I love the snowboarder vs. skier feud. It’s petty, frivolous, and just about as ridiculous of a rivalry as they come – making it as near to perfection as you can get in my opinion. In fact, I do everything in my limited power to promote the multi-decade long war. Remember that dirt-bag snowboarder that white-walled your girlfriend last season at Vail? Sorry, not sorry – that was I.
The battle has been fought by all – once grounded in legitimacy and in response to pitiful discrimination – it now solely exists in our blood-born quest to assume the identity of our rebel-rousing forefathers. But to think the feud still carries the validation that spawned it would be inherently ignorant. Sean Pettit will be the first to tell you that.
Growing up in Whistler, BC, Sean was surrounded by snow and tossed into skiing before he knew left from right. He assumed skiing as his identity seemingly overnight. At the ripe age of 11, he scored his first sponsorships with K2 and Oakley, by age 12, Powder Magazine had dubbed him a prodigy. The rest is history.
As a snowboarder and all-around winter enthusiast, I have been aware of Sean’s prowess in the mountains for years. However, it wasn’t until he started putting out snowboarding clips on Instagram that I really took notice. The massive front five off the cliff that he stomped and followed up with a saucy switch pow carve? I would kill to have that in my back pocket.
It only made sense to give the man a call. And to be honest, I was a bit nervous. I don’t know a damn thing about skiing, and this skier rips harder on a board than I ever hope to. But here it is, Sean Pettit, top-of-his-field on two planks, and a man just now realizing at age 25 that maybe he should have been a snowboarder all along.
Oh, and it turns out snowboarding is the biggest trend in skiing. So maybe one of these days we can put that incessant war to rest after all. If we do, I’ll do my very best to resist the next spray, but I make no promises.
Let’s dive into this with two planks. When did you start skiing?
My parents first put me on skis when I was two. Everyone in my family skied, so that’s what I was going to do. Once you were able to walk, you skied.
Do you think that had you been given the opportunity to snowboard from the start, things would have shaped up differently?
I have thought a lot about this, because when you are super young, there almost isn’t a difference in the sport. It wasn’t until I was nine or ten years old that I really knew what was going on and that there were options. I was good at skiing, so of course I was going to stick with it.
When did you first step on a snowboard?
Sixteen maybe? I think it might have just been switching with someone on the resort. I never fully got into snowboarding until over the last couple of years.
Last season it almost seemed as if you went snowboarding more than you went skiing.
Lately, I am just following what I actually want to do. In the morning I just look at my gear and think, do I want to put my feet into ski boots, or snowboard boots? We all know how comfy snowboard boots are.
Are there certain conditions that help dictate that choice?
I thought that at first. And there is something to that; on skis it is way easier to go faster, or to go through choppy terrain. Then I realized I don’t want to ride that stuff anyway. It’s more fun to ride the terrain that I want to snowboard on.
There is an inherent bit of fear that comes with pushing yourself in either skiing or snowboarding. How does that play out for you and pushing yourself snowboarding?
When I got to a certain point with skiing – the level that I have been at for the last little while – it’s extreme. It isn’t just cruising around, because that isn’t fun for me on skis. But at the same time, the level I’ve gotten to on skis also really isn’t what I would refer to as ‘fun,’ because it’s scary a lot of the time. My nerves have taken a beating.
One thing that is really drawing me to snowboarding is that I don’t have to do much to have fun. I can simply ride a cat track with some side hits – it can be foggy or whatever – and I’ll just have so much fun. In a sense, you’re a kid again. The mountain is bigger; I am learning something every day, where in skiing, I don’t think I have really learned anything new in the last five years because I have accomplished what I wanted to on skis.
Have you thought about how far you want to push your riding?
I know – that is a part that scares me. Because how far am I going to go with this? It’s not like just because I am a backcountry skier and I go to Alaska and ride big lines, that I also want to be that kind of snowboarder. Right now, I am riding the resort the same way that I go to the skate park. I had so much fun going to Seymour Mountain in Vancouver this year. Everyone is like, “Why would you go to Seymour when you live in Whistler?” But it’s super fun. Instead of just pushing my limits to the extreme, I think it should be more about how much fun you can have doing it. Not how much you can scare yourself.
It must be rad riding Seymour because there are so many local riders. How has it been riding with them? Do they help you progress with tricks?
I think a lot of it definitely comes down to whom I am riding with. When I go to Seymour I usually hit up Jake [Kuzyk], he’s super fun to watch snowboard, and I really like his approach to snowboarding in general. It isn’t so much that he is pushing me, but I just want to keep up. So I will just try tricks – things that I haven’t done before on a snowboard, but think I can do because I see other people do them and I know how to flip and spin.
Do you get turned around switching back and forth?
Absolutely. It is very easy to get used to one thing and then try and go to the other, and all of a sudden it feels a little unnatural. But to be honest, the more I snowboard, the more skiing becomes unnatural to me [laughs].
Yeah, which kind of brings me back to when I was younger and just got into skiing because I was good at it. Because for a lot of my teenage years, I don’t think I realized it at the time, but I wanted to be snowboarding. I was good at skiing, and I had the pressure on me at that time to perform on skis – that is what I was sponsored for – so it’s easy to just fall into that and not realize that you wanted to do something else.
Do you ever feel pressure from your sponsors now that you are snowboarding so much?
You know what, for sure. There is going to be some division of interest there. But they have been super f*cking rad about me snowboarding. I think honestly it is a timing thing. I think right now the whole industry is in need of some refreshing. I’m still skiing as I always have, but now with this interest in snowboarding, there is something about what I’m doing that’s exciting to talk about with people.
How about pressure from fans?
Oh yeah, I have received a ton of grief for it. Which is funny to me, because I would never just go in a certain direction because the fans wanted me to – hell no. I’m doing something because I want to do it.
There is a huge side of fans that are like, “Why are you snowboarding? Go back to skiing; that is what you’re good at.” And then the other side is like, “F*ck yeah, that’s super rad you’re snowboarding.” I think the whole hate thing is kind of funny because people are just haters these days. But, at the same time, most people out there have a fairly open mind and are down.
Totally, and there are a bunch of other skiers doing the same thing – albeit not as much as you are, but Jossi [Wells], Candide [Thovex], and Woody [Buoma] all spend time snowboarding. Have you ever gone riding with them, or talked to them about snowboarding?
I am probably closest with Jossi out of that crew, but I don’t think we have ever gone snowboarding together. I don’t think that we have ever even talked about it. But for me, I think it’s clear – actually I think for most skiers it’s pretty clear – snowboarding is awesome, and it’s super f*cking fun. I don’t know if you have noticed, but snowboarding is like the biggest trend in skiing right now.
You have had quite a bit of influence with different brands, particularly K2, as far as product design goes. Do you have any plans or ideas you want to bring into snowboarding?
Absolutely. I don’t know if I can go into too much detail, but there is definitely so much you can do with fun tools for the backcountry or pow surfing. I also think there could be a hybrid somewhere between bindings and no bindings. But, I think I need to prove myself further on a board before I can start developing products.
In the past you have said that you watch more snowboarding videos than ski flicks. Do you have a favorite snowboard film?
I don’t really watch too many snow films at all, but back when we were all about film, I was super into the Mack Dawg movies. I only ever watched snowboard movies, even though we were making ski films.
Any reason in particular?
I think it just goes back to the fact that I probably wanted to snowboard the whole time. I thought at that time that I was just taking my influence on skiing from snowboarding, but really, I could only go so far with mimicking snowboarding on skis.
Well, then lastly, how would you say that snowboarding influences your skiing?
Heavily. I used to base tricks off of it, I based my turns off of the way snowboarders turn. But lately, I have just come to the realization that the best way for me to mimic snowboarding, is to be on one.
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