Words by unreal pioneer and 20+ year pro Barrett Christy
The Free Spirit is in us all. Jamie Anderson has tapped into something that we can all relate to. It’s the name of her signature short-wide freeride model and the name of her web series. Young and old, freestyle, freeride, jib style, and racers… As snowboarders, we are all naturally free spirits. It’s what sets us apart from the mainstream, or actually it’s what attracted the mainstream to us. We are Free Spirits and we are making our own story up as we go. Each story is different, and hopefully, we are inspiring others to live life in an inspiring way, with the free spirit of snowboarding at the heart of it. Here is my Free Spirit story.
My Free Spirit story really started in the 90s when I started snowboarding at the age of 19. I tried to figure it out, without lessons, by following around an impressive crew of dudes from South Lake Tahoe in the early 90’s. I moved to Crested Butte CO and continued to follow around snowboarders and skiers at a mountain that demanded freeride skills and taught me how to hold my edge, traverse, keep my speed and jump off rocks, regardless of flat landings. That place made me strong and sparked a determination in me that led me to compete in every discipline I could enter as a snowboarder. By the time 97 rolled around I was living in Vail and I was trying to compete against my heroes in the pipe events. I rode for LIB and had recently switched to GNU because they offered me the opportunity to design my own model. Mervin was my first sponsor. The inaugural X Games in Snow Summit showcased men and women in Pipe, slope, Big Air, and SBX. We competed along with downhill shovel racers, mini-skiers, and skydive boarders. Weird, but it launched a mainstream infatuation with extreme sports and it helped the women get recognized as legitimate athletes in the male-dominated sport of snowboarding. I won the inaugural slope and big air event, and it helped me get sponsors and paychecks that set my path for the next decade. I somehow won the US Open in 97 and that gave me an advantage qualifying for the Olympics in 98. With an open mind and a free spirit, I made the trip to Nagano as part of the first Olympic snowboarding team. My results were not a high point in my snowboarding career, but the experience gave me a platform to build upon professionally as well as a few stories to tell my kids.
That decade from the mid 90’s until the mid 2000’s were pretty special. It felt like we were defining a new sport and taking what started in the 80’s to a new level of acceptance and participation. I rode for some mainstream companies, but also kept riding for Gnu because the boards were the best and I genuinely love the people, still do. I moved to the NW and married my favorite Free Spirit, now we have a couple kids who add a whole new level of fun to snowboarding. The Cummins family contributed so much to snowboarding in the NW and beyond, and their support to the community through the NWS retail shops helped riders like Temple, MC, Jamie Lynn, Circe Wallace and many more reach their own career highs.
Snowboarding has grown, and for the lucky elite the paychecks and prize purses have definitely grown. I was able to take my experience as a rider and work with my sponsors in different capacities, hopefully helping the newer generations to progress as snowboarders and ambassadors. For lots of riders in my era, I think their Free Spirits got crushed along the way. Sponsor BS, industry bias, and the standard discrimination against certain styles caused many a pro shred to ghost out. Nothing wrong with that, but at times I’ve felt like the Free Spirit in snowboarding is being suffocated. These days the formula for success as a female snowboarder is tricky. Success is defined by a combination of results, style, looks, attitude, and social media following. Some of the most accomplished in one area don’t ever succeed in the other. The formula for apres pro shred career is tricky too, and I don’t blame those who stepped away because it’s at times equally frustrating. I really admire those who have succeeded in any aspect of this industry, it’s hard to balance the work/play ratio when the snow is falling and the lines blur.
I just Did the Dew… Tour. The recent Olympic Qualifier event in Breckenridge. It was work but play too. I love being there to see the jumps and the jumping in person. The riders on podiums are winning 5 times what I did in my day, but the jumps are bigger and the job of pro shredder is more complex than it used to be. Sponsor obligations, media opportunities, industry schmoozing, self-care and self-promotion are all part of the game for the competitors. Train, compete, celebrate… but make sure you document it all and make it look fabulous. Content for sponsors and content for self-promotion are key. I did the Dew as an industry veteran, TM, brand representative. I did a few media ops, and lots of high fiving, selfie-taking, socializing, and some content gathering. Whether or not it’s in the job description I still feel as though I’m a brand ambassador and I hustle those events like a pro. It’s the competitor in me that keeps going and doing it the best I can from my angle. I’m inspired by the riders, the women who are progressing at new levels each year and truly closing the gap between the men and women in style, skills, and sponsorships. They are working hard at staying strong, and they have the ability to reach the masses and inspire people young and old, male and female, to snowboard and tap into their own Free Spirits.
The moral of the story is, I love snowboarding, the people who define it, and I’m still a Free Spirit at heart. I love being part of the competitive scene and helping riders at the height of their careers be on boards that help them achieve their goals. I love working with the up and coming kids and the unreal snowboarders that keep the passion alive. Our beloved sport can feel like it’s being strangled at times, but connecting to the real people that love it and devote their lives and professions to nurturing it is still pretty energizing. So, for now, my Free Spirit is alive and well, and I’m immensely proud of the people in snowboarding who honor their spirit and keep snowboarding real… and unreal.
Barrett’s 20+ year pro model The B-PRO