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In His Opinion: Kevin Jones

6/19/2009

Kevin Jones was arguably snowboarding's first superstar. He was also one of the first to get completely burnt on it. In the late nineties when the X Games and other corporate-sponsored contests exposed snowboarding to the world, KJ absolutely dominated, making slopestyle and big air contests his personal wiener dog to kick and beat at will. He claimed Transworld's rider of the year a record three times and became the first rider to sign a million dollar contract. From the park, to rails, to eventually riding lines, the man was simply gifted. His signature smooth style gave off a powerful feeling unlike anyone before. Then, suddenly, he disappeared. Between the ultra cool guy scene, fame and sponsor puppeteering, Kevin decided he'd had enough.

Ducking from the limelight, he turned to a quiet life and started up a fly fishing guide service in Central Oregon. Snowboarding became relegated to the occasional powder session at Mt. Bachelor. The entire industry knew he was done, there was no question about it—the legendary Kevin Jones was over it.

So when rumor had it that KJ was snowboarding again—a good five years after his exodus—those with any sense of respect have taken note. As Jones explains, "Some things were happening in my life and I saw that I wasn't happy. Something big was missing."

It didn't take long for him to realize what that was.

In his first interview in years, Kevin Jones is back on his board with vengeance and renewed purpose. In just the beginning stages of filming a two-year part for Standard Films, he is taking his time, doing it right, and most importantly doing it for himself. Not exactly your average bunny slope, Kevin eased back into it in Valdez, Alaska in April where we caught up and spoke about snowboarding—in his opinion.

Now that you have had some time to reflect, what are your thoughts on being aged and experienced as opposed to being young and hungry?

Mentally I think you feel stronger—at least I do. And there is always the feeling your body is older and you can't tomahawk out of something and be back on it the next day. So you have to adjust there. But I think young and hungry is a relative term. You are young and hungry and you want to have what guys have already had. I've already had it. This thing I am doing now is not for the money -- I'm not getting paid by anyone. I don't have a contract or anything; I am only doing this for me. There's nothing in this industry that I can do anymore. What, am I going to be Transworld's Snowboarder of the Year a fourth time? NO! Am I going to be ESPN's rider of the year again? NO! Do I want to go win the X Games again? NO! For me this is to prove to people that, no, you are not done at 30—you are just starting...in my opinion.

I would love to talk about why the snowboarding industry dumps people by the wayside as they get older. It's definitely not that way with surfing or skating. With them it's the old dudes who get the most respect.

Yeah, I don't know why that is exactly. But on the other hand, let's look at Jeremy Jones. He just signed a contract with O'Neill and he is going to be a sponsored snowboarder until he is 41. It wasn't a bad deal either, if you know what I am saying. He is paving the way to show everyone that it is possible to ride at the highest level no matter what your age.

Maybe that is just what it takes, for someone like Jeremy to pioneer that aspect of it.

Here is a good example. In surfing Occy (Mark Occhilupo) came back. He did nothing for three years then out of nowhere came back and said, "It's on!" And he ruined everyone's world! He completely dominated the surfing world. That is the example that I get and it's instances like that where Billabong is willing to give me a chance and help me out a little. Everyone else is like, "Well I'll send you a pair of binding's or something…" While I am grateful for that, I am going to do this with or without anyone's help.

So your intention all along was to do this on your own dime?

Yep. That's why I up and moved to Jackson this year. That's why I called Mike Hatchett and said, "Listen, I have this much money in the bank, and I'm back!"

What did he say?

He said, "I got your back like Jansport. I'm with you one hundred percent. You don't need any sponsors. You are like a brother to me, so don't worry about it. You're in with Standard Films anytime."

And the next thing you know, I am standing on top of something super f--king scary in Valdez with the gnarliest crew I have ever been with! Johan Olofsson and Xavier de le Rue.

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Just being in Alaska is a blessing. There is no other place that I would rather be right now. Every snowboarder's dream should be to come up here and rip these mountains. They are perfect.

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What do you think of Xavier?

The X man! That dude rides really fast. I mean he rides really fast…terminal velocity at all times. I haven't seen anyone ride that fast since Johan. I have a different view of the mountains than Xavier does though. He sees something he likes and will b-line for it, no messing around. Where as I have more of a skateboard influence. I see features in my run and try and spend more time with them. But it is inspiring to see someone ride like him and see that, yeah you can just go straight and haul your balls off. It's definitely a safer way to ride.

[In walks Wyatt Stasinos, an up and coming Volcom rider from Colorado who is cutting his teeth in Alaska. Quiet, calm and one hell of a snowboarder, Kevin has taken him under his wing and is continually giving advice and support on how to deal with everything from professional snowboarding to riding in AK.]

You know why I like that kid? Because he just sits back and watches. I can tell that his brain is just working, taking it all in. I used to be that kid. The first time I came up here was with Noah Salasneck, Johan (Olofsson) and Tom Burt. I was just a deer in headlights.

You didn't say much either eh?

Well I had nothing to say! Those were THE guys and I was just beginning to learn what AK was all about.

How was that—riding with pioneers like that back in the day?

Noah specifically, well, he's the man. He is the one that opened up the skate style to snowboarding…him and Cardiel...in my opinion. And Tom Burt, c'mon! That guy still steps to stuff way out of my range. And you still see those guys riding today at Squaw ya know. They are in line at KT-22 on a pow day just like everyone else.

Dave Hatchett too, is another one of those guys who doesn't get nearly the respect he deserves. In my opinion, he is one of the most important riders ever. Not only did he open Mendenhall Towers and show snowboarders and skiers that big exposed lines could be done but also before that he was doing backside 270s onto street rails...in hard boots! JP Walker claims he was the first but that's a myth. I would like to claim that I was the first to do Mendenhall Towers! I would like to claim I did that trick before anyone ever! Those are big accomplishments.

Dude you don't need to make ANY claims! I think your place in snowboarding history is safe. Talk about Alaska and what that means to you...

It's always the same. It's always big. It's always gnarly. You think about it. You dream about it. You tell yourself you are going to get up there and do this and do that. But when you get up on this stuff all you are saying is, "Holy Sh-t!"

It's steep, it's crazy...sloughs, bergschrund, ice...it's intense. I think one of the reasons Xavier excels up here is because he's from Europe and is used to dealing with ice and stuff like that. Being from the lower 48, we don't have to deal with those elements. Then there is crevasse rescue. Do we ever even think about that back in the states? It is a big deal. You know if this thing slides and I get shoved into a hole, I'm dead.

So it is always an emotional rollercoaster up here. However, just being in Alaska is a blessing. There is no other place that I would rather be right now. Every snowboarder's dream should be to come up here and rip these mountains. They are perfect. Tom Burt said it best: "These mountains are MADE for snowboarding."

All the mountains have giant ramps that empty onto a glacier so you always have the perfect end run. And you can ride them over and over and over...it's never ending. That's why this place is such a mecca.

I gotta say though, the guys who opened this place up...Tom Burt, Mike Hatchett, Doug Coombs...those guys are the ones that made it possible for everyone to come here and enjoy it. And that's it. Much respect.

Then there are the guides who are up here working their asses off keeping you alive. I mean, we all want this needle in our arm, we all want this shot of AK, but we also need to recognize the people who have made and continue to make it happen, Because it's not a straight shot up here: there is a very calculated process that happens before you even set foot on the snow.

But you have to wait it out. You sit and sit ... and sit around again. I once waited 35 days at the Best Western and flew one-half of one day! You have to learn to deal with the downtime.

How do you manage?

Naked pictures from your girlfriend. Those help. Eating clams you dig up on the beach. Any and every little thing you can get into around town.

Was it a process getting comfortable up here again? Because it's been a while since you rode this kind of stuff. Is it hard to maintain mentally?

I guess you just get used to that kind of exposure. I look at things like, "How do you drive in southern California?"

I go to So Cal and I am freaked out of my mind. But if you do something long enough you will get used to it. As long as you don't let your brain take over and freak you out, it just returns. And if you are comfortable with the snowpack, well then every line will have its day. When that day is? Who knows, you just have to be patient. That's why good guides are so key, because their mindset is already there. They have adjusted and their knowledge brings confidence to you.

Also I believe that there is a time and a place for a certain kind of riding. When it is good it's good but when it's not, well, you sit. YOU SIT! And you need to know when to put the brakes on sometimes.

There is that knowledge and that experience that comes with age. Like when I have to call myself off something. I'm up there and all of the pros and cons are racing through my head and I just tell myself, "Hey, today just isn't the day for this one."

Any final thoughts?

I just want to say that to anyone who rides professionally or aspires to any kind of snowboarding greatness: If your goal is not Valdez Alaska, then you are not a snowboarder...in my opinion. I'm not saying that jibbing or spinning 1080s off a jump isn't fun, hell I love it, but your GOAL should be to come up here and ride these mountains. And if people are going to talk sh-t on it and not give it the respect it deserves that's when I get upset, because you could be the best park or pipe guy in the world but put those guys on top of a line here and watch them start shaking in their boots. When a single turn becomes life or death, that's when it gets real. That's when snowboarding shines...in my opinion.