Mastering The Craft: An Interview With Danny Davis

A conversation between Danny Davis and T. Bird from last summer, originally published in our latest print issue, out now! 

words: T. Bird

From the first time I ever watched Danny Davis ride a snowboard, I realized that he is a man on a mission. Driven by his pure love of sliding sideways on snow, Danny’s innate natural abilities catapulted him to the top ranks of snowboard superstardom. But now, after countless podium appearances, handfuls of hardware from the X Games, Dew Tour, and Grand Prix, and a plethora of unreal video parts, Danny seems to be thinking bigger picture. This is legacy time. A point in his career where he’s in it for the long haul and he has earned the right to pursue and explore precisely what he wants to. He’s taken the reins on some shit. Whether it be reminding the up-and-comers about the importance of style in the pipe and the mental fortitude it takes to have a lasting career in contests, shralpinism and the pure freedom that he feels when he’s gallivanting around in the backcountry, or the ever-present danger of climate change—specifically to our pastime—and the endless education and action required to fight back the damage we have done to this planet. Danny Davis is still that man on a mission, but the proverbial shuttle that he’s on is just entering a new stratosphere.

Blatt and Danny Davis p: Blatt

The past year-and-a-half has been pretty wild for a lot of people with the pandemic and it’s been a lot of gloom and doom. That said, what’s the coolest thing you’ve done in the last year?

Getting engaged. It’s been a long time coming. We were thinking about it when the pandemic started—I’ve never spent more than a few weeks with Marge. I’ve been traveling our whole time together, and it’s been over ten years. It was just a trip to really spend some time with this lady. Not that I ever doubted that we would be together forever, but it was just like, okay, we really do like each other. That was the coolest thing by far, just being at home. I’ve lived in Tahoe for fourteen years and never have I spent a season at home. Never have I ever felt like a local. I think I’ve flown over 100,000 miles a year for the last ten years. It was just cool to be a real person and be part of a community, whether that was spending time in Burlington, Vermont or in Tahoe. When we got back to Tahoe from Vermont, midway through the summer after the pandemic started, Jeremy Jones was pushing me to go to town meetings to talk about our little nook of the world. It’s cool to be a real human living in one place and really exploring where I live. People would be like, “We gotta film in Tahoe,” and I’d be like, “Yeah, we should probably get someone who knows where the hell to go, because I don’t.” Spending more time at home, I really got to learn about zones. I wouldn’t say I’ve ever been a Tahoe local until this past year, really riding the resorts and getting to know the good runs there. Just being a real human. And getting engaged is cool. Really stoking out my partner and taking a bit of personal time.

What’s more nerve-wracking: Popping the question or dropping into an X Games finals pipe run?

Dude, hands down popping the question. It was insane. My whole life has been interviews. I’ve gone to the Capitol and been a lobbyist and talked to senators. I would never get nerves in those situations. Asking the woman that I’ve been with for a long time to marry me had me at a loss for words. It was ten times scarier than anything I’ve ever done. Maybe I’m just not that good at heartfelt shit and expressing emotion; I’m always sort of trying to lighten the mood and be funny. This was such a serious and special moment that I just fucking panicked. But it was great.

That’s incredible. Real quick, where are you currently and what are you doing there?

I am in Saas-Fee, Switzerland. We’re up on the glacier hitting some jumps and riding the halfpipe. I’m back in this Olympic swing. It’s really interesting to be around all this and not be worried about all that too much. It’s cool, man, people are chucking. I say that snowboarding progresses every four years, in a competition sense, between slopestyle and halfpipe. You get to an Olympic year and it just does this big jump up to the next plateau. I saw a kid throw a back sixteen the other day in the pipe—and he’s a kid I’ve never even heard of. It’s a beautiful thing to see kids you’ve never even heard of crushing it. I think competition snowboarding gets a bit of a bad rap, but these are some of the hardest working people in snowboarding. It is not just all fun going up there; it is the same grind every day. They’re getting up early. They’re taking two gondolas and a train and then they’re waiting in line with skiers to get on a t-bar that rips apart your groin, and you’re doing that for weeks on end. These kids are coming here and riding for two or three weeks, and then they’re on to the next training camp for another two or three weeks, and then they’re right into the contest grind. Whatever their discipline is, they’re going to ride that from now until the Olympics and then probably after the Olympics, too. It’s a job. I’ve gotten such a different perspective being here this time. I have such a respect for the grind these guys and girls are on. It’s not whack. It is a different side of snowboarding that not all of us can grasp and I get that, but it is really, really impressive.

By no means have you stepped away from the contest side of things. I’m sure you’re always going to compete, but you’ve reached a level where you can decide what you want to participate in. When Danny shows up, it’s like, Dan’s in the pipe. That’s fucking awesome. What was that mental shift? Was it more wanting to expand your snowboarding skillset or was it more like the riding in contests was getting crazy?

I think it was more what I was into and who I was getting influenced by, like Mikkel [Bang], [Mikey] Rencz, and even Terje and [Jake] Blauvelt—just watching these guys that I look up to and who also are some of my best friends. I’ve never gotten to really dive down that path of freeriding. Also, my roommate, Nick Russell, has helped to push me down the more “shralpinist” path. It’s just what my head is into. Contests are a very tough grind. To stick with halfpipe riding for more than ten years has been a great blessing and I’m really glad that my body has allowed me to do it, but my brain is just interested in other stuff. I think snowboarding is so great because you never really master it. You might be a good jumper and a good halfpipe rider and a decent freerider, but I don’t know anybody who is the best at everything. I think Mark McMorris is probably one of those rare humans who is really damn good at them all, and he hasn’t mastered everything yet, either. Terje is the same. My head has just started to dive into starting my mastery of the next thing in snowboarding that I’m into, which has been freeriding and a lot of foot-powered stuff. That’s really where my head is at. I think where the halfpipe riding and the jumping and competitive snowboarding is at, you kind of have to be fully dedicated to that or you’re going to get hurt. I got a big wake-up call during the last Olympic run. I was starting to splitboard a lot and getting into climbing mountains and freeriding, and then I was like, Okay cool, it’s Olympic time now. I’m going to jump in the pipe and just start trying a trick. I wasn’t fully focused on it and I tore my MCL because I was out of practice in the halfpipe. So this time around, everybody was asking me, “Are you going to make another Olympic run?” and I said, “No, because I don’t want to dedicate an entire season to waking up at 8 a.m. and going to ride a halfpipe, no matter what the conditions are.” I think my body plays into it a little bit, too. I’ll always be the dude who thinks, You’re not old because you’re old, you’re old because of your mindset. But man, your body starts to feel things more and more, and the halfpipe is a firm, icy vert ramp on the fall line and it’s hard on you. I want to keep snowboarding. I want to make this shit last as long as I can. I love what I do. My brain is just more into freeriding. More into powder and making good turns. 

About two years ago I started focusing on how I turn and what my turns look like on film. You think you’re making good turns, doing hockey stops, getting pow in your face and crushing it, you know? And then you start to really learn about riding lines and how you need to ride things fast but not wipe yourself out. It’s a whole other side of snowboarding that I’ve never done. Being from Michigan, you don’t freeride. You don’t even think about freeriding because there’s nowhere to do it. I’m super interested in this side of snowboarding, but I still love transition riding. I got some injections in my knee and ankle and I’ve kind of been chilling for a while, so I wanted to test it out and see how it’s feeling. There’s a beautiful halfpipe in Saas-Fee. I was like, I’ll go hang with Sparky and Brock and go get my mind blown by what’s going on in the competitive world for a little while. I still want to do X Games and Dew Tour. It’s all still fun to me. I’m still mastering halfpipe riding. I don’t have the edging that Scotty James or Shaun White has, where they just land at the top of the tranny. I hope I can ride halfpipe forever. I mean, Terje does it just fine.

Danny and Ben. p: Blatt

It’s interesting, because if you had continued focusing only on the contest path and your heart just wasn’t into the competitive grind and you were battling your body, you could have been at a point now where you never wanted to ride halfpipe again. It could’ve burnt you out so fast.

Totally. I think where I started to get really frustrated was during the last Olympic qualifiers. We had this lopsided halfpipe because there just wasn’t enough snow to build it. It was like, this pipe sucks, we all know it does, but we’re still going to do two contests here. This is going to decide who goes to the Olympics. I got hurt and I was like, Fuck, there’s so much season left. I just wish I would’ve had the knowledge to decide, You know what, I’ve been riding a halfpipe for 15-20 years and it’s just not worth competing in this situation. I could’ve done straight airs the whole way down and done an interview at the bottom and been like, “I’m not going to go chuck in that thing.” But there were other people chucking, doing their thing, and I thought I should be able to, too. I got really frustrated with competitive snowboarding at that point. I was really mad at myself and mad at snowboarding for putting me in that situation. But at the end of the day, you have to do what’s right for you, whether that’s riding in the contest or not. Our industry wouldn’t be the same without competitive snowboarding. For me, I love following sports. I love baseball, football, hockey—fucking love it. I love competing against my friends, whether we’re playing basketball at the court or playing golf and betting dollars for strokes. I’m just into that. Competing in halfpipe was something that really interested me and I dove down that path for a long time. Yeah, I’m in a unique situation and I’m not blind to the fact that I have sponsors who support me in whatever I do in snowboarding. I know that is not the case for everyone. I’m very lucky in that sense, and sometimes I ask myself why I’m the guy that’s lucky enough to do this, but I try to just take what I have and do what I can with it.

I think I can answer that for you. It’s because it’s earned and then some. You’ve been so dedicated, so successful, and so influential over the last decade or so, but snowboarding is at an inflection point and I feel like we’ve finally matured to the point where we can recognize that and retain that, rather than just move on and forget. It’s important to have people who have been so integral to the culture, like yourself and like the Pat Moore’s and Travis Rice’s of the world, because we need those statesmen to pass down that knowledge and that influence. Don’t you agree?

Fuck yeah, and then when you look at something like Natural Selection—here we are going into this freeride contest, and the people who have competed for much of their careers really did well because they have this contest mentality. Having that knowledge and that experience seems to really pay off, in even a freeride contest. It’s pretty rad that a lot of us have gone down that path. Even Pat, he hasn’t competed in a halfpipe contest or slopestyle in years, but he was at Natural Selection and he was in the contest mentality. He brought everything he knew to that contest, and he did well. I feel lucky that I’ve gotten to experience that and now I have the support to allow me to have some fun and dive down this new path in snowboarding. 

I think a lot of competitors think, “It must be nice to go film. You get mad tries at tricks and it’s so easy to get clips. You have a whole year to film a video part.” It’s not easy. You have to find the zones; you have to know where to go that day. You have to know if the wind direction may have completely destroyed the zone that you’re thinking of or if the stability of the snowpack is good or bad. There’s so much that goes into filming. In my head, being a naïve contest kid my whole life, I thought, I want to go have some fun and film. And then you get offered this opportunity, like go film a Real Snow. I fucking got like eight percent of the vote. Such a rad, humbling wake up call. You’re not a master of this. It’s not easy. Every facet of snowboarding has its complications and its beauties. If you’re doing well in competitive snowboarding, you get a trophy now and then, and a nice chunk of cash. On the filming side, the rewards are massive pow days—and plenty of them. Once in a while, you get Rider of the Year or Video Part of the Year if you’re crushing it. I’m really happy that I’m getting to experience a lot of these things in snowboarding because it’s a multi-faceted world. I think that’s what makes snowboarding so special compared to something like tennis, golf, the NFL, or any of that. Snowboarding is such an art form outside of competitive snowboarding.

danny davis p: Blotto

You’ve recently become significantly more involved in our industry in the discussion of climate change. Is there a future where you see snowboarding being very negatively impacted by the climate change crisis?

Oh yeah. Right now in Saas-Fee, we’re riding on a glacier. You look at all these photos in the hotel where we’re stayin, and the glacier used to come all the way down to the soccer field that’s outside. You can’t even imagine that now. It’s so far receded. Just in the past decade that I’ve been traveling and snowboarding, there are more erratic weather patterns. From wildfires in the West to torrential downpours in the Southeast, crazy cold snaps in the Midwest—the weather, just in North America even, is getting so crazy. I look at Michigan, where I grew up. I swear we used to be snowboarding in December every year. The mountain would be open, they’d be able to make snow and we’d be shredding. We had snow on the ground at home. I’ll tell you, I’ve been going to Michigan once a winter for the past few years and it’s just a different thing than I remember. And I am only 33 years old. So yeah, snowboarding is going to be affected. But more than that, the general life of a lot of people is seriously impacted by climate change. We used to go to Washington DC with Protect Our Winters and say, “This is how climate change is impacting the winter sports industry and here is the global economy of the snowsports industry and what’s at stake.” But you can’t even say that now because it’s such a privileged place to speak from. Yeah, it’s affecting our sport, but it’s affecting people’s lives and well-being in a much bigger way. 

The only way to combat it, to reduce emissions and really protect wild places, is through legislation. We can start using electric cars, but then the batteries. You hear all these battles. Are batteries better than gas? I don’t know. That’s not my world. But what can make the difference is when we start to make legislation to mitigate a lot of these effects. It’s 2021 and there is a lot of good stuff happening. We’re starting to get technology that is allowing us to live the way we want to live and have less of an impact on the planet. It’s going to take more production and energy to get there, I realize that. It’s going to take a long time to get gas cars off the planet, but change has to start somewhere. I’m not saying that people should stop snowmobiling or stop driving their car or any of that, because it’s just not going to happen. What I’m saying is, be open to change. Be open to what the possibilities are. We need to start to accept new ways to do things that help the planet. Our timeframe is really shrinking on what kind of impact we can make. Right now, we are at a turning point. If we can start to at least recognize that, I think that’s a big thing. We can make an impact, but we’ve got a short timeframe to do so. 

Are going to be able to snowboard in the future? I hope that I can snowboard until the day I die. I get these messages on Instagram that are like “I follow you for snowboarding, not for politics,” and I’m like, “Okay, well I have an Instagram because I’m a human, so I can say whatever I want on here.” You can make personal changes, compost your food, and all these things, but until we start to build some regulation and some legislation around this stuff on a large level, we have to be involved on a personal level in the political landscape of our country. Brock Crouch—amazing human, one of the best snowboarders—he wants to be involved in Protect Our Winters and tell people to vote. I think it’s really rad that people are interested younger. I sort of didn’t care until I was a certain age and I think that’s starting to change, which is a beautiful thing. Shame on me for not recognizing that when I was younger. I don’t know if it just happens with age where you start to listen to the news more or what, but I’m more interested now than ever.

I think it goes back to what you were just talking about where the most important part of being a human is having an open mind and always being receptive to different ideas, to change, and to more education. That is ultimately what is going to make everyone more accepting and less judgmental, make the planet better, and so on and so forth. I think that’s the theme of it all, you know?

To me, knowledge is cool. Knowledge is sexy. Knowledge is rad. To not give a fuck or to not be educated is whack. That’s just sort of old school, to be like, “My ideas cannot be changed because I have all the information I need. I live the way I want to and I’m not harming anybody.” I get wanting to shut the world off and not have to deal with watching CNN or hearing what’s going on with the political races, even in your hometown—but change does start from the ground up. Nick and Jeremy showed me that it’s rad to be involved in your community. For example, our town is going to try to be net zero. You get involved in what’s happening and you’re like, “Wow, we just did that.” How rad is that? We talked to people in our town and boom, it’s happening. It would be rad if we had that level of efficiency at a federal level. We’re looking at this budget reconciliation plan and what Biden is trying to push through for the infrastructure plan, and it is going to take forever to see the effects of that. I understand that’s a hard thing for people to see. It’s a hard thing for me to understand, trust me. I only have a twelfth-grade education. I am not a genius. This is stuff that is going to take years and years to actually implement, but it has to start somewhere. I think it’s the same thing with local government. You think, This is kind of cheesy. We’re at town hall talking about making our town a better place. But that’s just where it starts.

That’s a really good point because I think the political landscape is set up to immediately look to the top. But the change today starts at your community center or your local city council meeting.

Yes. I look at the plastic bag ban that a lot of towns have implemented throughout the US. That’s at a local level of government and I feel like that has made a difference. I always have a reusable bag in my car and where I live, you see everyone walking in with their own bags. It took two or three years to really see that change happen in my town, but in all reality, that is sort of quick. It was also so simple. The point is, you’ve got to have a voice in some way for what you care about.

Are there any video projects that you’ve been working on that you could talk about?

I can a little bit. Ben Ferguson has been working on a project. I think it’s a two-year thing. I filmed quite a bit with those guys last year and it was rad. They came to Tahoe and I actually had places to take them because I am a real human now and I get to snowboard where I live often. I got to ride with those guys quite a bit—Gabe, Ben, and Red was even with us a little. Mikkel was filming with us in AK for it. I’m stoked to do more with Ferg. And then, I am trying to put together a new project right now. I’m kind of on this thing where I want to do some of the stuff I’ve never gotten to do. I want to go film with Gigi Rüf. He’s always been someone I’ve looked up to and someone who has always been really good to me. I want to go explore Europe and learn about riding over there. I’m trying to get a project together where I can ride with some of the people who really inspire me in snowboarding. I’m planning on doing like two contests this year and having fun riding some transition. Really looking forward to Peace Park. We had to have a two-year break because of COVID. At Peace Park, the hangout is half of the fun, so I’m really excited to dive into that again and create a way for young, aspiring snowboarders to get to ride with us at the main event. We’re working on a youth series for Peace Park and trying to get kids involved who aren’t necessarily a slopestyle rider or a halfpipe rider, but somone who can really put together a rad line and ride a little bit of everything. Freeriding in the park is sort of how I look at Peace Park. 

Those are some of the big plans for this year. Really just keep on sharpening the skills. I really want to become a better freerider. I watch my friends who have been doing it for a long time, like Nick Russell. He’s been freeriding since we left high school at SMS, and he’s so fucking good at it. It makes me jealous. I really want to really start to earn my stripes in the freeriding world because it’s so interesting to me. I was blessed with some natural talent in the halfpipe and jumping; it always came somewhat easier to me. With freeriding, it doesn’t. A lot of times we’re about to drop into lines and Nick will say, “The snow looks good and it probably is good, but heads up. Shit could be burly in some sections.” You can’t just go in there full pipe-style, going as fast as you can, railing on your edge. You’ve got to put some finesse into this thing and feel out the snow. I’m really excited to just keep learning and keep failing here and there to make myself better. Boy, have I been failing at that stuff sometimes. It’s a pretty humbling thing going out there. You watch old videos and some of the old freeriding stuff is just mental—how fast and how gnar they would send. I have to get there. I want to get my snowboarding to that level. Contest riding will always be impressive. The tricks that are going down right now are mind-blowing to me. I’m literally looking at some of these tricks and I can’t figure out how I would go about them. But right now, I’m so interested in how I just rip lines.

Danny Davis p: Blatt

The key to this all is being open to new stuff. If you’re someone who is like “Backcountry snowboarding is lame and I only like street snowboarding,” or vice versa, I don’t know if I agree with that. You have to be open to acknowledging other areas, like, “I may not be super into that, but it’s cool what they do.”

When I was really young, I would fast forward through a Jeremy Jones part. I was a child and I was not into that at all. Street snowboarding is something that I’ve never gotten to really try. That’s always a trip to me. I always think, One time I want to come on a street trip. Give me the little flame thrower thing, I just want to help. If there’s a feature that works for me, sure, maybe I’ll dabble. I love that shit. I kick myself because I think that in one point in my career, I probably had a chance of doing some cool shit in the streets. Maybe I still do, but it’s not pulling me out of my house to go ride in the streets right now. Just like you said, having an open mind and even if you aren’t ever going to be into that, still acknowledging that that something is cool, that it’s challenging, and that it takes work and effort. That there is a love for the sport and a creative factor going on that is really rad. You can’t hate on it. I don’t think you can hate on any side of snowboarding. Anybody who does, is a hater. You’re not being open-minded and empathetic to others. When I look at what is going on in snowboarding right now, the quickness to judge is too much. The lack of empathy about what people are doing or what people have gone through is lame. Also the forgiveness factor. There is a lot of shit going on in our world, our industry, our sport, in addition to the global climate of what is going on with humans, overall. I think we just need to be a little bit more empathetic, forgiving, and just respectful of others no matter what they’re doing.

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