Shaun White has work to do. After a one-year hiatus, White returned to the X Games last month and ended in 15th place, the worst finish he’s had since he was 13 years old. So he did what any two-time Gold Medal Olympian would — he got on a plane a month later and headed to Pyeongchang. After all, the 2018 Winter Olympic Games are only a year away, and White will be one of the oldest competitors in the field. “Now I’m 30, I just turned 30, so I finally feel like, okay, I understand and I have the time and the grasp and the team of people to help me accomplish this,” White told us in a visit to our office this week.
Despite his less-than-stellar performance at the 2012 Sochi Winter Olympics (he was kept off the podium for the first time, something he calls “a bummer on many levels”) or his X Games run, White is motivated. Part of that comes with the chance for a fresh start on a new course in Pyeongchang after the widely publicized flaws with the course in Sochi. “It’s like if you’re a basketball player and you show up and the hoop’s a different height,” White says about that course. “It’s like you show up to run track and there’s rocks on the, it’s gravel instead of clay.”
So how’s the pipe? After taking it for a few runs at Bokwang Snow Park this Friday, White calls it “one of the best pipes of the season.” His enthusiasm is a good sign. White recently underwent ankle surgery to make sure it wouldn’t hinder him on the road to Pyeongchang and used his return to the U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain in December as a “test run” for his ankle. “I feel great. I just started working out, to be honest. I’m like, ‘Man, we’re in this whole new world of, like, I’m not tired, I’m motivated.’ My mental’s better than it’s been in a long time.”
This weekend, White will turn his attention to the Air + Style Festival, a festival/competition that he worked hard to bring to the United States. The festival will feature Major Lazer, Flume, Vince Staples, Chromeo, Atmosphere, YG, Vic Mensa, and TV on the Radio — all taking the stage on February 18 at Expo Park in Los Angeles. But the shows are supposed to take a back seat to the big air. “I wanted to do my sport-music dream idea and then be the owner of Air and Style because I’ve always loved the event. But on top of that, we realized, boom, all of a sudden Olympics is now doing big air. So it could give us even more cred and validate us. We could become the qualifying series. It’s like a handshake now, and then after Korea, we’re gonna roll out the whole, like, World Snowboard League of some sort. And actually make a tour with Air and Style a part of it.”
White knows he isn’t alone in hedging for the Olympics giving a boost to big air snowboarding everywhere. “Right now I have the respect from the athletes, also as a fellow competitor, the sponsors are coming, and the numbers, the people who we’re bringing in, the sponsorship dollars that we have for the event is by far more than a lot of these other guys have seen,” he says. “So it’s really an interesting time, as much as it’s exciting to just go compete in Korea, there are other things happening that are really great.”