posed for pictures with fans, I asked him about his relationship with this sponsors and his idea of “selling out.”
“I unify myself with brands I believe in,” he responds matter-of-factly. “Take Redbull–they stand behind us, and I can use my influence riding for this type of brand to further my passion.” Perhaps wary about sounding defensive given the surroundings and nature of the event, he clarified himself. “You have got to use your powers for good. Sure, you may make a ton of money off this or you may not, but if you ride for them (sponsors), you have the power to sway that particular company group or organization into bettering the bigger picture. I think the only people that you can call “sell outs” are the ones who don’t use what skills they have to give something back to what they love and what brought them to their current place in life.”
Back on top, Rice was silent for just a moment envisioning his next jump, miming his body through it to make sure it would come off just right. Then it was back into showman mode. “Crystal! Come look off the edge,” he goaded one of the Redbull reps who stood on one corner, shivering from the cold and her absoute terror of heights. “You’ll love it!” With that, he was off again, jumping a queue of solemn riders who looked on with the enthusiasm of animals in a circus. This time, he stomped a smooth 360 that had the crowd screaming.
Vision is another one of Rice’s fortes. Last September he had the snowboarding world buzzing with the release of his latest movie That’s It, That’s All, which was filmed on 32 millimeter super 16 cameras, the same used for the popular Planet Earth series. The film has been described as part nature documentary, part Travis rice show(both meant as compliments). On his next trip up the ramp, I gave him a hard time about getting old and asked him if he planned to keep up the contest organizing and movie making.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
“I’m getting old, but I ain’t winding down,” he replied without missing a beat, then just as quickly switched back into business mode. “I really want to improve on the base that we have been building over the last few years, such as my contest, Natural Selection. My goal is to take it international and to do a four stop tour around the world. And then we are going to do another two year movie project starting this summer. We are going to take it a lot farther than we did last time.” Rice has the habit of looking directly into people’s eyes when he talks to them and when he talks about “taking things further” it doesn’t sound like a hollow boast
The practice session was winding down and the other competitors were loosening up. Some were throwing 540’s and 720’s off the ramp. I asked rice as he prepared for a final run if he had any words of encouragement for people living in big cities who can’t get out and enjoy nature any time they want. He hit me back with a stock answer: “Get out and do things whenever you can. I mean, I love coming to the city–I love the urban feel of a place like this and there are things you can do wherever you are, you don’t necessarily even have to go out to the mountains to find what you are looking for.” Then he paused to re-think his answer.
“I’m a huge fan of just taking advantage of resources. If you’re on the coast, you’ve got waves, if you’re in the mountains, you’ve got snow or you can go hiking. If you’re in the city, you’ve got concrete so you can go biking or skating or running,”
To our left, someone made a comment about the VIP Boat waiting for them in the River so they could warm up a bit before the competition began. The smirk returned to Rice’s face. “I don’t know, man, activity makes me happy so I do whatever I can.” With that, he turned to the ramp and shouted “VIP Boat!” dropped in and nailed a back flip. The crowd went wild.