Alex Warburton is a Canadian snowboarding legend. His contributions to the snowboard scene can’t be overlooked. He rode the infamous Blackcomb quarterpipe, explored Whistler’s backcountry from a snowboarder’s perspective (which was only really done previously on skis) and charged big Alaska lines in the sport’s first freeriding heyday. Not bad for a kid from Peterborough, ON, who had to mail order his first snowboard—a three-finned Burton Performer—through Action Now magazine, which he rode at local toboggan hills before moving to Banff in ’86.
“I moved to Sunshine Village straight out of high school because I heard they allowed snowboarding there at a time when no one else in Canada did. Basically, I lived up on the hill as a waiter and bartender and worked every night so I could ride every day. Those were 120-day years. That first year, I think I bought, like, three boards from Ken Achenbach’s Snoboard Shop. Every penny I made went to snowboards. I mean, I’d eat at work, we’d party at work and we lived on the hill, so any extra money was spent on boards.”
Interview: Ben Osborne
Welcome to MULTIPLICITY 2018. Tell us about your presentation?
I’m 51 years old now. I was with what might be considered the second wave of Canadian pros-If Ken Achenbach was his own solo, first wave. We all come out of the Calgary/Sunshine Village Scene in 86-87. Myself, Jon Boyer, Don Schwartz, Dave Achenbach, and Neil Daffern were pretty much it for Canadian pros in 87. When I moved to Whistler in 88, every local snowboarder lived in the same house–all six or eight of us. That first year, only Blackcomb even allowed snowboarding. I’ve gone through a lot of ups and downs in my life. One of the reasons I left Peterborough, Ontario and didn’t travel a normal path—Ontario was killing me—and it probably would have killed me. My talk will be about the journey through Whistler and the snowboard industry to become the person I am today.
What did your parents think of you becoming a pro snowboarder?
I mail ordered a snowboard about a year and a half before I left Peterborough. Nobody allowed it on ski hills in Ontario—this was 1983 were talking. One day, I was chatting with someone I was working with who had just come back from Sunshine Village. Normally, when I talked to people about snowboarding, I had to describe what it was. She said, “Oh yeah, I know what that is, they do it out in Sunshine Village.” That changed everything. I was supposed to go to art college, that was the premise. I didn’t have any of my shit done, but that was the idea because drawing was the only thing I was good at. My parents weren’t gonna pay for college anyways, so I went out to Sunshine Village and lived in staff accommodation. I went from never being on a resort, to riding 100 days a year. Back then, if you logged 100 days and were a decent athlete, you were pretty much a pro snowboarder.
“Back then, if you logged 100 days and were a decent athlete, you were pretty much a pro snowboarder.”
And then you got a call from Ken Achenbach.
I got to know Ken in Sunshine Village. He got me on Barfoot Snowboards and I started travelling. We went to a couple competitions and eventually that led to me getting a call from Burton. Then Ken opened up a shop in Whistler. He offered to give me a job and a place to live if I moved out to Whistler. So I moved in the summer of ’88 and Blackcomb allowed snowboarding. Whistler didn’t allow it for another two years, but that didn’t matter because we had Blackcomb.
You guys are the original Canadian Crew of snowboarders. What separates you from the rest of the original snowboard scene?
We were all pretty confident and cocky. Our attitude was that, make no mistake, nobody rides this area better than we do. In the summertime, the snowboard crew became an international contingent. Any pro snowboarder worth his salt knew the Whistler area was a hotbed of talent and terrain. We were highly influenced by surfing and lived our lives through magazines—we quickly developed the “anti-bravado”. In surfing, a 10-foot wave is called a 2-to-3-foot wave. We prided ourselves in measuring cliffs in Hawaiian scale.
“In surfing, a 10-foot wave is called a 2-to-3-foot wave. We prided ourselves in measuring cliffs in Hawaiian scale.”
Are you still riding?
I’m a Whistler seasons pass holder and I spend lots of time riding with my kids. The shred is still in me and I still crave it—but when you have kids and a business to run… I tend to stay off social media as much as possible. I basically block it out or else I’ll get depressed, or I won’t get shit done. I’m still designing boards and testing them, so that will get me out 3-4 times in the next few weeks. If I can get our 1-2 times a week, that’s pretty good.
You’ve gotten really into design.
I do pretty much everything except for sales and marketing for YES. I design the boards, art direct, product management, and I write every word in the catalog. I art direct the graphics and even line plan.
“It’s amazing to see the whole process that begins with a sketch on a piece of paper, and a few years later I see someone in the lineup with that product. It’s pretty rad.”
Were you always interested in the design side of snowboarding? Did that come naturally?
It did. My father was an engineer, my grandfather was a painter and city planner, my brother is a graphic artist. The only class I didn’t fail in school was art. I was always drawing motocross bikes when I was into moto, I was always drawing hockey players when I liked hockey. I was always drawing whatever I was passionate about. I’ve had a few guardian angels in my life—Neil Morrow was one of then. When I finished being a pro, Morrow Snowboards opened the door for me to come in and be a product tester. They had a factory in Salem, Oregon. Rob and Neil were the type of people who were like, “If you have an idea, build it, and prove it.” I was building boards and bindings with my hands and developing the step-in boot system. Those two years with them solidified what I would do post-snowboarding.
As a pro snowboarder, banger video parts and cover shots gave you fulfillment. Does art and design give you that same sense of achievement?
Yeah, for sure. It’s a similar kind of fulfillment and I know I am very lucky. I was snowboarding yesterday, wearing a Rip Curl jacket I designed and Adidas snowboard boots that I developed. The boot fits perfectly because I was literally in China grinding the last. I’m on the Now Bindings I designed and riding the YES. prototype I designed. I often step back and think, “Not a lot of other people get to do this.” It’s amazing to see the whole process that begins with a sketch on a piece of paper, and a few years later I see someone in the lineup with that product. It’s pretty rad.
Imagine sitting around a campfire telling stories, then take that experience and multiply it. That’s MULTIPLICITY at the 2018 Ski and Snowboard Festival. The annual event, presented by Mountain Life Media, captures human beings’ rich tradition of storytelling, then elevates it, adding in visual elements of photography, slideshows and video. The result is best compared to a TEDTalk® on adrenalin, with stories brought to you by explorers, athletes, outdoor thought-leaders, and passionate personalities from the mountain world.
Hosted by Mountain Life editor and emcee extraordinaire Feet Banks, MULTIPLICITY is a must-see celebration of true-mountain and adventure culture, and one hell of a good ride. Plus, the event is a special flagship fundraiser for the Spearhead Huts Project.
This event premiered in 2013 and has been a sell-out success each year since – don’t miss out. Grab your tickets today.