Interview by Jordan Bergeson (http://www.jordanbergeson.com)
Photos by Joe Briggs (http://www.jvbriggs.com) & Jordan Bergeson
Where are you originally from?
I was born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska.
I split my time between Bellingham, WA and Anchorage, AK. I mostly ride at Mt. Baker when I am in Washington, and Alyeska Resort when I am up in Alaska.
When and where did you start skiing?
I started skiing in my driveway. My parents bought me these little yellow skis that tied to my Sorel boots. Then they sort of just pushed me around until I fell over.
Who did you grow up skiing with?
I grew up racing with the Alyeska Ski Club until I was 13. I skied a lot with my friend Evan Hyde. When the newschool movement started happening I began skiing with Tim Durtschi and Troy Murdough a bit more. The race program up in Alaska is great, and produces a lot of great skiers. I know Cody Barnhill grew up going through the race club as well.
When did you move down to the Lower 48 States?
I moved down after I graduated highschool. I knew that I wanted to ski as much as I could, so I tried to position myself as best I could to pursue that goal.
photo: Jordan Bergeson
What made you focus less on competitions and more on filming?
I competed a bit through high school, and the first year or two after I graduated. I was always disappointed in myself afterwards, and became really critical of my runs. Filming, for the most part, allows you to go up and try again if you have the desire to do so. I was still critical, but at least I could go up and try it again until I perfected it. That was super appealing to me. I always thought park was fun, but I never loved it like I loved skiing in the backcountry. I also considered doing some big mountain comps, but didn’t really like the idea of being forced to huck in bad conditions. Skiing for me was most fun when I was sessioning a handrail with friends, or shredding pow on a deep day. Filming allowed me to do both of those things.
How did you get your start with Theory-3, and eventually PBP?
During my first year of university I met up with a Midwest kid named Teddy Knape. He was really into filming, so we hit it off right away and began stacking footage shortly thereafter. I also met Jeff Thomas at one of his premieres, and was invited to tag along with his crew whenever they were at Mt. Baker. Before I knew it I was part of the crew, and we sort of just went from there. At the end of the season we compiled the footage that I got with Teddy, and I ended up snagging the closing segment of Breathe and Stop. I owe a lot of thanks to Teddy and Jeff; they both pushed me to be the best I could be, and I learned so much from them my first season in Washington. The next year I was back in Alaska for the holidays. I knew I wanted to take the winter off from school, but didn’t really have a good enough reason to. I could still go to class and shred as much pow as I wanted at the same time. A day or two before I was planning to go back to school, I got a call from Johnny Decesare over at Poorboyz. It was supposed to start nuking in Reno, and he invited me to fly down and shoot some handrails. I hung up the phone, went to the computer, dropped all the classes I was signed up for, and booked a flight to Nevada. It was definitely one of those turning point days in life that you never forget. I grew up on Poorboyz movies, and to have the chance to film with them was totally surreal. The rest of that of season was spent travelling the globe filming.
The year after you filmed with Poorboyz you got injured. How did you do it?
I’ve actually had a couple of serious injuries over the years. I went to the X Games Qualifiers (yes, this used to be an actual event) down in Breckenridge with Durtschi during my senior year of high school. Neither of us had skied any park yet that year, so we got up super early the day of the event to go and squeeze in as much practice as possible the few hours before the comp. On one of my first runs a gust of wind caught me on the second jump of the triple pack, and it sent me to the icy flats. I knew that I was hurt, but didn’t really know how bad. I later learned that I had shattered the top of my tibia, tore my ACL, MCL, and both meniscus in my knee. That put a bit of a damper on the rest of my season. Then in 2005 I made arrangements to go down to New Zealand to train and compete a bit before the northern hemisphere’s season started. I had planned on being there for about a month, but blew the ACL in my other knee on my third day there on a jump at Snow Park. It was really hard to change my flight back to the US, so I was pretty much on couch status while everyone was up skiing. It was sort of a bummer, but I got to go travel around and see some sights that I wouldn’t have had I been skiing every day. So that was pretty cool.
photo: Jordan Bergeson
How supportive were your sponsors throughout your hiatus from filming and competing?
Surprisingly, they were all more concerned with me taking as much time as I needed to heal. There was no pressure to rush anything, and I was advised to be as patient as possible. Luckily I had school to fall back on, so I signed back up and returned that fall. They were all pretty pumped on that.
How have your injuries influenced your skiing?
Both of my injuries were kind of freak accidents. It’s not like I was doing something crazy or something that was out of my ability. I was just warming up. The most important thing I probably learned was to enjoy skiing as much as possible when you are doing it, because you never really know when you aren’t going to be able to. Definitely gave me a different perspective on things when I returned to the snow.
Who have you been riding with lately?
Mostly just local guys. I ride a lot with Erich Kunz, Brett McChesney, Chris Grundberg, and some other cats. A lot of us are on similar programs in terms of school and skiing, so we try to shred as much as our schedules allow. I also ride with a bunch of snowboarders. Last year they all bought sleds, so we have a good little crew that gets after it as much as possible.
photo: Joe Briggs
Who are your biggest influences?
Like a lot of other people, I have to give it up to Tanner. The guy found out what he was good at, pursued it, and never looked back. People like that stoke me out the most, because they do what they enjoy most...regardless of what other people think or say they should do.
I hear you recently switched sponsors. Tell us about that.
Last season I switched to the Armada glove program. I really like the new designs and wanted to support them as much as possible. The product is super functional, and looks really cool too. What more could you ask for? There are some other big things happening as well that everyone should seriously be getting excited for.
What else are you focusing on other than skiing right now?
Recently I’ve been researching different graduate programs and schools that I would possibly want to attend. It’s definitely a lengthy process, but hopefully it will pay off in the long run. I’ve been trying to study for the GMATs as well. It’s been tough to focus on though, with all the snow that has been falling in the PNW.
What are you studying?
photo: Jordan Bergeson
What's it like juggling school and skiing?
Some aspects of it are really hard, and some are surprisingly simple. For the last couple of years I have had classes that must be completed in a consecutive sequence; so taking time off for skiing really wasn’t an option. I found that trying to film, travel, and go to school at the same time severely hampered my performance in every aspect. Doing work on the road never happened, and when I was trying to focus on skiing, I had school dwelling in the back of my mind, and I wasn’t fully focused on either thing. I would come out of it with subpar grades, and subpar footage. I quickly learned that if I was going to succeed in school, and ski at a level that I was happy with, I was going to have to make some changes. Last year I started taking everything in strides. I would finish my schoolwork as quick and efficiently as possible, and then ski, shoot, and film to reward myself when the work was completed. This system worked a lot better, and I ended up skiing better, and getting better grades.
What are your plans for this year?
I only have a couple of classes left, so I am going to have a lot more time to ski again. Right now the snow is great in Washington, so there really isn’t much reason to leave. I’ve been working with some local filmers, as well as an up and coming photographer in Bellingham named Joe Briggs. My plan is to continue doing that, and having fun while doing so. I am just going to ski as much as possible, and see what happens.
photo: Joe Briggs
Do you see yourself filming seriously again?
I really would like to put out a segment that I am proud of sometime in the near future. Right now I am really focused on getting my skiing up to a level that I am happy with. If I put in the ground work now, it will be that much easier to produce footage that will supplement this goal later on.
How do you feel about industry support for guys who aren't competing? Do you think there should be more support for people who are more concerned with filming quality segments?
I think support should be given where it is deserved, no matter if the athlete is filming, competing, or doing both. If an athlete chooses to focus on filming and works hard to put out a quality segment, why shouldn’t they be rewarded equally? People who work hard in any aspect of skiing should be rewarded for their time and energy. I also think that quality film segments have more lasting impressions than quality comp results. I don’t remember who won the X Games in 2005, but I definitely remember who had the sickest segments that year.
photo: Joe Briggs
As far as the competition scene is concerned, who are you really stoked on?
There are so many sick comp skiers out there right now. I’m stoked on guys like Sammy Carlson, Phil Casabon and Jossi Wells; kids who have the full bag of tricks, and can grab those tricks as well. They make that shit look so easy.
How has the fast paced park progression affected you?
It’s made me realize how important a unique style is. It doesn’t matter if you can land every single park trick there is, because so can the next kid in line. If you have a style that stands out above the rest, you are that much more ahead of the game.
On the other side of the coin, where do you see backcountry skiing going in the next couple of years?
I’m sure we will continue to see more switch landings on bigger hits and whatnot, but what I'm most excited for is how people will start to read and use different types of terrain. It has already changed so much in the last couple of years with the development of new shapes of skis and new types of tricks.
photo: Joe Briggs
What effect do you think guys like Wallisch, Harlaut, Hornbeck, Casabon etc. have on young skiers and the future of the industry?
I feel that skiing is at a turning point right now. It could go in a couple of different directions. Kids that are on top of the park game right now have a bigger responsibility than they realize. In recent years, one thing that has distinguished park skiing from other snow sports is the evolution of new grabs. If these guys continue to focus on furthering the development of new and unique grabs, freestyle skiing will continue broadening the gap between aerials, snowboarding, etc. in the eyes of the public. If younger kids choose to continue to solely focus on learning all of the double flips as quick as they can, and competition judges reward them for this, what’s that going to look like to a person who doesn’t ski? No one would be able to differentiate freeskiing from aerials. In order for this sport to survive, kids need to think about these things. These younger guys who receive a lot of attention have a responsibility to push the sport in a healthy direction.
Any advice for up and comers?
Don’t get wrapped up in all of the bullshit that goes along following your passion. The bottom line is that if you aren’t skiing because you enjoy it, and because it is fun, then what are you skiing for?
Zach Davison skis for Armada, Smith and EVO