Shaun White brings Air & Style to Rose Bowl
As far as Shaun White is concerned, nothing says snowboarding and skiing quite like palm trees in Pasadena, California.
That's the message White sent out Friday from the Rose Bowl, where he plans to host an Air & Style: Los Angeles snowboard and freeski big air event and music festival Feb. 21-22, 2015.
"It's pretty crazy, and it's come a long way since we first started brainstorming the idea of bringing Air & Style to the U.S. last year," White told ESPN. "Now it's official: We're doing the third stop of the tour for Air & Style at the Rose Bowl, and we picked that venue because Los Angeles is my hometown. A lot of people in Pasadena probably have never even seen snow, but that's the beauty of it."
White brought in Chris "Gunny" Gunnarson of Snow Park Technologies, which designs and builds courses for X Games, among other events, to handle that part of the logistics.
"We've worked on Big Air scaffolding jumps in even tougher conditions, so this is nothing," Gunnarson said. "We've got a big crew coming to run huge blocks through a massive ice chipping machine, and the riding surface will be almost like shaved ice you'd want to eat, with a snow-like consistency even in temperatures up to 91 degrees."
Not only will there be a big air ramp similar in size to events like X Games, the event will have a festival-like atmosphere, a tradition that dates back to the first Air & Style event in Austria in 1994. Sweden's Reto Lamm won it that year, and iconic riders like Terje Haakonsen, Travis Rice and Kevin Pearce have won it over the years. White also has two Air & Style wins under his belt, from 2003 and 2004, and said they've always been among his favorite events. Because the Air & Style contests are now 6Star events on the World Snowboard Tour -- the same tier as X Games Aspen -- they've always attracted top international riders vying for overall season rankings.
White doesn't plan to compete in the actual event this time around, because "It's kind of a lose-lose situation. You either win your own event and people are like, 'eh,' or you lose your own event," but said he will be playing guitar with his alt-rock band, Bad Things, and will be calling all the shots on the rest of the festival lineup. Bad Things just wrapped up a tour with Phantogram, who will also play Air & Style: L.A., and played Lollapalooza last year.
"I really like my role as the curator of all this," he said. "I'll go hang out and skateboard in the skate area, hit the big air jump, and just be around and in the mix, but not compete. On that level it's not really about me."
Then again, it is all about him, in ways that he hopes are for the best.
"I love to snowboard, I love to skateboard, I love to play music, I go to Coachella, I go to Lollapalooza, I love art and technology and youth culture, and this event is going to be all that wrapped up into one," he said. "In that sense it's my life."
White, 28, first began competing in Air & Style events when he was 15. Over the last few years he has been a title sponsor of the Beijing event, held in the iconic "Bird's Nest" National Stadium venue from the 2008 Olympics, serving as an ambassador for the sport rather than as a competitor.
As he began plotting to help bring the international series closer to home, a new idea emerged, and in January he bought into the company, becoming Air & Style's majority stakeholder in the middle of the Austrian brand's 20th anniversary season.
"We were trying to get the rights to do it in the U.S. and then I thought, why not commit 100 percent and expand it globally?" he said. "I went all-in, and that was my first plan of action: to bring it to the U.S. We'll be doing the China event, the event in Innsbruck, Austria, and then one in Los Angeles, so it will be a three-stop tour, a true global tour. It's something X Games has tried to do, and others have tried to do, and now I'm going to put my stamp on it and try to do it."
The Air & Style purchase helped land the 15-time X Games gold medalist and two-time Olympic gold medalist a New York Times profile in January suggesting that the "Flying Tomato" had matured into "the polite, industrious chief executive of Shaun White Enterprises," complete with a photo spread of him snowboarding in a suit and tie. Now that he's had some opportunities to flex his business acumen and can finally announce some of the big moves he's been making. White said the persona fits.
"Every success I've had has been from following my instinct and believing in it. This is a long play, but over time now that I'm an owner of the event I know that I could implement changes that carry weight for snowboarders and snowboarding in the long haul," White said.
In another surprising move, White decided to invite skiers into the mix. Air & Style events have previously been for snowboarders only, but the Rose Bowl festival will double as both a 6Star event on the World Snowboard Tour and a Platinum-tier event in the Association of Freeskiing Professionals global ranking system. White's Burton Snowboards teammate Mark McMorris joined him for Friday's announcement, as did 2014 Olympic Ski Slopestyle gold medalist Joss Christensen and X Games Ski Big Air and Slopestyle gold medalist Bobby Brown.
"I was sitting down with a lot of the founding members of Air & Style and they were like, 'We've got a strict rule that there's no skiing in the event," White said. "It just seemed so funny to me because when snowboarding got started it was the other way around and we had to fight our way in. Now that we own events, I'm proud to be bridging the gap and bringing skiers in. I have friends who do both, and it's clearly bigger than this sport versus that sport. That was definitely a big step in the right direction in my eyes, but it's something I'm sure we'll be taking heat for. I think it's an older generation thing that is fizzling out."
Despite his new roles as majority stakeholder, event curator and touring rock star, White said retiring from competition is still far from his mind. He stopped short of confirming he'll be competing at X Games and other specific events this season, but said he feels like he still has plenty to prove in the pipe and otherwise.
"I still have a lot of goals out there and want to figure out where I can really make a stand," he said. "I definitely still plan to compete ... As much fun as I've had touring with the band and with all these other projects, there's still a lot I want to accomplish on my snowboard."
Tickets for Air & Style: L.A. are on sale now via Ticketmaster, with two-day passes starting at $135.
20 years of Air & Style
When Charly Weger and Andrew Hourmont threw the first Air & Style "big air" contest in Innsbruck, Austria, in 1994, they had no idea it would go on to become one of the most coveted events to win in snowboarding. As the event entered its 20th year in Innsbruck last year, let's look back at the two decades of madness that came before it.