Session with a flying redhead
VAIL – Shaun White is going to be 85 years old with silver streaks in his red hair, and still spinning through the air on his snowboard. “Definitely,” agreed the 19-year-old. “I don’t think I’ll be doing that well, but I’ll be up there hanging out for sure. I’m so involved with the sport now that I’ll never be able to let go of it.”White, from Carlsbad, Calif., began snowboarding at the age of 6. His parents, once passionate skiers, have since been persuaded to single-board living.”No way,” White said when asked if his parents ever ski anymore. “They switched when I started doing well. They wanted to come out here with me, but (the whole family) is coming to Aspen for the X Games.”White became pro snowboarder at the age of 13. In the last two years, he’s swept just about every contest he’s entered, including the previous two Vail Session rail and slopestyle contests, the last two Winter X Games slopestyle events, and all of this season’s Grand Prix halfpipe contests so far – two in Breckenridge and one at Mt. Batchelor, Ore., the latter of which secured his spot on the 2006 U.S. Olympic Halfpipe Team to compete next month in Bardonecchia, Italy.
Five rings, one pipeSnowboarding, while sustaining itself healthily in non-Olympic years, has become a key Olympic event since its debut at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. When Vermont rider Kelly Clark took gold in the women’s halfpipe and Americans Ross Powers, Danny Kass and JJ Thomas went 1-2-3 for men in the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City, snowboarding established itself as one of America’s token winter sports.”After the Americans swept the podium, everybody’s watching out for it,” White said. “It’s become this huge thing. I’ve never seen snowboarding get pushed so hard as it is in the Olympics. I’ve watched the Olympics since I was younger. I always thought it was super cool because athletes from everywhere come to compete and do their sport. Just to be a part of that whole thing, it should be fun. I’m pretty excited about it.”Beyond the OlympicsIf White has any dreams outside of the snowboarding, they don’t stray very far from the board theme in general.
White became a professional skateboarder three years ago, and while he’s still a step away from becoming the next Tony Hawk (although he took silver in last August’s Summer X Games skateboarding event), he would like to see his name appear in the history books of that sport, too.”It’s been a goal of mine to make a name for myself in skateboarding like I have in snowboarding,” White said. “It’s such a fun sport and such a passion of mine. It’s recently gotten to the point where I’m making podiums and doing well in contests. I can’t believe it. It’s kind of like another dream come true.”Redhead in SessionDespite his consistent success, White never feels victory is guaranteed for him before any contest. Take this weekend’s Vail Session. Last year, White handily won the rails contest, and, having secured a score of 97 points with four back-to-back 900-degree spins, used his victory lap in the slopestyle contest as the inaugural event in which to land his 1080 at the tail end of three 9s. White enjoys The Session, and although he is king of the event, he’s not one to polish his crown.”This is just mellow. It’s just fun. You don’t have to worry about getting in a spot for a team or anything,” he said of The Session. “This is my first slopestyle of the year. I haven’t hit any jumps. It’s really gonna be hard for me because I need to warm up to everything all over again. But it’s going to be fun.”
Many of the big names White faces in Grand Prix and X Games halfpipe competition are absent from the Session. The Session slopestyle contest, judged by overall impression of each rider’s progression, trick difficulty and execution, has a lot more terrain to master than a halfpipe.”It’s all about knowing the course. The better you can get through all the obstacles, the better you’re going to be,” White said. “You gotta be a certain type of rider for this event because there’s EVERYTHING. There’s big jumps, there’s rails, there’s even tranny (transition areas). I’m just going to be tripping, because if you think about it, when we’re going through the run, it’s at night time. There’s light for the jumps, then it’s dark. And you get out of all that chaos of four huge jumps and then you’re into this (the rails and quarterpipe). It’s going to be … a lot.”An all-around riderBefore he entered the park, White spent all of Thursday morning freeriding on Vail Mountain. Being an all-around rider is important to White. His identity as a snowboarder depends on it.”There’s going to be some guys that do really well on the jumps, but won’t do anything (on the rails). Or guys that will do something (on the rails) and nothing on the jumps,” White said. “I just wouldn’t feel complete if I didn’t have fun in all of these things. For me, that’s part of being a snowboarder is riding everything. I would never just want to stick to one thing. It’s snowboarding. Everything is fun. What other job can you have where you make a ton of money and get to do something so fun?”
Mr. Money BagsAs for money, there’s no telling how much White has. After last year’s Session events alone, White pocketed around $42,000. He has three houses, numerous cars (many of which he’s won in one fell swoop at competitions), and the means for just about any other material good a teenager could want. He saves his money responsibly, but has his eye on a new toy – a $120,000 car.”I really want to buy this new car,” he said. “It’s the BMW M5. I just love it. I test-drove one and it was awesome. I gotta get it now. It’s really fast. It’s like, decked out to the max inside. Really, it’s just … I need one.”Sports Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14632, or email@example.com.Vail, Colorado