Snowboarding is dead. Long live snowboarding.
Before the credits rolled on Travis Rice’s new film Depth Perception, I had a potent set of notions swirling through my mind. It was a moment of clarity where everything makes sense, even if just for one hour in a Jackson, Wyoming, theater. Below is what I scribbled on 17 bar napkins, written fast and furious before the muse left me.
Snowboarding is dead. Like the blindly optimistic Icarus with his wax wings, snowboarding flew way too close to the sun. The trait that made it compelling to the suits with fat checkbooks, a reckless disregard for figurative and literal gravity, is the very thing that burned us down. Nobody is really getting paid these days and telling the ladies that you’re a pro won’t get you any closer to home base. On the industry side, many of the titans have slowly began bowing to mainstream trend reports and bottom-line finger-wagging.
When the laywoman thinks of snowboarding she most likely thinks of “The Flying Tomato”—zillion dollar drone equipment, energy drink antics and jerky cork 5000s. This is the tabloid story; an explosive rise followed by a hollow, unceremonious thump. We made rock stars and millions, sold our souls and cultivated a generation of lost boys all before we turned 20. Yeah, though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we will fear no evil. And may we forever rest in peace.
But (and there is always a “but” in these kinds of tales) if snowboarding is dead to so many, why do we still believe? Despite it all (or perhaps because of it) we dedicate our hearts and bodies to this up-at-dawn, frozen extremity inducing, wallet-draining, lung burning pursuit of powder. Why we do this is surprisingly simple.
We made rock stars and millions, sold our souls and cultivated a generation of lost boys all before we turned 20.
We stick around because it belongs to us. It always has, even during its bloated, rock-star days, it was deeply and unilaterally ours. These past years were strange and sometimes hard to watch, without a doubt. There is no mistaking how deeply it cut to watch something so raw and pure get bought and sold. We fought it when and where we could. We printed stickers telling the world “It was better when you hated us,” blew off sponsors with iPhone edits and calls to “Drink Water” instead of Monster. The soul of snowboarding waited patiently for the rest of the world to stop seeing our thing as a commodity, even when that day felt like it would never come. All because snowboarding is ours. And as it limps back home, hat in hand, to the community that never stopped caring, we welcome it back with open arms.
There’s speculation about what caused the last gasp, the death rattle of an industry that had gotten too big for its britches. Perhaps it was massive budgets with too many chiefs and too few visionaries, or maybe it can be laid at the feet of our star players who cashed checks and said nothing. One thing is certain—snowboard culture lost its way as it slipped from the hands of those that conceived it. It was a beautiful and grand thing that became foreign and removed. And in this scope, it veered too far away for most to see the point at all. We will, eventually, look back on this time and be awed by what it endeavored to do, despite the chatter. Nonetheless it made us weary and confused, how could so much money and manpower not produce something more substantial?
So through that lens, it is no small revelation that the greatest love letter to snowboarding written in many years was crafted by one of the minds that has long played in the far-off realm of big budget filmland: Travis Rice. Factor in that the ink had barely dried on The Fourth Phase release tour but one year ago, Rice and his core team may have damn near done the impossible. They have dusted off our weary, wax wings, fortified them with steel and given us a reason to fly high again.
Depth Perception was intended to be a webisode series. A few minutes of buddy edits filmed in Galen, Canada, with a riding crew of four, it was a passion project. It was a vacation from too many cooks in the kitchen, something to sooth the soul and guide them back to the root of why they still chase snow with such joyful abandon. As the footage piled high and the moments in Canada linked together to create something impossible to contain, a “break” morphed into a story about nature and friendship that begged to be told. As with all things Travis Rice—convention, time constraints, norms, logic, all of it, nothing could have held sway on what was to become a full-length film. Depth Perception had to be born. It would have been a grave insult to the gods (a thing we can hardly afford) had it gone to rest on filmer/editor/producer Justin Smith’s digital cutting room floor.
Depth Perception is a timeless love song hidden in an action film package. Every frame is a humble bow to our planet’s bounty, a difficult thing to execute without coming off as self-congratulatory. But they pull it off with just the right amount of high fives and comedy. The soundtrack was dreamy and compelling, driving the film just as much as the actual riding. Jackson OG Willie McMillon narrates with a weathered tenor that suits the film like a leather glove, worn but stalwart, giving life to the ancient trees that stand impossibly tall throughout.
Going against the standard of many riders and resorts, DP features an economical four snowboarders and one crazy, gorgeous locale. Rice, Austen Sweetin, Bryan Fox and Robin Van Gyn navigate each other and the Canadian wilderness with the same reverence and humor. The focus is on the pure essence of getting amongst it with your friends. Without preaching, they put Mama Nature in the marquee role, using her stoic perfection to tell a story of friendship and the pursuit of snow riding in its simplest, most gratifying form. It’s a quiet little ditty, the kind that one hears in the car going down an open, endless road. It is the song that transports you to a better time and place.
Depth Perception opens the door to a complete way of telling our story. It shows the whole truth with its lulls and quiet moments, all without losing the passion and thrills of riding a snowboard in powder, doing big tricks and advancing the sport. This film, or anything for that matter, won’t change our checkered past, nor will it predict our future. But one thing is clear: snowboarding is dead. Long live snowboarding.
Josi Stephens loves words, art, horses and naps.