Pro Snowboarders on Chasing an Endless Winter

What it's like to spend a decade without summer.
June 7, 2018, 2:04am
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This article is supported by Burton, who are pretty excited that the Australian snow season is officially here. In this article, we speak with two of their team riders about chasing winter around the world.

In theory, monotonously experiencing the same season for 365 days of the year sounds depressing. Isn’t waiting for three months of glorious summer with your friends the entire point of being alive? Nah. Turns out being sad or bored is pretty much impossible when you’re spending all day carving it up in the snow, then getting beers afterwards.

Snowboarder Jye Kearney can tell you all about it. One of Australia’s most respected riders, the 25-year-old has never been overseas without his snowboard bag. In fact, Kearney’s experienced back-to-back winters since he was 13. While sometimes he’s able to sneak in a couple months of warm weather between seasons, we’re talking about a fairly hardcore goggle tan.

Jye is from a surf town originally, Burleigh Heads on the Gold Coast. “But my parents moved me to Jindabyne when I was ten, and the rest is pretty much history,” he explains. “Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to spend my days doing what I love: travelling the world and snowboarding.”

His biggest influence is Norwegian snowboarding pioneer Terje Håkonsen, who revolutionised the sport in the 1990s. “He seems like he lives the best life now. He doesn't need to compete or train anymore, he just gets to travel around finding the best snow.”

Being an Australian snowboarder requires a lot of commitment: our snow season is relatively short compared to the rest of the world and the snowfall can be pretty unpredictable. “It is a much harder industry to crack into from this side of the globe and only a handful of Aussies have done it. You’ve just gotta back yourself and be prepared to live out of a suitcase,” Kearney explains. “I definitely get asked ‘is there even snow in Australia?’ all the time.”

21-year-old Carlos Garcia Knight, a Kiwi, has also orchestrated living an endless winter by bouncing between hemispheres. He’s been doing it since he was 14, first travelling to Europe to spend six months in his father’s native Spain after the Christchurch earthquake. Originally a skater, he fell in love with snowboarding around the same time, and this year represented New Zealand in Pyongyang. “Now I’m going to the northern hemisphere for six month periods,” he explains. “It’s super fun. I find it hard to come home and stay still.”

Chasing winter is a lot of work. You’re not just traveling between different picturesque alpine villages as you please, and schedules are inevitably just as unpredictable as the weather. Kearney and Garcia Knight don’t know how their northern hemisphere snow season will look all that far ahead of time. During the Australian summer they could just as easily be in Japan as they could Canada.

“You end up sleeping on floors and couches a lot of the time, and hundreds of hours crunched up in airplane seats,” admits Kearney. “One day you can be staying in amazing five star hotels and the next you can be sleeping on a couch using your jumper as a pillow.”

Then there’s the physical toll that the rigorous training and constant cold takes on your body in the first place. Jet lag combined minus zero temperatures plus rigorous training schedule does not always equal fun. “One time we went from Europe to China and we arrived at our hotel at 4:45 in the morning. Had an hour’s sleep, had to get up for training the next morning,” recalls Garcia Knight.

But it’s worth it to make tracks in that perfect powder. “Nothing better than picking a line in some deep snow and just letting at it,” he says.

“Riding powder is my favourite thing to do,” adds Kearney. “It feels like how I would imagine it feels to be a pro surfer: big snaps and turns, and it’s so light you feel like you’re floating down the mountain.”

And all that travel is necessary if you’re serious about your snow. “You can’t even compare the snow in the southern hemisphere to the northern–– we aren’t as blessed down here in terms of how much snow we get,” says Kearney. Although Australia does have the advantage of summery weather, even in deep winter. “We do have seasons mostly full of sunny bluebird days, whereas in Canada the snow is amazing but you might not see the sun for a month.”

While life on the road can occasionally be lonely, as you can imagine crews become tight pretty quickly.“There’s always a good party scene, that’s pretty engrained in snowboarding,” says Garcia Knight. “Wherever we go it’s a mountain town and everybody’s on holiday usually, so down to have fun.”

At Thredbo, Kearney runs his own urban rail comp. “Thredbo reminds me of a European resort, in that you can ride all day then head to the village for a super fun apres atmosphere and live music. The night life is awesome,” he says.

The only minor downside to living an endless winter, as far as Kearney can see it, is “realising how pale you can get without seeing the sun in months.” Other than that, the trade off is worth it. A perfect day? “That would be at Thredbo, after a massive dumping of snow. No wind, sun shining, no lift lines and making fresh tracks with my friends.”

Garcia Knight looks forward to the same thing. “I’ve always loved the last week of the season in New Zealand,” he says. “It’s warmed up and you can ride in a t-shirt. Most people seem to write that part of the season off so we basically have the mountain to ourselves, with all our crew up there. It’s sweet being able to come down the hill and still have a bunch of light left, and be warm enough to go kick it at the lake.”

It really does make a hot, uncomfortably sandy day at the beach sound kind of lame. Although even the most winter-addicted snowboarders occasionally miss the feeling of baking in the heat instead of thawing out in the sauna.

“I’d really, really love to have a summer,” Garcia Knight says wistfully. “But it’s not going to happen yet. There’s so much more I want to do, so I’ve got to keep chasing. Honestly, even though it would be nice, I don’t know that I’d be able to miss a whole winter season.”

This article is supported by Burton. You can find out more about them here.

This article originally appeared on VICE AU.