Built For These Mountains

Ask any pro who last season's top kicker killer was, and there's a good chance you'll get the name John Jackson. With a double-song ender in Forum's "Forever," set to Bob Marley and a re-mix dance hall mash up, "John J" settled pretty much every trick in the book, capping things off with this season's move du jour, the double cork, of the backside variety. In between, though, you'll see Jackson's pedigree goes way deeper than handling his spins -- buttery lines, cliff stomps and powder flow are all on tap, a skill set the Crowley Lake, California native has been building for years with consistent video parts.

ESPN caught up with Jackson fresh off a fly fishing stint on the river, and talked about staying up on his shred game, spirituality, fresh terrain, the island vibe, and life and death in the mountains.

ESPN:You had a banger season with the "Forever" ender. Did things go differently than other years for you this time around? Anything in particular click for you?

John Jackson: Thanks man, I don't really think things clicked any more than usual. You just stay hungry. I had more drive this year coming off a season that wasn't so good the year before. I was injured and new to Forum, and I wanted this year's part, last year. So I was extra hungry!

You've been logging solid parts for years now. Do you feel like your recognition has been slow in coming, or is that the way pro riders should be making their marks -- part-by-part, instead of blowing up suddenly?

I don't know. I just been filming so long 'cause I love it and I always want to push myself, in everything. But I'm not the Pro Sergeant. If you blow up suddenly you probably deserve it and then should be slaying every year. I think consistency and motivation are good things, but you still gotta have fun with it at the same time. It sucks when kids get so serious that the fun disappears, you know ... the mountains ain't no office! You wanna be anal in a contest, go ahead, but don't bring dem bad vibes to the backcountry. I will say I think everyone should stop hitting everyone's jumps.

It seems like the double cork is the new back rodeo. How important do you see that move becoming? Is it rad to learn an actual new trick? Is it going to get played out?

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It's about making things look good, smooth, and in control -- having that confident connection with your snowboard and you.

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It's always sick to learn a new trick, no matter what level you're at. From a back three to a back double cork, it's an accomplishment. But the double cork's not important at all, that's the last thing kids should think. It's fun and fancy, and if you're feeling it, get some! But the idea of "I have to do double corks" is wack. I would trade any one of those double corks for a gigantic, flawless back one over some sick gap in the backcountry. It's not all about the hucking and the "spin to win." It's about making things look good, smooth, and in control -- having that confident connection with your snowboard and you. Don't get me wrong, the doubles are badass, but I still love seeing creativity. Seeing things like Peter [Line's] hand plant to wall ride, or T Rice's tree bonking maneuvers. Open the imagination and that's where snowboarding is going. I definitely gotta give Rice and Eero Niemela props for thinking up those double corks and chargin' it!

A lot of the spots you filmed this past season were in Montana and Tahoe, right? It all looked really fresh -- how important is it to you as a rider to find new zones? Is it a necessity for making the films look good?

I think it is. It's like I said earlier with everyone hitting the same jumps ... it's played. There's so much terrain out there, and ways to be creative! The hard part is finding the time to explore it. When it's good out and the conditions are right, you want to go to something you know will be productive. You just have to be willing to go out on a limb, new zones, bad weather days -- I just like the idea of finding something no one else has.

How much time do you actually spend exploring for new zones?

I try to as much as I can. A lot of times it's a bust but it's always fun. I love riding my sled, even in a blizzard. Explore days are mostly early season, and snowy days. And sometimes you'll get to bang something out you didn't expect. Every day out in the backcountry is still an exploration. Your eyes are always open, always searching and things fill in differently every year. New zones sometimes just pop out.

You've spent a lot of time in Whistler in years past. How was it to be closer to home this time?

It was nice, but at the same time I didn't have an option. I wanted to go to Canada 'cause there's unbelievable terrain and I love it up there, but the border just wouldn't quite cooperate. Canada can be a bust too though, you'll go up there and wait in the clouds for weeks. Everyone's always so adamant on going to Canada -- like it's a must for your part, but that's a mental thing I think. It pissed me off not being able to go, feeling like I'm holding up the crew, so I really wanted to prove you can get just as sick a part in the states as you can in Canada.

You have a pretty strong mix of kickers, cliffs and natural take offs. How important is it to be able to ride the whole mountain? Who do you look to for inspiration in taking a creative approach to backcountry riding?

It's good to have variety. Anything that looks like it lines up, I'll wanna hit, but I definitely love the natty best -- get out of the park and just go charge the mountain, even in bad snow. You learn how to ride all kinds of terrain and find little nuggets to get creative with. T Rice is most def an inspiration. He rides so fast and precise it's insane.

This is your second video with the Forum crew. How are the sponsor switches settling in?

It's finally starting to settle in -- everyone was such a-holes at first! Nah! It's always been chill, I love those guys. I knew I'd fit well with Forum and it's been good times since.

There's no John J pro model in the lineup this year, but you had one in 2008-'09, right?

Yeah, I lucked out and got one first season on board. Then this season Jake [Blauvelt] and I endorsed the Symbol Series 'cause it was the board we both loved. We got to personalize a little bit of the graphics on our sizes, but didn't design any of the specs. That's the sickest board though -- so no need. We've been working on something new for next year that'll be more of a design by John J, so I'm real excited to be working with that.

I have to ask, you have any comment on Jake Blauvelt leaving the team? Was it on good or bad terms? Seems like he was your backcountry compadre?

Oh mun! That lil' sneaky snakey Jakey! Im soooo bummed! I love that guy and he's so fun to ride with. He's such an amazing shredder and I hope the best for him. I'm sure he's got everything on lock, and if it's a good move for him, I'm stoked you know? Obviously I'm bummed he's not on the team, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do, and if he's pumped I'm pumped for him. I probably went through the same thing he's going through a couple years ago, but in my own way and terms. You gotta do what's right for you. I'll miss that guy for sure, but that's still my bro no matter what!

How hard was it getting a Marley song for your part? Did you get the rights cleared?

We had a connection with the label, and it was looking good. We just needed Ziggy's approval, and I guess he was down. I was so grateful! Bob is the man!

What does Reggae do for you that other music doesn't?

Awww muuuunnn ... I love it! It's the best! So positive all the time and there's so much love! I like listening to things that have a good influence. It always puts me in a good mood and makes me enjoy life even more.

What's your take on spirituality? Has it changed your lifestyle in the past few years? Have you been in any situations in the backcountry that forced you to look at what the worst possible situation might be, and the spiritual outcome?

I grew up a Christian and my spirituality has never changed. I may go through times of being more, or less, spiritual -- but I have my beliefs. I've learned to kinda put those into my own thoughts and practices and open up my mind without someone telling me what's right or wrong. I feel good in the way I interact with people and I feel like my heart is pure. God's always blessed me in my snowboarding, and sure there's times when the chance of death creeps across my mind. I remember it used to bother me more, like when I was in Alaska for the first time, but now it doesn't really bother me. There's always a chance and if it's my time, it's my time. Doesn't mean I'm careless, I still do everything to stay safe, and I just put it in God's hands. For now, I feel it's all about being a good person and passing off as many blessings as I can to people, whether friends or strangers, even just a friendly conversation, or a lending hand, or a little dose of encouragement, or a bit of selflessness. Love always brings joy. I love life and being able to share it with others.

What happened in Alaska?

I can remember being on top of one line in AK and I wasn't confident about it at all. I had ten seconds until the heli was coming around to film and I'm like 50-50, thinking "Should I do this?" The line had some really gnarly consequences. I ended up doing it, and not getting it clean, but I avoided a deadly ice drop. Those few seconds while I could hear the heli coming were the scariest moments of my life. That made me think about the backcountry and its surroundings, and how to respect it.

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It was scary and frustrating because no one could pick up a signal on the beacons. It's the worst feeling in the world knowing someone is dying and you are completely helpless.

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Have you known any people that have been lost to avalanches?

I haven't been super close to anyone who has passed in an avy, but knowing and respecting people like Doug Coombs who spent their whole lives in the backcountry, and seeing them go is so heartbreaking and unbelievable. Another huge reminder about having respect for the mountains and being careful -- they are glorious and ruthless at the same time.

I did have a pretty gnarly experience in Montana this year. We were coming out of the backcountry pretty late, just before dark, and soon as we got back into town, there was a rescue team being scrambled together to find someone who was just buried on a pretty notorious slope that always slides. We raced straight back out and started a grid on the slide. We searched for 3 or 4 hours into the dark over these gnarly Volkswagen-size ice chunks. The slide had a crown ranging from 5 to 20 feet, was about 300 yards wide and a mile long. It was scary and frustrating because no one could pick up a signal on the beacons. It's the worst feeling in the world knowing someone is dying and you are completely helpless. They ended up finding him in the morning and he was crushed. I think he had turned his transceiver off at lunch and forgot to turn it back on, so we couldn't pick up a signal. It was heartbreaking. R.I.P. my friend!

What is up for the 2009/10 season -- you mentioned a possible new board design, what else is on tap?

Yeah, new board designs -- some tight doings for sure! We will be filming for Forum again. Not sure which direction they'll take, but we're definitely putting the goods together. As for this season, I really want to get into some big mountain, some spines, big stuff. I wanna go big! As always is a goal, I want to hit new features, and I'll be looking for good trannies this year. My ACL was partially torn coming off last season so I gotta be wise this year. I've been working it out, been climbing a bunch, and it's been feeling really good. I'm pretty confident with it and it feels strong, now I just gotta keep my mind strong!