Words: William Sleigh. Photos: Andrew Miller.
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of interviewing the one and only Travis Rice for the second time. To give the following interview a bit of context, a few years ago I somehow ended up at his 33rd birthday party somewhere in France and proceeded to drink champagne and smoke cigars with his closest friends and family. Eventually, I plucked up the courage to steal him away for 30 minutes for a quick interview about how The Fourth Phase was coming into existence during the early planning stages of the project - before the cameras had even begun rolling. You can read that interview published in an online magazine that doesn't exist anymore somewhere on the internet. Maybe. It might be here.
Needless to say, a lot has changed since then, but then again, a lot hasn't. The Fourth Phase was released to heavily critiqued acclaim, people wondered what would happen to the snowboard movie as we know it and whether the industry was ready for it. Then we all just got on with our lives. Maybe some people who didn't know anything about snowboarding were entertained for the better part of an hour, and even tried to strap in that next winter, I don't know. We can't guess the effects of that movie, nor should we waste time thinking about that kind of thing. The reality is if you're here reading this now you probably clicked on the title because Travis is one of a few megastars in the snowboarding world. He is on a completely different level when it comes to riding his snowboard and the people around him are wise enough to know that whatever he tries his hand at next, will most likely be a huge success that will boost him further into the ranks of global icon and celebrity.
But here we are, a humble snowboard magazine that has its roots in helping snowboarders share their stories, no matter how varied or unique. Enter Depth Perception, straight off the back of The Fourth Phase. Was it a backlash, a passion project? Either way, Travis' new movie, featuring the elusive Bryan Fox, the gung-ho whirlwind talent Austen Sweetin and the pretty-much-more-qualified-than-everyone-else-crazy-ripper Robin Van Gyn takes a totally different direction to its precursor.
Travis is a guru regardless of what you thought of The Fourth Phase. Depth Perception is the movie we were all waiting to see, maybe you didn't know it yet. But now a few words about the honourable Travis Rice. He's a complete nerd but an incredible teacher. There's not been a single occasion where I've spoken to him that I haven't felt super inspired and that he was genuinely interested to talk to me. Noone else has really had such a big impact on snowboarding, in recent years. He lives on a sick ass sailing boat all summer. Yet, despite all of the things you've seen, on this occasion, I was softly reminded that he is, in fact, a normal human, dealing with the same daily bullshit of answering emails and spending way too much valuable time scrolling the feed that we all are.
What we can learn from him - and from watching Depth Perception - is that we all need to make a conscious effort to turn our corporate tracking devices off, get the fuck outside and seek out some real, valuable human experiences. Hell, go now. Save this lengthy read for your next plane or train ride. Or print it out and get away from the screen.
Just make sure you watch Depth Perception and bask in the glory of some of the most incredible terrain imaginable to any snowboarder, complete with Wes Anderson style narration that brings a new storytelling approach to the snowboard movie formula that has been done to death.
So you just flew in from Russia yesterday, on the premiere tour for your new movie Depth Perception. How are you feeling? It must be intense but maybe less so than the tour you did for The Fourth Phase.
I'm doing all right. I'm feeling better than I should, that’s for sure. I mean it's good. What I would say is that The Fourth Phase was its own beast. Honestly, though, I'm pretty motivated and happy to be on the road promoting Depth Perception just because our guys and our crew worked so hard on this project. So I'm hyped to be showing the world and telling the world about it. Because ultimately I’m really proud of what we were able to achieve with it. Yeah.
You once told me that it’s a very thin line to walk between a core snowboard movie and a mainstream movie. I think The Fourth Phase definitely fell on the latter. Is that something that resonates with you? Was this new movie a kind of a response to that? I don’t want to say a backlash, but did you make Depth Perception in response to the whole process of The Fourth Phase?
I mean yeah. You know, it's a funny thing because The Fourth Phase was so dynamic. It was a huge effort and I'm really proud of the film and the messaging that was able to come out with it. It wasn't really a backlash. But there was like 20 people involved in The Fourth Phase and we had a lot of support from a bunch of different partners and Red Bull ended up getting really involved in it. We wouldn't have been able to do it without all the support from them. It was such a big thing and there were so many people involved in the creative process, for better or for worse. There are certain things that happened that we couldn’t have done without that many people involved. And then also, at the end of the day with creative vision and creative ideas, oftentimes, when there's a lot of cooks in the kitchen you're able to achieve more but certain things always get a little watered down. The more opinions you have the more it starts appeasing multiple, different groups. And that's what that project was. The Fourth Phase was built to serve and entertain a lot of different demographics, right?
Right. And it probably did so.
And so coming out of that project I grabbed my buddy Chip [Taylor] who co-directed it with Chris Murphy. And after that project I was like man, come and work with me for the winter, I don't know how we're going to make it work but we'll make it work. And so yeah he rolled with me and it was an idea that I’d had for years, wanting to do a project like this. Chip helped me develop it and ultimately was able to drive like the soundtrack, the creative and the edit. Chris Murphy was also a huge asset and our friend Melissa Larsen helped us in the beginning with the direction of the writing.
And yet, you know, you could call it a backlash but really it was like just wanting to not have to answer to anybody. Right? And it was our own little, fucking weird art project and we were going to do it how we wanted to do it. And that's really what it was, no compromises. All right. This is how we're going to fucking do it. We really didn't talk to anybody about it. Quiksilver backed the whole project from the beginning and that was it. We were just left to our own devices, we didn't even tell anybody about it. No one even knew we were making a movie until like September.
It was pretty under wraps.
Yeah, and it wasn't even all that intentional. We were busy just doing it and then we're like fuck, we should probably tell some people about this, we’ve got a film coming out. It was fun. It felt like back in the day when we had super limited resources and had to get super creative on how to use them, and fuck, everyone got paid like complete dog shit but their hearts were in it. In the long run, I think everyone will get more than what they put into it and now you're out of it.
I was going to ask you if it was a conscious decision to take this project back to what the core of snowboarding is to you but listening to you now it sounds like it was actually quite an organic process. Do you think this movie is more of an accurate representation of where you’re at with snowboarding now?
It's a good question. I think honestly all of it is a representation of where my head is at with snowboarding. You know this trip, this film was like a fucking awesome trip in interior BC riding crazy amazing winter condition snow.
Some of those lines blew my mind.
I mean it's a dream trip, right? That's where my head was last winter. And that's why the film is the way it is. For me, the beauty of snowboarding is how dynamic it is and how there are so many different ways you can spin it. That's where we were last winter and at that time I think it's a great portrayal of what the intention of the project was.
Let's talk about where you were in British Columbia. This ancient forest. Was it the first time you’d ever ridden there or had you been before?
This area, it's pretty hard to get to. It's a funny thing because literally, you can't even get to this place. Unless you go out to this particular lodge with helicopters. You can't even really snowmobile out there or hike out there. It’s out in the middle of nowhere. I saw it, I think four years ago and I remember thinking holy shit we've got to come back and do a project here.
Yeah, I can see why. So... You obviously chose Bryan, Austin and Robyn. You have a good mix of riding styles. They all have certain aspects of snowboarding that they excel at. How did the crew come together?
Yeah, it was me but I never like to take full credit because it was them that selected themselves in a weird way for just who they are, what they believe in and the incredible people that they are. Part of it was because we're teammates. But that definitely wasn't only it, I’ve known Brian Fox for a long time. We’ve been on some epic trips and he comes sailing with me in my boat every now and then. Austin Sweetin is just like such an inspirational rider to watch in the mountains. He’s just so psyched. He's one of the most grateful, happy, joyful people I know.
The joy, for sure, was to have Robyn on the project. I really wanted to have a lady in The Fourth Phase and a couple of things just didn't line up and it didn't end up working out. So that was an absolute must for this project. Robyn was just a natural choice. She’s more certified than us in the mountains as an avalanche search and medical safety first responder. She's been guiding part-time up at Bald Face just for fun, for learning. She actually brought on another level of support to our whole program being in the backcountry.
And then John Buffery, the guide in the film. That guy's got a long and amazing story. John, by the way, he's actually the guy who, with Craig Kelly, picked where Baldface is. They went up with Jeff Pensiero, the owner, and found it so many years ago. Craig actually hired Buff for a couple of years and he was his personal guide so Buff would travel with Craig. You know it's just that simple. He's just such a good guy, he’s a spiritual, fucking awesome, quality human.
It's funny. I literally call Buff once a year when we have our film projects and I'm like Buff, ‘here's the deal, we’re going here, this is the dates, what's up?’ and he can never do it. He's too busy because he runs the whole avalanche risk assessment for the entire British Columbia highway system. So he’s gnarly. This year, finally, he was like ‘you know what, yeah I’m fucking in, let’s do it.
You once explained to me a concept of the perfect triangle of elevation, location and precipitation.
Hmmm. Did I say that? No way, nice.
How does the ancient forest of Galena lie in that?
Ok, so if you had to rate each one, on a 1 through 10 scale, a lot of times you'd be pretty good on two and you have to compromise a little bit on one of those ratings. I mean that's really why I chose this location because literally, this place is fucking 10s across the board. And that's just it. I think it's really fun to go to exotic places and we’ve done a lot of that over the last four years. It's always a little more difficult to get good riding footage in exotic locations. I guess the beauty of this project was that we just succumb to the low hanging fruit of hitting a 10 on three of those factors. And you can see, we filmed the whole movie in five weeks. We rode every fucking day. When it's on, its own.
Wow, ok I don’t know which question to ask you next. I’d like to talk about your whole sailing trip with Ian Walsh but maybe we’ll come to that later. I was reading an article today about this idea that we all live in a state of constant partial attention, always distracted by screens and everything. Having just watched this movie and the vibe I get from you, it seems like nature is super important to connect to. So, when you’re working on these big projects how do you stay focused and how do you keep goal driven and not get distracted by everything else that’s out there?
That’s a good question. You know I think it's a twofold thing. Firstly, to be out of nature and be focussed on being out and your connection to source really, to Earth, we’re a part of it, it’s all one beautiful harmonious system and we're a part of it. I think that it’s a refreshing element of our humanity. In nature, I think a lot of us are our best selves because we remember our connection to it.
But the other element of it is, you go out to these places and you lose service. Straight up. It’s a little bit of a cop-out in the sense that it’s escapism. You’re setting yourself up to disconnect and to let real human experiences be maximised without the distraction, of exactly how you said it, the partial attention or partial focus. Honestly, that's why I spend a lot of time on my sailboat in the summer. That's why my close friends come out because it gets harder and harder to find that real human exchange where we don't just fit it into a quick day and then go back to scrolling or answering emails. We're all so accessible now.
Yeah. You must have a lot of commitments with social media and sponsors and all the brands you work with. It’s interesting for me to see how you’d fit that into your life.
We talk about these like true real experiences with friends and connections. But I mean fuck, we're all dealing with it. I'm also the guy that’s scrolling the feed, posting on social media, answering emails. I’ve got a million things going on at the same time, I’m spread thin. I’m not taking time out of my day to just like sit in harmonious silence. So it's all of it. But I think the first step is just being aware of it and trying to balance it out. The intention of trying to balance it out is worth a lot.
Indeed. To go back to your sailing trip, if you had to impart one piece of advice from it, or there was one thing you learnt, what would it be?
If I had to boil it down what I got out of that trip? Teaching is one of the best ways to learn. It was cool because I was teaching Ian Walsh the ins and outs of sailing. He was really interested in it and that's really why he took the time out of his busy schedule to do the trip with me. He really wanted to learn about blue water sailing and oceanic navigation and it was great for me because the whole time there I was teaching, answering 100 questions a day. I think it reminded me that the best way to learn is to teach. The best way to learn is to teach.
Just quickly before we go I really want to ask you this question. If I had to describe you to someone who doesn't know you, I would say that you’re like one of the great explorers of our time.
[Laughs] Fuck yeah.
Take what you will from that. But that's what I think. Anyway, what I was curious to know is if you had any explorers or even stories that when you were younger really inspired you? Maybe it was Columbus, or James Cook or maybe people who still live and breathe. I don't know. Is there an explorer who has influenced you?
I mean. That's a good question. I mean I think there are certain elements. Inevitably, I've taken, whether consciously or unconsciously, from various explorers. OK, take Shackleton. His foiled expedition to make it to the South Pole. Just seeing what was possible. The survival story of what those guys went through was incredible and I think the take away from Shackleton's journey was that we're all capable of so much more than we even think we are. Staying positive and staying in a mind state of anything is possible, it’s amazing what the human is capable of. Truly. Look at Cook, that guy. The fact that he did all of those years travelling the oceans until he met his demise and got eaten by the Hawaiians. You know, his whole thing was being stern, yet really he cared for his crew. He never lost a crew member. That's a really notable thing because he led by example and I mean he was a bit of a bastard to be sure, they definitely killed a lot of natives. But his whole M.O. was his core team. He listened to them, he honoured them and he really looked out for his people. Inevitably in a leadership role a lot of the time, because we do these trips and we have these solid crews, you've got to think about it you got to bring with it you have to think and look out for your whole team. Inevitably, the decisions I make have implications for the safety and well-being of all my team because I'm the one making the calls out there. So I appreciate Cook in that respect.