Shaun White SNow league new snowboard contest

Competitive Advantage

The recent news of Shaun White’s announcement of the newfound Snow League has many wondering what it is, how it came to be, and the effect that it will have on both competitive snowboarding and the mainstream appeal of professional snowboarding. We chatted with Shaun himself as well as Chief Operating Officer of The Snow League, Ian Warda to get the scoop on what’s about to go down.

It’s no secret that competitive snowboarding has mainstream appeal. See the Olympics, the X Games, Natural Selection Tour, and a handful of other snowboard events across the globe that bring in massive and captivated audiences year after year. But for many reasons, our culture has run into trouble with forming an official “league,” of sorts, with continued consistency. The Burton Global Open Series had a run. The TTR Tour also had a go at it. But both fizzled, seemingly vanishing into the annals of snowboard history.

Enter The Snow League. Shaun White is the greatest competitive snowboarder to have ever strapped in, and it’s no argument that his run of dominance lifted snowboarding to mainstream levels and acceptance mores o than during any other time in our history. He was—and still to many is—the face of snowboarding. It’s not unusual that more often than not, when telling people what I do for a living, the first question out of their mouth is, “Do you know Shaun White?” And since Shaun’s official retirement from competitive snowboarding, Shaun’s been making moves on the sly. Building his snowboard brand, Whitespace. Buying into We Are Camp in the foothills of Mt. Hood, Oregon. And now, the recent news that Shaun and some key partners have started up a new contest venture that is sure to shake things up in our space, dubbed The Snow League. Recently, we had a chance to sit down with Shaun and Snow League COO Ian Warda to answer all of our (and more than likely your) questions about this recent news, so read up as we discuss all of the things involving snowboarding’s newest competitive addition. Get ready for The Snow League.

—T. Bird

Snow league
Shaun White before his last pipe contest in Beijing. p: Clavin

Shaun White, Professional Snowboarder, Founder, The Snow League

T. Bird: Shaun, first and foremost, how did this idea come about?

Shaun White: It really came about out of necessity, in a way. Let’s bring it back to when I was 16 years old, and I had this breakout season, pretty much won everything I entered. It was that season and when I was 19, when I won the Olympics. One of them was an undefeated season and one was almost undefeated. And I was doing everything: halfpipe, slopestyle, big air, rail. I was hitting every event. And I got to the end of the season, and I’ll never forget one of the reporters going, “What an amazing season you’ve had, incredible. Got to tip my hat to you. But how does it feel to not be the world champion?” I was just like, “What? What do you mean? What did I not do?” And so right then I knew there was a big disconnect, and then when you start looking at the state of the sport, you have all these major competitions that don’t really correlate with one another. They’re all off on their own, and they’re amazing events. I was thrilled to have been a part of them, and they continue to promote snowboarding, but there’s just such a disconnect, and so the idea was really started back then. So really, it was born out of necessity and something I saw in my career, and really has taken root now with my retirement and the current state of the sport, to be honest. When you look at it right now, there’s just a lot of slow decline in sporting events for snowboarding and freestyle. And you got the Open that went from four events down to maybe two or three, and then down to one event. You had the Dew Tour, up to five events, down to two or three, now down to one, probably … whispers it’s not going to happen much more. And X Games has plans to build and grow, but I don’t know what their strategic plan is over the next five to ten years. So it’s a bittersweet thing. I think we’re primed to step into the space right now and unite the riders under one umbrella, but it’s also sad to see that that’s where the sport is currently. I’m definitely not trying to take out anybody or be confrontational. We want X Games to succeed and to do well. We want the other events to stick around, so it’s not a hostile thing.

Now, I know some people reading this and hearing about this are probably salivating at the idea of you competing again, but you are not, correct?

No, no. No plans to compete again. It’s interesting doing the camps, and starting the brand, and now with the league. There’s so much for me in the sport that’s not out there getting scores. Selfishly, yeah, I wish this was happening during my run, but I’m thrilled to be taking this role currently, and I’m still riding just as much as ever before. I feel like I’ve just entered a new competitive arena that still has me in the sport and still has me doing all this stuff without actually being the main focal point in competition. So yeah, so no plans currently, but I’ll let you know if that changes. 

Will you be poaching?

Oh, probably, yeah.

I’m hearing that it’s going to be head-to-head format, yeah?

Yeah, part of it.

I think that is such an awesome way to get some storylines going. How do you think that’ll shake things up in the competitive space?

Well, let’s take it from the viewer’s perspective. You’re watching this competition, you got all these riders and commercial breaks and whatnot, and you got three runs and then they pick a winner, and you’re like, “Okay, I think I know why he won or she won…” You know what I mean?  It’s hard to understand what’s happening and why. I don’t think we do the best job of explaining the tricks and explaining the height and the reasoning. So when you get the head-to-head format, you can really understand, “Well, this run compared to that run is why this person is excelling and the other person’s not.” And then you look at it from the rider’s perspective and they get to drop sooner. Dude, my first Olympics, I remember I had to wait an hour and a half between my runs. An hour and a half. I was like, “How do you stay warm?” Literally iced. How do you stay on it? How do you compete at that level? And I think by having the head-to-head format and changing the qualifying format into brackets, we’ve made it so that athletes will not wait over 20 minutes between runs. You’re going to get a lot more consistency, you’re going to get a lot better performances, so there are a lot of reasons other than just the broadcast and the excitement that we want to change the format.

I love that, because my next question was just kind of about the talks about how judging is going to go. Is Snow League trying to reinvent the wheel with judging, or are you going to stick to a more industry standard?

Not too much. I don’t think we need to reinvent the wheel there too much, plus if you stray too far from the Olympic formatting and judging of all the other events, then you really kind of create inconsistencies for the athletes. We want to create consistency, so the halfpipe length, the pitch, the pipe cutters, all these things that should be standardized in the sport that aren’t yet. That’s why you get an amazing performance at the Olympics, and then a so-so performance at Copper. Ayumu [Hirano] didn’t land a triple until he got to the Olympics. Part of that was his own battle with that trick and putting the run together, but it’s not like the halfpipes were the same every time in this consistent, amazing setup. It was always different. So there are a lot of things that we can do to make it an amazing event every single time, so I think that’s where we’re drawing a lot of inspiration from.

Have there been any talks about, in the future, tying this into Olympic qualification?

Oh, for sure. Yeah, that’s already on the radar for us. And look, people love to take a run at the FIS and say whatever, but they consistently show up, here and in your house, and they put on snowboarding events, and there’s something to be applauded there. It’s commendable. Whether it’s amazing or not at times—and some events are better than others—but they consistently put on snowboarding events, and that’s been the heartbeat of the sport for a long time. Those events have been around, and people tour that circuit, and that’s great, but this is something where we’re trying to not take on those sort of people within the industry, like X Games. We’re not trying to take on X Games. The rumors have been floating that that’s our plan. It’s not. We’re not trying to put our dates on the same dates as them and then make athletes decide.

Going back to the head-to-head, the snowboard historian in me, the fan of halfpipe competitive snowboard circuit, if you could choose any rider to go head-to-head with in the pipe, both of you in their prime, who would you like to go against, head-to-head?

In their prime?


I don’t know. Gosh. I’d like another go at JJ. Just because he beat me out of [making the] Olympics in Salt Lake by three-tenths of a point. I think he was toward the end of his career when I was really on my rise. I’m sure he had a lot to do with the fire lit at that point. But JJ would be fun. I’d say for sure Danny Kass, because he was four years older than me. Actually, I’d say we competed in our prime together. Maybe Terje or Todd Richards or somebody.

There’s no wrong answer to that. 

You never know what Terje would’ve done with the new boards that we’re riding and the new halfpipes that we’re riding, or if you put me on the equipment he was riding and had to ride the halfpipes he was riding, what that would do to the playing field. And there’s a lot of variables in that where you’d have to ask, “Is he competing in today’s halfpipes and today’s tech, or am I going back to when he rode?”

Yep, hundred percent.

I had an amazing chat with Danny Kass about the state of the sport, and he’s doing a lot with the US team now, and what the future looks like, and to have his support [is awesome.] Because the last thing I want to be is the older generation telling the younger generation how it’s going to be. I don’t want to be that. I want to be involved with them and have their input and really create the next generation of snowboarding with the next generation of snowboarders. I’ve had talks with Chloe Kim, I’ve talked with Scotty James, Ayumu, you name it. I’ve called a lot of people and explained the plan and gotten feedback, and it’s been a really great response. I don’t know, there’s not too many things I like to hang my hat on, but when I call these athletes and they’re like, “Yeah, you get it because you used to compete,” and obviously not that long ago, and I know where the sport’s coming from as a spectator as well as an event organizer. I did it already with Air + Style, and there were a lot of lessons learned there, and now we’re entering this next phase. And we’re not really backed by no-namers. We got David Blitzer, and Ares Management, and Will Ventures, these massive sports league and team owners supporting us and ushering us in and helping us along the way. So there’s a lot of muscle behind us, and we’re really teed up for something special here.

Love it. And I gotta say from someone who’s been in the snowboard industry for 20 years, it’s about time that people like that come into the space.

I love hearing it, so thank you for saying that, but dude, it’s fucking time. It’s time. WSL did it, Street League did it. And for Scotty James to fly to New Zealand to compete for a prize purse of $14,000, no. Flights and travel and lodging alone is more than the prize purse. And where’s that going to be viewed? And I talk to the athletes and they’re just not inspired. They’re like, “These tricks are heavy. Am I going to go all the way down to New Zealand and drop a triple?” And so it’s nice to be out there pushing something that people want, so I appreciate you saying that.

And then lastly, what do you miss about competitive snowboarding, and what are you enjoying about your retirement from competitive snowboarding?

What’s really funny is it’s the same thing. The stress and the annoying parts of it are what I kind of miss the most and what I am happy to be done with at the same time. Man, showing up at the mountain before the sun has come over the trees, and I’m doing my practice runs in the ice in the dark. I got 30 minutes to warm up, and it’s we’re all up there together huddled like penguins trying to stay warm and do our run. It’s stressful, but you’ve never felt more alive than when you’re throwing down in the dark on the ice and you’re there with everybody on the same wavelength. So there’s these thrilling and kind of awful, awful and exciting moments at the same time. It’s like the pressure of knowing that no matter what, I have to be ready for this competition come the next winter season. I have to have this trick in order to be the best, or to win, or to be constantly working at something. It was about what I eat, how much rest I’m getting, where I’m going to be, my whole world kind of circled around this thing, and so once that’s gone, it’s very bizarre. You’re like, “I guess I can just stay up all night?” Or, “I can sleep in increments of three hours now?” Or I could just get really fat, you know what I mean? Haha. I would say just the excitement of it, the pressure of it. Dude, to be standing there at the top of that halfpipe at the Olympics being like, “All right, if I blow this, do I have another four years in me to get back to this place, and will I be at the top of my game?” Will new tricks come along? Is this my only opportunity to do this? Especially at Pyeongchang, I was just like, “If I lose this event, that means that I’ve only won half the Olympics that I’ve gone to.” You know what I mean? The weird numbers and stats that are running in your head. It just goes on and on. Those are the things that I miss, and I’m so thrilled to have WHITESPACE, We Are Camp, and now The Snow League. Three major things that keep me involved in the sport and they’re competitive in many ways, and they’re something that my life now kind of circles around. It’s really great, and it’s a team effort now. You got got all these amazing people that are also part of this goal. I feel like I just entered a new realm of competition, but it’s a team sport, and it’s been really enjoyable that there’s others to lean on and help with things.

We’re just stoked and fortunate to have you still in it, and when you retired, you weren’t like, just done. You’re reinvesting back into it, you’re still emotionally and physically invested in it, and we appreciate that. We really do.

Right on. I love hearing that. And this is just the beginning, man. We’re going to do some great things, and I’m just so excited for this next chapter in my life and in the sport. And yeah, once this announcement’s made, now we’re going to be out in the light with it all, and I think a lot of these dominoes are going to fall. From broadcast partners to sponsors and event sites and riders. All these different things are going to fall into place, and we’ll really have a much better grasp on some of the finishing details of what we need for the events. 

Ian Warda. p: T. Bird

Ian Warda, Chief Operating Officer, The Snow League

T. Bird: How did this all come about?

Ian Warda: So Shaun and I have been staying in touch in my career post Burton, and coming out of Covid he was thinking about all the things he wanted to do and envisioning where the sport could go with a true league and sort of thinking about how Air & Style might play into that.

I was working on some other stuff on the media and content side, thinking about the really fragmented media landscape that exists within action sports. So we were kind of just sharing notes and we quickly realized those two things go hand in hand. The idea of having a destination for fans to engage with the sport and engage with the athletes and follow it and get in under the hood, and then he’s sort of saying, “We all deserve better. This thing needs to be elevated, it needs to be presented in a different light.” And we kind of realized what that looked like was a professional league for our sport. And so I was really quick just to jump in and help him realize that vision and build it. So it’s been five or six months since I’ve been in, and we’ve been in the lab working hard to get it off the ground, but I think at the end of the day, it’s just so needed. We have all these ingredients that would lead you to thinking of this as a legitimate professional sport.

I was told that there’s going to be one stop the first year and then the following winter it’s going to be a global tour. Is that correct?

Yeah, so the first league season is going to start March of 2025. So we’ll start with one event. Still working on dates and locations for all of them, but getting pretty close, probably say we’re at the 15-yard line with all of them. In the coming months we’ll be sharing those specifics, but it’s slated for the first event to take place in the US in March of 2025. And then the first league season would roll about 12, 13 months starting from there. We’re looking at an event in the Southern Hemisphere probably in August, probably an event in December. We’re looking around at locations in Asia. We’d then steer clear of putting events on the calendar in the heart of the Olympic qualifying season and the Olympics themselves. So all those World Cups that are currently used for qualifying into the Olympic Games themselves, we wouldn’t be scheduling events on top of that to avoid conflicts for the athletes. We’re not trying to put them in a spot where they’ve got to make tough choices. And then post Olympics, in March we would likely return to the same location that we did an event at the year prior in the States and then add one more in Europe. So all told, that’s five events over the course of a 12, 13 month time span. That would be our first league season.

I don’t know how much you want to chat about it, but with all that talk of Olympic qualifying points, is there a goal down the line to align this league with Olympic qualification points or is that just a whole other topic that’s going to be dealt with after these next Winter Olympics?

I think the first thing is we just want to build a platform to present the sport in the way we believe it should be. And there’s a lot of different versions of that out there. There’s certainly the World Cups and all of their standardization and rules and regulations around how those events are run and all the various governing bodies, from national governing bodies to the FIS, to the IOC, and how it all points towards the Olympics. Obviously, the Olympics has been a goal of many of the athletes in our sport, to get to an Olympics, to represent their nation, to win a medal. I think all of that is incredible. But I’ll just use the analogy of looking to other sports. I think there’s many, many examples of this, but just take two for instance like golf and soccer, those are events that are part of the Olympics. If you were to ask any aspiring or current professional soccer player or golfer, “What’s the end-all, be-all? What’s your goal as an athlete? What are you trying to achieve?” It’s likely not an Olympic medal. For soccer it’s a World Cup or it’s a league title in their club league. For golf, it’s probably winning a major.

I agree.

So I see this in very much the same way. Our sport needs a constant throughout the year and season over season at a professional level to compete at, to get to the most elite rankings and compete with your peers for the highest stakes and they need to do that consistently all the time in order to build a career in that way. We see a Snow League title being the thing that you’re really vying for. That doesn’t mean that then every four years you can’t go represent your nation and be proud of that and compete in your sport at the Olympic Games. That exists in every sport. Take basketball, it’s in the Olympics, but it’s about winning an NBA title, not about winning an Olympic gold necessarily.

And then lastly, I’m reading 20 invited men, 16 invited women on the snowboard side, and it’s going to be snowboarding and freeskiing, halfpipe and slopestyle, correct?

No, so the first season, those first five events, every one of those would have snowboard halfpipe, men’s and women’s. We plan to introduce freeskiing halfpipe at some point in that season, but those details are still being pulled together. So it would not be at every event, it would be some point in that first season we would introduce freeskiing. Slopestyle would not be a part of our plans in the first season for either snowboard or ski. With that said, the vision is absolutely to grow and expand the platform to include the other disciplines within freestyle. So everything from slopestyle, but even beyond that, considering big air and rail events and thinking about that both for snowboard and freeski. Right now, what we can definitely say is all of the events in the first season will be men’s and women’s snowboard halfpipe and introducing freeski in the pipe as well at some point. So that’s where that field size of 36, 20 men, 16 women comes in. That is all halfpipe snowboarders. We’ve used the World Snowboard Points List as the first initial ranking to determine our eligible riders to invite for the first season. We’re only looking at 700-point value events or more. So if you filter the results on the World Snowboard Points List ranking with just 700-point events and up, it gives us what we believe to be a true representation of the best athletes in the world in halfpipe, and that’s what we’re using as our criteria for eligible riders. We started our outreach over the last week or so and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. We have now since reached out to everyone who’s eligible. And like I said, I think the early indication is that everyone is agreeing with us that this is very much needed, and it’s needed now. Everyone is super stoked. One of the things that I think has caught a lot of attention is our prize purse.

Do tell.

We’re planning to have a prize purse of $1.5 million in that first league season. So there’s not only substantial prize money up for grabs at each one of our events, but based on your results at each of these events you’re going to earn points. Those points are going to be added up and at the end of the season the top finishers are going to be able to take home an additional chunk of money. So all that totaled is $1.5 million. It’s the richest prize purse in the sport, and I think that’s something that I have personally heard from athletes for a long time. They’re out there, they’re truly risking their lives doing what they’re doing, competing in this sport. That risk needs to be proportionate to the reward, and that’s something that I know Shaun and our whole team believes deeply in, and I don’t want to stop there. I want to keep pushing that and creating a system where it’s a viable profession to be an athlete in our sport and being able to pursue the athletic part of it. I’d love for an athlete to be able to focus on what they do best, which is compete on their snowboard. And if they can focus more on that and know that there’s enough out there to make a decent living and not have to constantly prioritize the other obligations, I think that’s a game-changer and something we need to be paying attention to.

From Press release:
Competition and Season Format

The competition structure and format will be different than what has been seen before.
Representing the first ever competitive platform where the world’s elite athletes can compete
consistently throughout the year and season over season, the league will feature 5 halfpipe
events in the first season with plans for additional events and disciplines in subsequent
A prize purse will be awarded at each event. Athletes will also earn points for their results, which
will be cumulative at the end of the season where an additional prize purse will be distributed to
the league’s top finishers.
The events will include a training day and two days of competition with innovative formats:
● Day 1: Training day
● Day 2: Qualifying day
○ 20 men and 16 women will be seeded into four qualifying heats, each with a best
of two run format. The top qualifier from each heat will advance to championship
day. The next two best scores from each heat will also earn a chance to compete for the last four championship spots in another heat using an additional best of
two run format.
● Day 3: Championship day
○ 8 men and 8 women move on to championship day which features a head-to-
head bracket format, seeded from qualifying day with quarterfinals, semifinals,
and finals rounds. A rider must win two of three runs to advance to the next
round in the bracket.

How will athletes be chosen?
The Snow League’s snowboarding field will be made up of the top 20 men and 16 women in the
world. Riders will be chosen using a modified ranking from the World Snowboard Points List.
The WSPL is the definitive universal, transparent and fair ranking system for competitive
snowboarding globally.