On the slopes with snowboard icon and eco-activist Jamie Anderson

On the slopes with snowboard icon and eco-activist Jamie Anderson

More than this... — At 15, Jamie Anderson became the youngest snowboarder to achieve a podium finish at the Winter X Games. Now the contest killer is ready to live a little – and make a difference.

Jamie Anderson walks into a quaint coffee shop in downtown Breckenridge with a big smile on her face.

She’s oblivious to all the eyes following her every move. Despite hailing from South Lake Tahoe, she’s a bit of a local celebrity after winning the Dew Tour overall last season (and the season before that too).

Every shred and their dog seems enthusiastic to see her back for this December contest stop – the first of this season’s Tour.

She’s wearing a gold-threaded, black slouchy beanie – which she later tells me she crocheted herself – and is so well put together that it’s hard to imagine her, just an hour ago, hitting rails and spinning off 70-foot jumps among 300 other park rats.

In between hits, she paused to chat with the park’s crew and gave them props for building such a “sick course”.

But as soon as they were out of earshot, she admitted that today wasn’t true snowboarding for her, and that she wanted to go hide out in the woods and chill.

“Competitions get so draining,” she says now, with a far-off look in her eyes. “I have been doing it so long… and I have a great time competing, riding with my friends, learning new tricks and riding park. But there is definitely a whole new inspiration burning inside  me where I just want to go hit more powder and gnarly lines and go to new terrain where there are cliffs and backcountry jumps.”

For a snowboarder who’s lived and breathed the competition lifestyle since being a gorby-gapped grom – she won bronze in Slopestyle at 15 and knocked Shaun White out of the history books as the youngest person (male or female) to reach the podium in the Winter X Games – this may be hard to fathom.

But she’s used to adapting, having been raised in a pack of eight siblings (six girls, two boys) by hippie parents who couldn’t afford to take their kids to the mountains.
When she laughs and calls her young self a little ‘world-travelled, home-schooled rockstar’, you get a good sense of the person who has won countless contests from the X Games to the TTR (Ticket to Ride) series.

“It was never my dream to be a pro snowboarder,” she says, crediting her two older sisters for getting her into snowboarding, after a family friend hooked them up with equipment and later got them all on the team at Sierra-at-Tahoe.

“I just fell in love and started doing small events like USSA, following my sisters around, wanting to be like them, and then slowly we all started doing bigger events.”

Jamie admits to experiencing frustration with the industry’s attitude towards women, but she doesn’t think over-emphasising ‘girl power’ is a solution, either. After all, she grew up riding with a lot of guys and credits them for having pushed her.

“It’s great there are a lot of girls that stick together and ride,” she says, “but I find a lot of the time girls tend to over analyse, saying things like, ‘I might overshoot it. I might not go big enough. I don’t know if I can do this. What if I fall?’

“When you ride with guys they don’t even think for a minute; they are way more driven to be better and one-up the next one. For girls to tag along with that mentality can be really positive.”

So, what drives Jamie to be the best? “I absolutely love snowboarding,” she says, passionately. “It’s not always about being the best; it’s about being my personal best and having fun and trying to always stay in a positive place.”

She pauses, grins and then adds, “If it’s not fun, I’m not doing it. If I ever do find myself complaining, I make a little gratitude list and call my mom – who runs her own lawn care business in South Lake Tahoe. She’s a huge inspiration and her high spirit puts me in a good place.

“Sometimes I do get a little stressed and overwhelmed, so I tell myself to stay in a joyful place. Whatever happens in life, if I’m broke or don’t have a job or whatever, I always want to be happy and to know that the universe and life is always changing, and when one door closes another opens.”

Jamie’s commitment to keeping a positive attitude has seen her turn to a roster of books with titles like, The Power of NowThe Mastery of Love and The Four Agreements.

On top of this, she says yoga and music helps keeps her balanced. “The last couple of years I’ve been riding with my iPod Shuffle,” she says, “and it’s a game-changer when you’re questioning why you are out in the mountains when the weather is bad. One good song can change the mood, and that’s when I remember how grateful I am that I’m outside.”

Although she played the piano a little bit growing up, Jamie admits she is no musician, but adds that she loves all music. “A little rap, some oldies, reggae, stuff like the song Pumped up Kicks [by LA indie pop band Foster the People], anything that is jamming. And I love bluegrass music, good instrumentals,” she says. “My dad jams country, so I’ll listen to his choice of country songs.”

Jamie’s dad, who’s obsessed with snowmobiling, flyfishing and hiking, lives in a little sled-accessible cabin right below Sierra at Tahoe. She casually drops that he plays the harmonica, adding that she’s recently taken to it, as well.

“I’m not really good,” she says, slowly starting to whistle Neil Young’s ‘Heart of Gold,’ before adding: “I try to jam that song a lot.” She admits that guitar wasn’t for her, but says she plucks away at the ukelele now because it’s smaller and only has four strings. “I guess it fits better in your board bag?” I ask, half teasing. “No, I just carry it; its too fragile,” she replies.

As we sit drinking coffee, Jamie moves her homemade black beanie around the table.

“Ever since I was really little I liked making stuff and designing,” she says, “so I think that’s the direction I will pursue after snowboarding. I want to help keep this world beautiful, so I will strive to continue using recycled polyesters and organic cottons like we do with my Billabong streetwear collection, and also start using hemps, bamboos and more earth-friendly products, too.

“In America we’re all about saving, but we’re not always about sustaining and using the best quality products that won’t pollute the environment as much. If people spend a little more buying a nicer product, then it’s going to last.”

Jamie delves further into her latest passion project, a little clothing company called TRYE (To Respect Your Earth), and explains how she’s going to start with undies made out of organic cotton and bamboo.

She hopes to grow it into an environmentally conscious company that she can introduce to the school system.

“I want to teach the younger generation about living a non-toxic life and the little things they can do like clean up the trash in their neighbourhood, buy the products that do break down [decompose], put good things in their bodies, and help reduce waste,” she says.

And it’s not just the planet that Jamie’s keen to help. When Sierra-at-Tahoe offered her a few season passes to give away to friends and family, she approached her old middle school about developing a sponsorship program, offering season passes, Billabong outerwear, and Gnu Boards for two sixth-to-eighth graders who are athletic and outgoing, have good grades, and want to snowboard, but can’t really make it happen financially.

“Snowboarding is such an expensive sport,” says Jamie. “I feel so lucky that I was given hand-me-downs from family friends, my sisters and everyone else, and that I eventually got to become this professional snowboarder. I also want to give back to the mountains that have supported me for a decade strong.”

After interviewing four kids that met the criteria, Jamie was disappointed to only be able to hook up two kids for the full sponsorship. “They all deserve this,” she says. “So on Christmas Eve [2011], I’ve asked Sierra-at-Tahoe to give them passes and rentals, and I’m taking all of them snowboarding.

“I’m always into doing things to give back in my own way, but I don’t want to donate to an organisation if I don’t really know where the proceeds are going. I want more of a connection than just giving; I want to be the organisation.

“Eventually, I’d like to develop this into a [fully fledged] Jamie Anderson Scholarship. If you get good grades and want to make your life better, then you should get a chance – money should never be an obstacle for anyone.”

As the conversation shifts from wanting to donate crocheted organic beanies to children’s cancer wards to what got her on this giving-back path in the first place, Jamie opens up to how she wants to make moves outside the park.

“Growing up in Tahoe, I always rode powder, and obviously it’s my number one,” she says, “but I’ve been so caught up in the contest scene these past five years that I’ve hardly had time. So, this year I have decided to lay off these contests and spend a lot of time riding the mountains.

“I had a splitboard made, and I want to get my snowmobile dialled so I can just go explore and be out in the mountains. I want to film a good video segment riding more natural terrain.”

Jamie will still do the big events, especially since it’s been a dream of hers to compete at the Olympics. She acknowledges that life is going to get busier with more contests over the next two seasons, and that she’ll have to stay at a high-competition level if she wants to make it to the Games.

She may want to ride mountains with a whole new perspective, but she doesn’t want to disappear and then have to play catch-up to try and come back.

“I want to be consistent with everyone competing,” she says, “but take my riding to more natural terrain. I think it will only better my riding in the parks. When I look at the contest schedule, I kind of want to do this-and-that event, but then I tell myself, ‘No, remember: ride the mountains, ride the powder, and have fun.’”

This story originally appeared in Huck 31 – The No Heroes Issue.

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