VICE Sports Q&A: Snowboarding Legend Travis Rice Talks About His New Movie 'The Fourth Phase'

Travis Rice, who's been called the Paul Revere of big mountain freestyle, discusses how he's actually more like Thomas Edison, among other things.
September 27, 2016, 3:03pm
Scott Serfas/Red Bull Content Pool

We sat down with Travis Rice, the highly decorated and influential big-mountain snowboarder, to talk about his career and his new feature film, The Fourth Phase. Boasting a lineup of the sport's best riders, led by Rice himself, the movie will premiere globally on October 2nd on Red Bull TV, in a special, first-of-its-kind event at 9 PM (time-shifted to local time worldwide).

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

VICE Sports: Travis, you started out as a skier, not really understanding the reason snowboarding began taking over your local hill. What finally got you onto a snowboard?

Travis Rice: It's pretty fucking simple, actually: I was just bored doing turns. It was boring skiing down the mountain, so I borrowed a friend's gear and tried snowboarding. Once I got into [it] a little bit, the pure joy of just drawing a line, edge to edge—the sacred turn of the snowboard—is what got me hooked. It's basic, simple, and even after 20-something years, I still find such pleasure and joy in trying to perfect the turn because it's something that you never get perfect—you can always try to get a little more out of it.

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Fast-forward a little. What specific moment do you see as being your official arrival onto the professional snowboarding scene?

Hitting the 118-foot jump at Superpark in 2001 was a big moment for me. Being a more-or-less nobody and winning the MVP of Superpark that year allowed me to take a year off of school and things just started falling into place. It was a pivotal moment that changed everything—a paradigm shift that led me down this path.

Clearly a key event in your life. Does another moment come to mind, one that changed your life in a distinct manner?

I was in an avalanche up in Alaska 12 years ago. It was a traumatic incident where I got swept down a mountain and buried up to my armpits, but I was fine. Two years later, I found myself talking to this woman, call her a clairvoyant—psychic isn't the right word, but psychic principles. It was a pretty incredible moment in my life because she was able to tell me the details of what happened that day. That really opened my mind up to the fact that there's so much more than meets the eye in this incredible three-dimensional reality that we get to play in. It wasn't, "Oh, life is short, life is sweet, enjoy it while you have it." It wasn't that at all. It gave me reason, purpose, and an overwhelming excitement that there's so much more going on than the daily struggle.

You've been referred to as the Paul Revere of the big-mountain freestyle movement, which makes no sense—unless you ride around on a horse, alerting every snow-covered hill on the planet to your impending snowboarding badassery, of course. But if you're not the Paul Revere, then you're the "who" of the big mountain freestyle movement?

Thomas Edison. I only say that because he's famous for having so many patents and inventing so many different types of technologies, and he received a lot of attention for it. But some of his best inventions were actually on the backs of other people's work. Because of the films, I get a lot of the attention, the accolades, and sure, I put my time and effort in and work my fucking ass off, but I'd just as soon share it with a lot of the other guys who I draw inspiration from and are doing just as equally fucking epic things on a snowboard.

Speaking of inspiration, who are your personal heroes?

These days, it's the young guys. I think that I often find myself looking to the youth for motivation and inspiration. They have this excited, open-minded, wide-eyed outlook on life. Oh, and Richard Branson. He's got a good take.

What lessons were learned filming The Art of Flight (2011) that helped take The Fourth Phase to another level?

We were pretty confident that The Art of Flight was going to do well, but what really blew us away was how widespread it went. I mean, it was a trip to bump into people all over the world who'd seen that film. That film was our second attempt at doing what we wanted to do in That's it, That's All, and we did it and felt like we did it pretty well. All of those films prior were the stepping-stones to get us into the position where we were ready or had the chance to do a film like The Fourth Phase.

But what we really learned was how to manage our expectations with a large production crew. With smaller, core-style filmmaking, you're out there with one or two filmers and shit's efficient, shit happens, happens quick. When you have a ten-person crew out in the backcountry, no matter how badass your guys are—and we have the best production crew in snow sports by a long shot—it just takes time. That was a big one for us: you can have a big budget, access to a bunch of amazing cameras, but it doesn't matter if you can't efficiently bring the stuff out to location and use it in a timely manner.

Would you say that was also the most challenging aspect you faced in filming The Fourth Phase?

The most challenging aspect was that we attempted to make a three-act structure film. We attempted to make a film with more of a storyline and quite frankly, a more honest project. I mean, one of the biggest differences between The Art of Flight and The Fourth Phase is that this one is personal. You know, it's a step beyond the classic scenes featuring high-fives and "Fuck yeah, this is epic" dialogue. This one is a little more real.

The Fourth Phase features a who's who of big mountain freestyle snowboarding. Who's your favorite to watch?

It's pretty damn exciting watching Bode Merrill or what Victor De Le Rue is trying to do these days. Ben Ferguson, too. I think Ben and Victor are really exciting guys to watch snowboard. I look up to the next generation, who are going to take what we did and take it so much further than we were ever able to.

Travis Rice during filming of The Fourth Phase. Photo by Scott Serfas/Red Bull Content Pool

After three years of filming, are you going to take some time off this year?

Yeah, I am and I'm really looking forward to some fun get-togethers with friends who've supported me through this film for so long and help them with their projects. I'll be able to spend a little more time with my sponsors, who've been so generous in allowing me to, you know, fuck off for years on end. I think most of my focus will be on a contest I did in B.C. with Red Bull called Supernatural. We actually did some work on the course this summer and in looking at the snowboarding landscape, it's fucking amazing to see what the next generation of snowboarder is doing. It's out of control and I'm pretty pumped that I don't have to compete against those guys because I'd get my ass handed to me.

We haven't seen Supernatural for a while so it's nice to hear that it's not dead in any way, shape, or form.

Nah, it just took a little too much Xanax and it's been hibernating.

When it's all said and done, you're going to go down as one of the best. Who's on your list of greats?

If I had to make a short list, especially from early on, Brodie Dowell, Lance Pitman, Bryan Iguchi, Ingemar Backman, Terje Haakonsen, Jamie Lynn, and Nicolas Muller would be right there with it. I mean, Craig Kelly laid down such a solid foundation. Having grown up in Jackson Hole, he was little outside my bandwidth, but I don't think that I would be doing what I do or doing it the way I do if it weren't for Craig and how he exercised his creative expression through snowboarding.

You've been all over the world. Where's your favorite snowboarding destination?

My favorite place is where the conditions are as good as it gets and you're with a solid crew, that's it. I've had shit trips to the best locations on the planet and I've had incredible trips to some of the worst places. Like surfing, it's so dependent on conditions. I mean, you can be at the best break in the world and it can be just dog shit.

Finally, is there any advice you'd like to share with us?

Never leave a good time for a good time.

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