T.Rice is always looking for the next big thing.
Travis Rice has soared into the limelight, thanks to a string of gravity-defying films. But while his latest hi-def hit is still blowing minds across the globe, snowboarding’s most innovative star is already looking skyward for his next big thing.
On a prematurely chilly, wet September night, The Art of Flight (TAOF) premiered to a sold-out crowd in New York City. Travis Rice pulled up to the red carpet by way of a Rolls Royce, Owen Wilson partied, Justin Timberlake tweeted, and suddenly there was much talk about snowboarding – well, big-mountain riding, to be precise. Overnight, Rice – a two-time X-Games gold winner and Jackson Hole-based online art gallery owner – was catapulted to celebrity status. Why? Because through the aforementioned Brain Farm movie, Rice and his handpicked crew of contest killers, Olympic champs and big-mountain riders helped shake audiences from their X-Games fixation, and took them flying, spinning and bouncing down near-vertical peaks as far into the backcountry as their freaked-out pilot would agree to fly.
Less than a week later, and a packed-out crowd is buzzing around Whistler’s Conference Center. World-tour posters adorn the walls, and Rice skirts through the masses over to Asymbol’s on-the-road gallery space, which he shares with surreal pop artist Mike Parillo, who also happens to design his Lib Tech board graphics. A line-up of blown-up images from four photographers – Scott Serfas, Cole Barash, Danny Zapalac and Oli Gagnon – provide a behind-the-lens glance into the past two years of their sideways-moving lifestyle, and I find myself flipping through one of the coffee-table photo-books that accompany the film, wondering out loud what Rice’s deal is with this two-dimensional world.
“I’m trying to preserve a little bit of the cultural heritage of snowboarding – the art behind it – because it goes hand in hand with its creative spirit,” he says, looking rather Western-esque in a string tie. “I just felt there was a real missing link between the creators and the appreciators. And I figured I had a lot to offer, being a fan myself, as far as organisation and helping people market their work.”
Rice’s girlfriend, Evan Mack, leans over, adding: “Travis sees the world through an artist’s mind, and it shows in his snowboarding. It’s like in TAOF when Nicolas Müller says, ‘Snowboarding is more than just a sport. You pick your own line; it’s your soul that does that.’ I think that Travis has a childlike way of viewing the world. He’s always liked discovery – exploring how you can see things new. Kind of like wiping the slate of his mind clean and being present.”
Despite being at the epicentre of the posters, book, gallery, and films, Rice takes a modest approach. He insists that it’s all been a collective effort, giving credit to all the riders who were there, shoulder-to-shoulder, through all the shots. But that’s not to say he’s not feeling the spotlight’s heat.
“I was always kind of pumped on the notion that snowboarding was kind of niche. Unless there is that die-hard, snowboard-mag-reading kid that religiously watches the videos, you don’t get hit up in the streets,” says Rice as he offers to buy me a drink, while taking time to exchange words with each autograph-seeking fan. “With this film, it’s gone to the next level; I can’t hang out in the lobby of one of our normal film premieres.”
Beyond the hubbub, however, Rice points to the positive fallout of fame. He insists that if people become more aware of big-mountain riding through TAOF – if it leads to more support from companies, more projects, more employment, more kids heading out into the backcountry – then he is winning. “Go outside, get off the computer, put down the video game, and go experience a bit of this world in three dimensions,” he adds, “because it makes every one that immerses themselves in nature happy. The more happier people there are, the better we all are.”
The cast is soon called on stage. Rice bounces up. Winter junkies cheer like they’re getting fresh tracks. Lights fade to black and, suddenly, one can almost feel the chopper blades turning, as if you’re standing on the plateau of a powder-coated cornice, ready to straight-line down a narrow chute.
Before riding gnarly Alaskan descents, Rice was an unknown in his late-teens; that is, until 2001 when he rocked up to Snowboarder Magazine’s Superpark – where an invitation is tantamount to playing main stage at Glastonbury before signing a record deal – and busted a backside rodeo off a 110-foot gap jump. Absinthe Films noticed, leading to parts in Transcendence, Vivid, Saturation, Pop, More, and Nevermind. Notably, while filming for Pop in [what year], Rice was the first snowboarder to switch 540 over the infamous 120-foot Chad’s Gap in Utah.
Between 2001 and 2009, Rice continued to up the ante at contests from the US Open to the X-Games with never-before-seen tricks – like the double backside rodeo 1080 he landed at the Icer Air in 2007 – and is often credited for being one of the first to make double corks a contest staple by stomping 1080 variations throughout TTR’s [Ticket To Ride] 2007/08 season. But by 2005 his attention had turned to filming full-time and, joining forces with production house Brain Farm, he started making movies on his own terms. While most snowboarders save their arsenal of technical tricks for major contests and big prize money, Rice helped redefine backcountry riding by taking his progressive style into a world of pillow lines and razor-sharp ridges. In 2008’s That’s It, That’s All (TITA), Rice threw down the first double cork 1260 captured on film. It’s little wonder, then, that his closing words in TAOF bring Whistler to its feet: “Adventure is what you make it; and, whether it’s the travel, the discovery, or just the feeling of letting go, the only way to find out is to go out there and do it.”
Fast-forward a day, and a wisecracking dude with the legally changed name of Modaddy – Quiksilver’s driver for the likes of Tony Hawk and Kelly Slater for the past ten years – is sitting behind the wheel of a forty-two-foot-long tour bus about to depart south. With the sound of Modaddy firing up the rig, I get ready for this rock-star crew to start partying, guzzling booze, and listening to Rice’s playlist of moody tunes – the occasional country, some weird ashram chanting, metal and random hip hop – and imagine myself “taking notes with my eyes” like Cameron Crowe in Almost Famous. I couldn’t have been more wrong, as I watch Travis pull out some biodegradable forks and a couple of salads.
“Do you try to live a more sustainable lifestyle?” I ask, thinking about the Brain Farm crew bouncing around the globe with the same kind of film equipment used in Planet Earth and a budget rumoured to be in the millions.
“Yeah, I mean, it’s a little difficult filming with Brain Farm,” he says, giving the salad a shake, “there definitely wasn’t much of a message behind [TAOF’s] making. What you do with your dollars is your voice in the world as far as voting for products that are done for the right reasons. Showing support by paying two dollars more when you can buy one thing or the other, you are essentially casting a vote in the realm of consumption and consumerism. In the civilisation where you live you might not have much of a voice, but how you spend your money is your voice – that’s the loudest thing that you can do.”
Popping a cherry tomato in his mouth, he explains how, over the past five years, he’s taken his diet to extremes ever since a blood test showed pistachios swimming around in his bloodstream. “What happens when you eat a Big Mac?” asks Rice, adding that he’s recently become an advocate for local, organic produce and sustainable farming.
With the sun hovering over Squamish’s ginormous granite climbing wall, The Chief, the bus pulls up to the home pro snowboarder David Carrier-Porcheron shares with his wife Meghan Pischke, daughter Leighli and newborn-son Reef. “I want to ride with my kids when I am forty,” says Rice, smiling, holding Reef deep within his arms. “I don’t want to be like an ex-NFL athlete, beaten, bruised, riddled full of arthritis; I want to treat my body as well as I can.”
While DCP glides back and forth over the ramps in his backyard, Mark Landvik and Rice both hold off skating due to their injuries. “I worry about other peoples’ injuries more than my own,” Rice admits. “When we did TITA I was like, ‘Wow, we did it right; we made this insane movie and no-one got hurt,’ but this time around, Scotty [Lago] broke his jaw, Landvik blew his knee, and I had to ride with this weird, little ankle injury throughout the whole season.”
Rice describes how he re-inflamed an old injury. He speeds through his regime – a carefully calculated mix of stretching, surfing, stand-up paddle boarding and swimming – then recalls how the tiniest piece of cartilage on his talus bone flicked up and popped out while doing yoga on the beach–beyond diet [what does that mean?]. “I would be doing fine and then some dumb little thing would nick the little flap causing inflammation, and I couldn’t do anything but lay on my back. It’s fine now,” he swears, “but I kind of willed myself through the winter.”
Getting back on the bus, Rice immediately starts to talk about life within Jackson’s Tetons. He credits his father – a retired ski patroller and a fly fisher/backpacking guide – for being a great role model in his “needless ways” and the reason for him feeling so “present” in the mountains.
“My dad enjoyed his work, but definitely was never working towards financial goals to come up in the world,” he explains. “Yet, he is one of the happiest people I know. In the summer he lives out of his old camper van. It’s funny; he’ll come and stay at my place, and I’m like, ‘Dad I have a guest bedroom,’ and he’ll claim to sleep better in the truck.
“Jackson is such an outdoorsy place with such motivated youth,” adds Rice, who admits to having a keen interest in badgers, and recently spotted ten living in his backyard. “I think it rubs off on people. People that leave, take with them a very sky’s-the-limit attitude.”
There’s little doubt that a sense of self-belief has fuelled Rice on his trajectory of success. But if anything is possible, can anyone aspire to ride the crazy lines tackled by his crew? “Just hike off your local resort,” says Rice staring out the window at the endless Coastal Mountain peaks begging for his attention as they fade to green into the Pacific. “There are so many lines all over the place. Granted, to get some of the bigger lines in AK you may need more funds, but look at Deeper [Jeremy Jones’ 2010 hike-accessed big-mountain documentary]; there is a prime example of how anyone can get out on a budget.”
Few riders command the kind of respect that big-mountain charger Jeremy Jones enjoys among his peers. So, when Jones calls Rice “the best in the world” – as he does during his TAOF segment – or praises his positive attitude by labelling him Deeper’s MVP, it paints a certain picture. Rice, however, flicks the compliments away, and diverts the conversation back to the month he spent alone with Jones on an Alaskan glacier – twenty-eight days that changed his life.
“So many people are so out of it from letting super benign things really get to them, from social bullshit to getting pissed off at traffic, to distractions of television and internet in the day-to-day circus,” he explains. “But when you separate yourself from this chaos, you realise that it’s just a flaw in thinking, a distraction from the present moment. After coming back, I was at a zenned-out state of mind and I just kind of laughed at how caught up people get in unreal concerns. Being able to take a month to just camp on a glacier and be present was such a reminder of what is real.”
We delve further back in time to when Brain Farm founder Curt Morgan and Rice were both riding for the same Rossignol team. Morgan broke his back a few times, gave up trying to be a professional, and went to film school. For a while he filmed for Danny Kass and Grenade, but in time got burnt on trying to make ends meet, called it quits, and went back home to New York. By then, Rice had five seasons of video parts under his belt and was riding for Oakley, so he enticed Morgan back to Jackson saying, “Let’s go make a film ourselves.” Rice bought a few cameras, paid Morgan out of his own pocket, and together they went for it. By [what year] they’d sold their first film, Community Project, to Oakley, which lead to That’s It, That’s All and now The Art of FLIGHT.
“Those projects were not going to get thrown on our laps,” says Rice. “The first six months of TITA, I invested a huge chunk of my own money. Then we made a full-teaser reel, and books that said, ‘Check this out, it will be the next film. This is the future.’ And we presented it all to Red Bull. Luckily, Red Bull is just very progressive, and a willing-to-support-business, down-for-the-cause type of company.”
Rice pauses then adds: “Now that I think back on it, this is what I have had to do my whole career. I think I’ve gone at least double over my travel budget every year of my life and have paid out of my own pocket because I kind of always thought it was an investment in myself. Some riders go through a winter and when their funds run out, they don’t do anything. They say things like, ‘Yeah, I don’t have a travel budget, I’m not going to go on that trip.’ I’m always kind of like, ‘So fucking what? Do you believe in yourself?’”
Of course, when a movie starts blowing minds, naysayers will always be quick to throw comments starting with the dreaded ‘if’: “if I had that kind of budget”; “if Red Bull sponsored my movie”; “if I had that camera gear, I would have…” But truth is, Rice and Morgan are the ones that literally grabbed the bull by its horns and made it happen. Not an easy feat. So with that in mind, it comes as no surprise that Rice calls Richard Branson his hero. But what’s next? Snowboarders in space?
While Brain Farm has many projects in the works, Rice is moving onto what may be his most creative project to date: The Super Natural, a big-mountain-extreme-meets-slopestyle-park contest coming to Baldface, Nelson, BC, in February 2012. With Red Bull’s support, Rice is determined his contest will be like “something out of a snowboarder’s wet dream”.
“The reason this event is so necessary,” enthuses Rice, “is that the current state of competitive snowboarding is getting amazing; young kids are linking four double corks back-to-back in slopestyle runs, but I feel like much of the voice and characters are legend-type riders, like Nicolas Müller, DCP, Gigi Rüf, and John Jackson. Therefore, the first half of this 600-foot-wide run will be about choosing your line down a 45-degree pitch, knowing how to ride pillow lines, and how to deal with adverse snow conditions and stuff; then it will lead up to a groomed-out perfect 200-foot-wide kicker into a powder landing, followed by 700-800 feet of jib features. One has to be able to ride a mountain, but they also have to be able to be able to stay progressive with tricks, so Müller or Jake Blauvelt may dominate the pillow lines on the top part of the mountain. But a quarter of the slots are reserved for the top TTR [Ticket To Ride] riders, so someone like Seb Toots, who can stomp any double cork over a kicker, will even out the playing field.”
Rice ran a similar one-time-only contest in Jackson four years back called The Natural Selection, and has since wanted to take it out of a ski area, find a blank canvas, and build his dream course. He went searching, ready to get a logging permit into unknown wildness and work throughout the summers, but needing infrastructure, he turned to cat-skiing operations and soon discovered “the run” on Baldface. Since then, Rice has returned to the spot at different times over recent winters, This spring, his crew walked the course repeatedly and, using flagging tape, they wrote detailed instructions on every tree on the entire face. It was a lengthy process, but Rice insisted it had to be right; the construction crew couldn’t come in and do anything without exact detailed instructions. Right now, there is a twelve-man-strong logging crew, with the Baldface locals doing the heavy lifting. It’s a busy old time. But what happens when it’s done? Will more outside-the-box ideas come to Rice when these ones trail off?
“I look forward to the next, next phase of my snowboarding career,” he says, as the bus pulls into North Vancouver. “If things work out with my goals over the next few years to reinvigorate the snowboarding contest, which I want to take outside of BC, then who knows. Not me.”
Before jumping off the bus to sign a hundred more posters and load up on books for the following night’s premiere, Rice talks about sailing around the Bahamas for the past ten years with his father on their thirty-foot catamaran.
“I am kind of totally addicted to surfing, and one day I will be lost somewhere on a sailboat in the Pacific looking for waves,” explains Rice. “There’s no other needless lifestyle than living on top of an ocean with a sailboat, using hardly any petrol and catching your own food. It’s my light at the end of this three-months-on-tour tunnel. I’m going sailing for a month, turning off my phone and saying, ‘See ya later world; I’ll be back for Christmas.’ Then I’ll go fall off the face of the earth and go surf.”