Brett Tippie is a legend, no question.
He was among the first to snowboard at Sunshine and Blackcomb (at the time two of the only places you could in Canada), he’s competed in over 25 World Cup events and represented Canada on the National Team in Snowboardcross and Giant Slalom. But Tippie is most recognized for two things:
- His larger than life personality, and 2. Pioneering freeride mountain biking. As one of the respected “Godfathers of Freeride”, Tippie starred in the breakout film, “Pulp Traction” and went on to star in the Kranked Series, graced the covers of numerous magazines, competed in the landmark Redbull Rampage and traveled the globe introducing freeride to the world.
The Mountain Bike Hall of Famer, TV personality and Director of Good Times hits the stage at MULTIPLICITY on Sunday, April 9th to tell his inspiring story. We sat down with Tippie to get a sense of what the audience can expect.
words: Brian Peech
Welcome to the show. Tell us a little about your presentation at MULTIPLICITY this year?
Yeah, I saw the list of the presenters, and I’m excited to put on a good little performance. I think I’m going to start with the old days, my old days anyways. I’m going to start with some snowboarding, talking about home made snowboards, and then move on to some gravel-boarding which I used to do to train because I couldn’t afford to go to New Zealand or any glaciers in the off season. So I was shredding gravel pits on my snowboard.
Is that where you also started mountain biking?
I transitioned into riding my bike down those pits for the early movies, then got sponsored and began traveling the world as a professional freerider, even though I was a diehard snowboard racer, racing world cup riding for Burton and whatnot. All of a sudden I started getting a salary and plane tickets and free bikes, covers of magazines and movie parts. It’s funny, because mountain biking was always kind of a summer job. But eventually myself, Wade Simmons and Richie Schley became the first professional freeride mountain bike team. We traveled the world doing some pretty dumb things, riding some steep stuff and jumping cliffs.
“We traveled the world doing some pretty dumb things, riding some steep stuff and jumping cliffs.”
But with the good times, can come the bad.
I had a few rough years. I was partying a lot. Everyone wants to drink a beer with a pro athlete, and I was into drinking beer. Then I started to hit the hard bar. I was never really into drugs, but I tried drugs and it sent me into a tailspin. I disappeared for about four or five years, and just partied my brains out. I came back and got a bike and a snowboard and started riding again. I came down to Crankworx and met a beautiful lady, and Rocky Mountain gave me a bike, and I started getting exposure again. All of a sudden I’m on the team and they gave me a salary. And I was back being a pro mountain biker.
…and a TV personality.
I transitioned into doing some announcing and producing videos, and it kind of took off into another direction. So on top of being a pro rider, I was able to become a mountain bike personality. So that’s where I am today, juggling both being a rider and a personality, and keeping the dream alive somehow.
So what you’re saying is you’ve never had a real job.
Ha, I wouldn’t say that. Even though I was a pro mountain biker, and a pro ski racer, I tree planted for nine years, and I was on a paving crew for a number of years. I bussed tables. I did a lot of things to get through those first few years. But yeah, I haven’t had a normal job since my 20s, so you’re kinda right.
When did you first discover snowboarding?
I first came across snowboarding in Action Now magazine. I also saw snowboarding in some 2×2 inch ads in the back of a BMX magazine. I used my grade 9 math skills and gridded out the size and shape of the board and I hand built my own in 1983. I didn’t have the technology to curve the nose, so I made wood steps, screwed right through them, and sanded them down, so it had this big, chunky, blocky nose. It had metal fins on it, and I used BMX tires and inner tubes to make bindings. Then eventually moved on to laminating boards and curving the tips. Then I bought a real board, my dad helped me out.
“If you wanted to be half as good, you had to try twice as hard. If you wanted to kiss the pretty girls in Kamloops, you had to be a rad dude.”
What was the snowboarding scene all about in the early years?
I graduated in ’86, and moved to Sunshine Village, which was one of the only places in Canada at the time that allowed snowboarding. So all the different snowboarders at the time moved to Sunshine Village, so we all congregated there. Then the following year, Blackcomb opened up to snowboarding, so a bunch of us moved there. I’ve been chasing it since the ’80s, and I’ve been addicted ever since.
You’ve competed in over 25 World Cup races, have you always been competitive?
I’ve always been pretty competitive. I started school a year early, so all the way through school, I was always a year younger than everyone. So if you wanted to be half as good, you had to try twice as hard. If you wanted to kiss the pretty girls in Kamloops, you had to be a rad dude. Everyone in my grade was a year older so it made me dig deeper and try harder just to measure up so I could kiss some pretty girls, too. The main thing about being competitive is you have to not be afraid of failing. I’m not afraid to fail. I learned early that you have to take risks, throw it out there, and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. And as long as you learn something, you never lose. I guess I should avoid clichés like the plague [laughs], but there’s a bunch.
You also do some coaching?
I was coaching quite a bit when I got out of rehab. I was doing construction work, and coaching, and basically anything I could just to buy diapers. I love working with kids, and I love sharing the knowledge. I’ve done some coaching with people who’ve had addictions in their lives, whether it is themselves, or in their families. And I coach some mountain bike camps throughout the summer. I find that giving back and sharing the knowledge gives me value, and worth, sharing the knowledge on the chairlifts. When you see someone’s face light up when they do something they didn’t think was possible, or when they’re feeling themselves advance, it immeasurably invaluable, and it makes me feel like a champ when they feel like a champ.
“I no longer want to constantly be on this nomadic pursuit of a good time, but I’m trying to get as much as I can while being a good husband and father as well.”
Tell us about the early freeride scene.
There was no scene. Everyone was into cross-country, and even downhill was racing down roads. People were wearing Lycra, handlebars were narrow, bikes and tires were thin. And what we were doing on those bikes, they weren’t meant for. And Richie Schley, he was a Canadian BMX champ, so he had jumping skills, and I was ripping down gravel pits on a snowboard, so we kind of mixed it together with some other crazy redneck friends who were absolutely insane. We starting getting our fix in the summer, riding the mountains on these mountain bikes, because we couldn’t go shred on a snowboards or skis. We kind of created a new thing without even realizing it, just trying to have fun and get a little adrenalin, and all of a sudden people from Bike magazine started to show up.
And then came the videos…
Christian Begin wanted to film us, and then came Pulp Traction, then the Kranked series, which became the first big movies that started freeriding—very akin to Greg Stump’s Blizzard of AAHHH’s—a very seminal film. So the scene hadn’t really started yet. I started wearing kneepads, I think I might have been the first, and started to wear football pads for some really gnarly moves. It just kind of molded into a scene. In the beginning, I was trying to get sponsorships, so I was sending in videos and photos of me jumping off cliffs. People didn’t want to sponsor me because they were like, “We don’t get this. You’re going top break our bikes, and how is that going to help us sell bikes?” But Rocky Mountain took the chance, and we became the Fro Riders, the first professional freeride team in ’97.
But freeriding didn’t catch on right away.
People really didn’t get it. The first film we made, Pulp Traction, Specialized sponsored it, and they got so much grief about us riding off trail—all these steep gnarly slopes—that they pulled the film from the shelves. They thought they were going to get grief from IMBA (International Mountain Bike Association) because we weren’t on the trails. But there weren’t any trails steep enough or gnarly enough for what we wanted to ride, so we were just making our own lines, bouncing through the woods and jumping off cliffs. They weren’t expecting that. The film was released, but they pulled it right afterwards because they were afraid of the backlash. It was just too crazy.
Was there a specific time when you realized mountain biking was going to take off?
I think mountain biking was always going to take off, because it’s such a cool thing on its own, but we kind of pushed it in a new direction. I think I realized it was starting to take off when we went to Europe in ’98 and it just blew people’s minds. Pulp Traction had come out, and we were going on these photo shoots, and we had this flock following us just to see what we’d do. Year-by-year, it just kept getting bigger. And all of a sudden we were like celebrities. It was like being a rock star. You could see what was happening—the plane tickets, the contracts the sponsorships, getting paid to wear clothes and sunglasses. It all started from riding a bike, and all of a sudden I’m making a living. Magazines started running pictures of us, and covers, more and more videos started coming out. There was definitely a movement there and it just started snowballing.
“All of a sudden we were like celebrities. It was like being a rock star. You could see what was happening—the plane tickets, the contracts the sponsorships, getting paid to wear clothes and sunglasses. It all started from riding a bike.”
Must have been cool to see it happen.
It was awesome to see, because there were now more people to ride with, and people would take you to their gnarly trails, trying to scare you or show off their local spots. And that was exactly what I wanted. I wanted to find steep trails and rad lines, and all of a sudden it was getting rolled out in front of me, and I was meeting all these cool, freaky, eccentric mountain bike fiends from around the world. It was rad, because we were actually one with them. It was a wonderful time.
“It’s like Henry Rollins from the punk band Black Flag said, ‘There’s no free time, there’s no spare time, there’s no next time, there’s only life time. Go.'”
You’re 48 and not showing any signs of slowing down. What inspires you to keep pushing?
Oh, man. I don’t know anything different. I don’t have different speeds. I like to go, and I know life is short. It’s like Henry Rollins from the punk band Black Flag said, “There’s no free time, there’s no spare time, there’s no next time, there’s only life time. Go.” I wasted a number of years being a drug addict and an alcoholic. I disappeared and I didn’t do any riding, so I’ve been trying to make up for lost time. I’m trying to leave a better legacy for my kids to be proud of. I’m just trying to get my shred on as much as possible. I love powder and I love shredding singletrack or freeriding gravel slopes. I just want to go. I no longer want to constantly be on this nomadic pursuit of a good time, but I’m trying to get as much as I can while being a good husband and father as well.
What do you hope the audience takes away from your presentation?
I want them to feel that they should go out and shred right now, because the end is nigh and we should rip today. Whether you’ve got a corporate job, or you’re bogged down with wife and kids, or whatever corner you feel you’ve painted yourself into, with a little bit of planning and some strategic organization, you can get out. It could be skipping that case of beer and using the money for a baby sitter, or selling your fancy car to get a beater—whatever you need to do, you can go out and shred more. Today.
Adventure stories are best told first-hand and with a hefty dose of authenticity. At MULTIPLICITY, harrowing stories from around the globe are delivered up close and personal by eight world-class athletes, explorers and outdoor personalities. Combining photography, video and top-shelf storytelling, MULTIPLICITY has quickly become the hottest event at the World Ski & Snowboard Festival at Whistler Blackcomb.
“I was blown away,” says bestselling author and adventurer Bruce Kirkby. “MULTIPLICITY is a beautiful reminder–in this era of distraction, hype, texts and tweets—that a good, simple story is still king. Especially the bare-knuckled, whiskey-scented, gut-wrenching, mind-scrambling, tear-laced campfire variety.
A flagship fundraiser for the Spearhead Huts Project, the event has been described as “a TED Talk on adrenalin,” and “the most inspiring night of the year.” Kirkby, the MULTIPLICITY keynote speaker last year calls it “the biggest, brightest story- telling gathering of its kind. Grab yourself a seat before they’re gone.”
2017 MULTIPLICITY Presenters
Aaron and Hawkeye Huey