In some ways, Cam FitzPatrick’s life in snowboarding has been inspired by and intertwined with Travis Rice’s, (10 years his senior,) since before Cam was born. Their dads worked together on the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort ski patrol for decades, and Cam got his first pair of skis as hand-me-downs from Travis when he was just two years old. Seeing a teenage Travis rip the mountain on a snowboard convinced Cam to make the switch at age six, not long before Travis was off claiming his first X Games gold medals and becoming the hometown hero of every young shredder in Jackson. Cam then grew up obsessing over Travis’ films, “That’s It, That’s All” and “The Art of Flight.” Needless to say, getting the invitation from Travis four years ago to join the crew of A-list riders filming “The Fourth Phase” was a dream come true. Snowboard Magazine caught up with Cam at the film’s Denver premiere party, and learned it was a heavier trip than he’s been letting on: filming for “The Fourth Phase” nearly killed him, twice.
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Let’s start from the beginning, because your Jackson Hole roots have obviously played a big role in everything happening for you now. Do you feel like you were born into all of this?
Yeah, I’m from Jackson Hole, born and raised. I was born in 1992, and my dad had come to Jackson probably 20 years prior to that: he moved out to Wyoming to ski, like a lot of people, and he and my mom actually met through some ski racing thing, where they were both working on the race crew. It all started there. My dad eventually became one of the head guys on the ski patrol at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, (JHMR) and has really been longtime friends with Paul Rice, Travis’ dad. I started skiing when I was two and switched over to snowboarding when I was six, always looking up to Travis, and ever since then it’s just been up and up from there.
Was it hard to break it to your family when you were a kid that you wanted to snowboard instead of ski? Were they super hardcore skiers about it?
No, my dad actually really liked the idea of it! He had this old Sims Switchblade that was his first snowboard, and he would build me these little snow mountains out on the driveway and push me around on it, showing me how to drop in and all that. He never frowned on it at all. He’s back to skiing now, but has snowboarded on and off over the years, too. He really helped me get into it from the beginning, and was always driving me around to contests and stuff when I was younger. My mom has always been super supportive, too. I like to say she’s always been my biggest sponsor.
There’s a T.S. Eliot quote, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” I’m curious, how has your perspective on Jackson Hole changed now that you’ve had opportunities to snowboard all around the world?
I keep it really close to my heart, always. It’s really cool to have grown up there, and getting out in the world only reinforces how special it is. The terrain around Jackson is just endless, and you don’t even have to leave to realize what you have there. We got into all kinds of places near home for this project over the last three years that I’d never been before and had no idea even existed, and it just made me realize you could spend your whole life riding in Jackson and only scratch the surface. There’s a lot more to be done out there.
How has your relationship with Travis changed over the years? I know he’s a bit older than you and has really become a mentor.
For me it started out as this total idol and hero thing, and it still is like that in some ways. We’ll be out filming together and I’ll still feel like the little kid looking up to the big kid. I’ve looked up to him my whole life, and not just Travis but Bryan Iguchi too – Bryan’s like the godfather of all of this, even for Travis – and a lot of the other people involved in this project, guys like Pat Moore… everybody, really. Ben Ferguson came out with us and really crushed it, and we had this bond because we knew we were the young guns, out there trying to keep up with our heroes. My relationship with Travis has changed to where he’s now also kind of like this brother figure to me. He pushes me in a different way than I’ve ever been pushed, and not even necessarily by anything he says or does so much as just this pressure I feel when I’m around him to step it up. Sometimes it’s more than a little scary, having Travis Rice push you like that, I’m not going to lie. We’ve gone through a lot of crazy things together! But he’s taught me a lot about doing your own thing, survival, sticking together, group dynamics, everyone having a role to play, getting things right, having fun.
I was going to ask about that pressure. When you get a call like the one you got to join this project, how much pressure do you feel, not only to perform and progress but also to set yourself apart, be your own rider, do your own thing? Travis wouldn’t have asked you to be a part of it if he didn’t see something in your style.
Honestly, the last few years have been really stressful for me in all sorts of ways, from the pressure of “Am I even going to make the movie?” – because you never know if you’re going to make it to the final cut – to, you know, looking down on some of these massive jumps and thinking, “What have I gotten myself into?” I was pretty stressed and on edge the whole time. If I had it all to do over, the one thing I’d tell myself is just to relax and enjoy the journey. The mental thing is real. You can’t let it build up. It’s crazy right now, where I’m just starting to move from this project into some other projects, like this new two-year Arbor film I’m working on, and everything I’ve learned from Travis and his crew is still freshly swirling around in my head. But that’s the main one: I’m trying to relax a little bit. Travis is really good at keeping his cool and just going for it.
Snowboarding is snowboarding and obviously you guys have a ton of fun out there when you’re working on something like this, but I’m curious how much it changes the dynamic of everything to have all these cameras and drones and helicopters and everything, and to have such big crews with you all the time.
That’s a good question, because we bring hundreds of pounds of equipment into the backcountry every day on these shoots, all this awesome technology… and then sometimes it doesn’t work! Like, at all. When it all comes together it’s beautiful and you get these great shots and know it’s all worth it, but what you don’t necessarily see when you’re watching a film is all the behind-the-scenes times where we’ve just built some perfect jump, the conditions are just right, and we’re out there on the sat phones waiting for someone to get the gear right. There’s a lot of cursing involved. In some ways it’s actually a relief to be starting a new project where we’re just going out with a single RED camera and two snowboarders at a time, getting back to basics where you don’t have six people filming from the trees, two drones, and a helicopter. But don’t get me wrong: I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything.
Is there anything people don’t ask you about that you wish they did, anything about “The Fourth Phase” or you or your role in it that people don’t really know about?
For me, this project got really scary a couple of times, right from the beginning. It’s not like some secret, but it isn’t something I’ve talked a lot about. The first year I was filming with these guys we were hitting some crazy lines and we ended up having one of the best days ever at JHMR. They’d built some really good features for us, and everyone was just going for it, but I ended up getting a really bad head injury super late in the day. I was going for a double backside rodeo and knew right off the lip that the pop was wrong, everything was off, and I wasn’t even going to get close to it. Then everything went dark. I couldn’t see, at first. I couldn’t stand. I had full double vision for a long time. There was no bleeding, thankfully, but I’d had a few concussions in my years of competing and knew right away that this one was pretty major. The whole thing really threw me for a loop, and it’s still affecting me to this day, three years later, even after I’ve been through what feels like hundreds of treatments, including eye surgeries. It really was a major hurdle. I didn’t know if I was going to get invited back, or even if I was going to be able to come back to snowboarding at all, and I remember thinking, “Oh, man, I might have blown it.” Travis and everybody else was super supportive, but I had to really pick my battles after that. I wish I could say I was at full strength and that I was at my best in the biggest snowboard film of this decade, but the truth is I was being really careful with my head the whole time.
The other crazy thing was that I got avalanched last year, which was even scarier in some ways. That had never happened to me and that was a really heavy thing, because I’d literally grown up having my dad bury me in the snow and have the ski patrol’s avalanche dogs come dig me out, practicing beacon drills in the backyard and stuff, and then all of a sudden here it was for real.
We built this massive jump at a spot Travis had been scoping out for a while. It was always this dream of his to build a jump there. It was like 160-feet to the knuckle, and there was this giant stump in the middle of the gap. For some reason that stump played mind games on me for weeks! I was thinking about the worst-case scenario, which is the worst thing you can do, like, “If I catch my edge or something I’m going to hit that stump.” I just couldn’t get over that stump! Finally we built the thing, and the day we went out there to hit it a bunch of clouds rolled in and the light was too bad for filming, so we were just going to test the speed. Travis sledded me up to the top of the drop in and took off, and then everyone just started screaming. I’m like, “What’s happening, I’m not even strapped into my snowboard yet!” Then I realized they were screaming, “avalanche!” I just started running, and then my next thought was, “What am I going to do, outrun this thing?” I had no idea where it was coming from, but everyone was yelling and as I’m running, carrying my board, I look up and see this big plume of snow coming right for me, and at that moment I was like, “holy shit,” and tripped and fell face first. From what my dad has always trained me, and from every avalanche training class I’ve ever had, I knew that the last thing you want is to be buried face down, so I got myself turned around right in time before it hit me like a train and then I was swimming, like I was always taught. That was the heaviest moment. I’ll never forget it. I remembered being buried in the snow as a kid and thinking, “I hope everyone’s ready to come dig me out,” but thankfully I only got partially buried and was able to get myself out. Travis came back up and got me and gave me a hug, and we ended up calling it for the day. Here I’d been focused on that stump down below, not even thinking about the threat from above. The mountains have a way of serving you reminders like that: you always have a lot to learn.
And what about the jump with the stump?
We spent the night in the mountains that night and hit the jump the next day with no problems!
What else is next for you? You mentioned there’s a new Arbor team film in the works. Do Travis and the BRAINFARM crew start working on the next one as soon as this one’s out?
I can’t wait to see what all of this brings or leads to, because it’s higher profile than anything I’ve been involved with. I’m antsy like that, always thinking, “Okay, what’s the next move?” But I’m also trying to chill and just see what happens. I really look forward to carrying on everything I’ve learned. I hope to be able to mentor some kids who are coming up in some of the ways that Travis and Guch and everyone have been there for me. Just to be able to carry that torch. I’m also really excited to put together some good crews of riders, get back out in the Jackson Hole backcountry, and find some more of the fun I know is still out there.