PINNACLE - STATEMENT OCT 2020
are we ready to acknowledge that snowboarding is no longer a progressive subculture? And that it's dying? and are we ready to talk about why? and how to reinvent it?
what if it's because we succumbed to an obsession with performance?
what if the solution is to make snowboarding more like arts and less like sports? if style, not performance, was really, truly the most important thing?
Could snowboarding then feel progressive and inclusive again? which is to say: could it actually become the culture that it always wanted to be?
it's time we at least had a conversation about it.
This isn't a typical 'snowboard movie'. Instead, in many ways, it's a typical documentary:
First, we establish there's a problem. Second, we investigate the reasons for it. third, we find a solution.
Which is where the 'typical' goes out the window, becaUse, in our case, the solution is art (or, in our vocabulary: style.) And art is not a typical solution at all: it is very hard to define, even to identify, and almost impossible to evaluate.
So, ultimately, Pinnacle is part documentary, part snowboard movie, part art film.
Snowboarding, in the beginning, was an outsider culture. A home for the misfits, outcasts, weirdos. We were the rebels and we welcomed those who didn't fit in. We created a playground for ideas, a different way of looking at the world.
This is the snowboarding I fell in love with, that changed - and in some ways saved - my life. I want it to be there for the next generation of kids who, like me, grow up feeling like they're different and unwelcome. But in the scene of today I recognize less and less of it.
The parameters of what makes an outcast, a misfit, a rebel, have changed. And they are horribly underrepresented in snowboarding. We, snowboarders, struggle to embrace gender equality and the full sexual spectrum. We are whiter than the snow we ride on. And while there's less and less of this snow, we keep on marketing a jet-setting, globe-trotting, live-your-dreams lifestyle that is more trumpist than it is counterculture. We're not just 'not the rebels' anymore, in some ways we are now part of 'the problem':
The rebels of today hold their society and government accountable for their carbon footprint, while we defend our 'right' to fly heli-trips in Alaska. Instead of welcoming those who love or identify with the 'wrong' gender, snowboarding feels more mysoginistic and homo-/trans-phobic than many other parts of youth culture today. And nobody, least of all a person of colour, could be blamed for feeling uncomfortable watching a bunch of white boys riding around in a 120-dollar-a-day ski ressort, acting all ghetto to a trap song.
I'm not trying to paint the worst picture I can. Snowboarding isn't lost. All the magic is still there, of course. But some things really need to change, to update. And in order for that to happen, it's important to understand how we ended up here in the first place.
Without question, the vast majority of snowboarders has no intention of discriminating against people of colour, LGBTQ+ or other minorites. Most snowboarders would agree that nature and the climate are worth saving. Above all, most of us have no intention to be 'part of the problem', to be part of the establishment, of mainstream elitist culture. If I believed that were the case, I would have given up and left long ago instead of trying to argue my point here.
The reason, I propose, that has driven us 'off course', is the same reason that has driven all of humanity off course: our biologically hard-wired obsession with performance and optimization. Progress for progress' sake. Better, faster, longer. Through competition, the concept at the heart of capitalism, we have advanced our entire way of life. And in the last few decades we have finally started waking up to the cost of it.
In snowboarding, we have pushed the envelope so many times, and it was glorious. Who was gonna land the next biggest rotation, send it even harder, Never-Been-Dones and ecstasy all around. And of course, this is how sponsors justified their endorsements. Yeah, there's a couple of 'soul shredders' on most teams. But the big marketing budgets and signature lines go to the 'best'. Which only makes sense, because it is what the masses wanted. We wanted to see Travis on a cinema screen, we wanted to see triple corks in competition runs. But there's a fact at the heart of this: to get to this level of extreme athletic achievement, you need incredible support and physicality. In other words: privilege. The kind of privilege and support that most non-white, non-male kids don't get. The kind of physical privilege that only a male body filled with testosterone will give you.
This is what people refer to when they say 'systemic' discrimination. It is how things stay the same, instead of changing for the better, even when there's nobody actively working against the change. It's how the system itself makes change impossible: In 99,9% of cases, only a white male will be brought up in a culture that embraces alpine sports, with rich enough parents to finance a childhood on the mountain, and with the kind of body that will withstand the abuse of triple cork rotation attempts. So, in 99,9% of cases, a white male will become the next best snowboarder, will be sponsored and marketed and become the next generation's idol.
Which is why it's taken so long for girls to become a bigger part of the community. Why it's taken until 2020 for snowboarding to have its first publicly gay, top-line, male pro snowboarder. This is why there are so few people of colour in our sport. Because if it's only straight white boys in the magazines, in the movies, etc. then who do these other kids look up to? Who gives them the feeling that there's a place for them in this community?
Our entire species now faces the question: How do we want to live in the future? If we can't continue this incredible race to the abyss, this focus on the pinnacle, then what will be our new guiding light? If it's not about progress, about being the best or the fastest, then what will it be about?
These are incredibly complex questions for the entire human race and this film doesn't pretend to answer them. But the big difference between all of humanity and us, the snowboarding community, is that we already have a solution on our hands. One that has been a prominent part of our culture from the beginning. So much so that we've been telling ourselves, all this time, that this is what sets us apart from the others: style.
It is an essential part of the snowboarding 'narrative' that style is what matters above all else. You can be the best of the best, but if you're not doing it with style, nobody will care. Of course this is almost never true. Yes, we will appreciate a simple, 'easy' trick being done with style. But let's be honest, we will only REALLY appreciate it, if it's done by somebody who could also do the hardest trick in the world. And if somebody really jumps further than anybody ever has before, or adds another rotation or flip to what is possible, it will get them attention, even if they're not exactly making it look good.
And yes, again, the gravitation towards the pinnacle is something deeply human. Of course we want to watch and be inspired by those who can do something that we can only dream of. This is also why the advertising in our streets features people that look prettier and thinner than most of us. It's why we admire, instead of attacking, those who have more money and power than us.
But this isn't the entire truth about us humans. There is also something else in us, in our imagination. It is the place where art happens. In modern art, there is no way to establish the 'best' painter, the 'best' dancer, the 'best' musician. Yet the arts are an integral part of our lives. And somehow, even in the arts, we have found a process of selection and reinvention. In fact, several times throughout its short history, parts of modern art reinvented themselves because of exactly this problem: they had backed themselves into a corner, lost their original values, they were becoming irrelevant. This is how abstract expressionism revolutionized painting in the 50s. It is how Detroit house created the electronic dance music of today in the 80s.
So: What if we reinvented snowboarding to be more like art, more about style, and less like sport, less about competition? What if snowboarding reinvented itself as an artform, a form of dance or physical performance maybe, where the aesthetic value outshines the athletic? We won't have a definite answer to this question unless we actually try. All this film can do, and all it pretends to do, is imagine it.
What is style? How is it defined? How is it expressed? And how, if at all, can it be judged?
There will always be a process of selection. Not every single snowboarder can be sponsored. So, if we defined the value of a certain rider in our culture not around their trick level, but around their level of original self expression, what could that look like?
Right there, of course, is the first obstacle. Which style is better than the other? Snowboarding, for all its ideas of rebellion and playfulness, has created a rather rigid set of unwritten rules here. You're not allowed to grab like this or that. You don't combine certain grabs and rotations. You do things proper or sketchy. Convention is perfect for being cool. But it's bad for evolution. What if we shot a section of tricks with accomplished, iconic pro snowboarders, where they break convention to the best of their abilities - making 'forbidden' grabs and combos look as stylish as possible?
We could compare certain accepted and unaccepted tricks side by side, to determine wether the one truly looks better than the other? What if we invited people outside of snowboarding to judge this? An established art critic. A modern dancer and performance artist. A grandma from next door. A painter. A famous musician.
Of course, once you let go of convention - what looks good, what is cool - it becomes even harder to define and determine the value of original self expression. In art, convention has, in some ways, been replaced by relevance: How much does a certain piece of art reshape the imagination - Does it bring something new to the medium? Does it open up new ways of thinking or seeing or hearing? Consider, for example, the 'value' of electronic dance music compared to the craft of a Beethoven symphony. Or the 'value' of a painted black square compared to a van Gogh landscape. (Nevermind the fact that van Gogh himself never sold a single painting while he was alive because the people of his time thought he was so 'bad'.) When talking about modern art, there will often somebody saying: I could've done that. To which somebody else replies: Maybe. But you didn't do it first.
Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art reinvented painting in the 1950s, when it was about to be pushed into irrelevance by the emerging importance of photography and movies. Pop Art centered around the reproduction and repetition of things instead of the focus on uniqueness that had defined modern painting until then. There's something very similar in an unwritten principle of snowboard filming: When somebody films a certain trick in a certain place, nobody else will go back and film that same trick in that same place again - the dogma of uniqueness. So, instead, what if we looked at several different riders doing the exact same trick in the exact same place, to bring out the individual difference in their execution? Or one rider doing the same trick over and over again, to examine wether it is possible to ever really do the exact same trick twice? Is there a way to make this feel just as inspiring and interesting as the kind of movies we are used to?
There's a thing you'll read in many articles about backcountry snowboarding: The track you leave behind on the mountainside is your 'brushstroke'. However, there are almost never any photos of only the track. It's always the rider in the process of creating the track. What if we took this somewhat blunt metaphor a little more literally and really created a montage where the result of the ride is shown, not the ride itself. If that became the primary goal, would riders abandon the classic repeated S-curves for something else, like straight geometrical lines connecting certain features of the mountain face? Or certain patterns created by multiple rides?