Behind the scenes with Shaun White
Shaun white needs no introduction. 2 Olympic gold medals, 15 Winter X games gold medals, 6 Dew tour wins, a TTR world title, and 2 summer X games gold medals for skateboard vert to name a few of his achievements. This guy is as big as they come and in the last 10 years has become household name and a pillar in the world of action sports.
It definitely wasn’t the best kept secret in the Australian sports industry. Shaun White was at a secret training facility in the mountains of NSW preparing for the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi. Oakley Australia facilitated the majority of the media coverage, and was sent to Jindabyne with our crazy PR girl Sui to liaise with the invited media, Shaun and his team.
Driving into Jindabyne, it was hard to feel any sort of buzz going on. In fact, I bet 99% of people in that town didn’t even know what was happening up the hill. Snowboarding is still a reasonably niche sport in this country, and even in the hub of Australian snow sports the vibe was mellow. The season had been over for a few weeks, and the ongoing drizzle and miserable weather were doing nothing to up the hype of the most famous snowboarder on the planet casually hanging around town.
We headed out to dinner to meet the crew and Shaun’s PR people, as guys like Shaun don’t travel alone. He has a big team here helping with his training and we met up with them in an empty Italian restaurant, he even has 2 guys filming him 12 hours a day for a documentary. There is constantly 2 guys always in the room, in the car, in the restaurant just filming him on 2 separate cameras all day, every day….its crazy. I got an unexpected vibe from everyone as they walked in the door and sat down, the entire posse of friends, are a family. They talk to each other like brother and sister, they joke to each other, they tell me stories of stupid stuff each of them have done that day and funny things that have been happening up at the ‘Zone’. Shaun rolled in to dinner with his coach and long time friend Bud Keene, and everyone just sat down and chilled out for dinner. Wine was flowing, quotes from movies pouring out of the peoples mouths, and the grooming team (flown in from America to cut the pristine pipe) were telling me about the conditions of the pipe, the weather, and the attitude up at the pipe in the last couple of weeks “We are a family here, and if we don’t all work together and try our hardest, it just doesn’t work”
After comparing girlfriends with one of the groomers next to me, the dinner wrapped up, wine bottles were empty, and Shaun bailed. He graciously thanked everyone for joining him for dinner, casually walked out with a few of the crew, and disappeared off into the darkness of the ghost town that Jindabyne now resembles.
Jindabyne looked like an oil painting as the sun rose and turned the day into bright blue and clear skies. We met up with the Channel 9 guys from Wide World of Sports at the car park at the base of one of the local ski resorts to watch them interview Shaun. While the Channel 9 guys set up and tried really hard not to freeze to death, it became apparent that it could be really windy up the top of the hill, and for those of you that don’t know, strong winds are not ideal conditions to snowboard in. The interview was set up, and Shaun rolled up with his photographer and coach and casually sat down for what proved to be a much more candid interview than anyone expected it to be. The interview is fun, he’s having a good time and joking around, and he seems to be way more laid back than we anticipated. I guess I don’t know what I was expecting him to be like, but he is definitely more chilled out than I thought he’d be only 4 months out from the Olympics.
After the interview, Shaun and his crew jump in their 4WD and drive up through the empty resort and we followed them up in our rental car. The wind was getting stronger and stronger the higher we got, and as someone who has snowboarded 7-8 months a year for 9 years, I know its not ideal conditions to be learning tricks and training in a half pipe. After driving around the final mud and snow filled corner, there it was, one of the most closely guarded secrets in the world of snowboarding at that point in time and a private facility to snowboarding’s elite.
The pipe itself was impressive to see, but more impressive is where they built it, with absolutely no snow in the surrounding area. It’s a genuinely impressive showing of skill to see that the incredibly talented team at Snowpark Technologies could push up an Olympic sized half pipe in Australia after the reasonably average snowfall we had this year. There were snowmobiles waiting to give us a lift up to what was named ‘the zone’, and it was a sketchy track up to to say the least. After arriving at the pipe, it was really hard not be in awe at the sheer magnitude of snow construction that went on to get that pipe built. It was crazy. But the wind was out of hand, definitely wind hold conditions if the lifts were running, and Shaun was just sitting in a Kat waiting and waiting to see what the conditions were doing.
We were made aware that there were some things we might see but couldn’t talk about, and I’m one of this guys biggest fans so needless to say I wanted to see him boosting methods and doubles all over the place. But the wind only got worse, everyone started to get a bit fidgety and the vibe soon turned into frustration. That said, there is nothing you can do about the weather. Shaun got out and did a few runs to gauge the wind effect on the pipe, and seeing the most skilled pipe rider on earth get pushed out into the flat bottom by the wind made it fairly evident that the day was being called off. And that was that, Shaun rode down shaking his head and pulled the pin on the day, signage was taken down from around the pipe and we all headed back down to the cars. I was kind of devastated that I didn’t get to see him throwing hammers in the pipe, but I was also not at all dressed appropriately to stand around in gale force winds up high on a ski resort, it was freezing.
After another interview with the crew from Channel 10 down in the car park, Shaun disappears with his coach and photographer for a few hours. It was obvious he was frustrated with the wind and not being able to get some really productive training in. The window for training was closing and tricks needed to be landed. It only really became clear just how much pressure Shaun was under after hearing every interview ask him the same questions.. “how’s the Olympic training going?” … “can you win gold again?”. Clearly he is the favourite to win gold, but realising how much pressure he is under was crazy.
Later in the day was an interview and photo shoot with Mens Health magazine at the house where he was staying with his coach and photographer, and they did a really cool photo shoot in the back of East Jindabyne on an old road that led down to the lake. The photos came out amazing and the guys stayed back for beers afterwards with all of us.
Some average Indian food and a bottle of red at the local pub with Shaun’s lead pipe builder Frank Wells finished the day. The local park crew who were helping out up on the pipe for a couple of weeks were also at the pub trying to drink the wind away. One dude was so drunk I didn’t think the wind would blow ever again.
We woke up to wind and dark skies and it was fairly obvious that there was not going to be any chance of training going on today. We met with Shaun and his crew at a local café for breakfast and were trying to decide on something fun to do that day. After a drawn out breakfast we headed back to Shaun’s house to hang out for the rest of the day, and during an interview with Yahoo7 Shaun mentioned that he had recently taught himself to play piano a few days ago. After hearing how good he was after only 5 days it became apparent that there was probably not much this guy couldn’t do. After that display of limitless talent someone suggested we break out the Monopoly board. Now, everybody knows that monopoly gets pretty cut throat and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited about bankrupting an Olympian. So we bunkered in and I tried my hardest to extort $1000 from Shaun for my Mayfair property, needless to say I had him on the ropes before work got in the way. So I tagged one of his crew in for me, and before long, he had bankrupted 2 people on the table. Damn.
It was a successful few days in Jindy. As a self confessed massive Shaun White fan, it was so epic to meet the man in person, see his pipe, see him do a few uneventful runs through it, and get to know the man behind the camera. But more than that, it was genuinely mind blowing to see the magnitude of pressure he is under to win gold at Sochi. He is the clear favourite in what could be the most watched event at the Winter Olympics, but after hearing the journalist’s ask him the same “are you going to win gold?” question again and again you get an insight into his professionalism. He is a born competitor, and it seems that the pressure only motivates him to better himself and the sport. There are some haters out there who don’t like the way he goes about his business but you can tell he doesn’t care. Name another rider competing in both Slopestyle and Halfpipe at Sochi? He will be the first to admit that Slopestyle is one of his biggest challenges right now, but you have got to give him credit for being confident enough to ride against guys like Mark Mcmorris, and Torstein Horgmo. Both are riders who have dominated Slopestyle in recent years.
Shaun White is a pioneer of Halfpipe Snowboarding. He is constantly reinventing himself and his skill set to stay at the top of what he knows is an ever changing game. Training facilities like the one he had built in the NSW Mountain’s are what helps him stay at the forefront of the sports progression. Will he take gold? Who knows? Maybe if the wind dies down a bit…