Jake Blauvelt embodies the concept of being Off Course. Not in the sense of delinquency, but within the idea of straying from the herd in search of greener pastures. What separates Jake from others that have tried to do the same is how he actually found them.
When he made the decision to focus his riding to not just backcountry terrain, but natural features, he took considerable risk to manifest his vision of snowboarding. By no means was it easy. Where he stands today is a testament to his tenacity and commitment to make snowboarding look incredible, natural. This brings us to motivation behind Off Course, an expedition to the heart of Interior British Columbia. For three weeks in January, Jake and RIDE Snowboards brought together an eclectic group of individuals to represent snowboarding in a way that invites people into our culture through fun and friendship.
Join him in conversation, and you will see why Jake’s thoughtful, genuine nature has helped him become one of the most respected riders in professional snowboarding. And yet, it’s hard to imagine him ride down a mountain with explosive power in the way he does. Just remember where he came from, and you’ll realize that while his body may be sending a method into the abyss, he is content within the green pastures of his mind.
You had a more trip-based winter this year? It doesn’t seem necessarily low key, but in comparison to some of your other seasons you had a different focus.
We started off doing Off Course. Otherwise, it was Japan with adidas, then two different B.C. trips with The North Face and Smith. At the end of the Smith trip, I realized that my knee wasn’t healthy, so I went for a quick meniscus scope, and it feels much, much better.
How did that happen?
I pretty much dragged Kazu [Kokubu], Forest [Bailey] and the rest of the crew up this one mountain in Japan. I was thinking that there was going to be something to film or some feature to hit. There wasn’t shit to film. So I offered to take the camera so the cameraman could get a free ride down. He didn’t want me take his RED [camera] pack because he knew how heavy it was, but I insisted. I didn’t feel a tweak or anything, but that night it just swelled up like it never had before. It’s so funny. Take the gnarliest bail and no problem, but put a heavy backpack on…
So your knee is taken care of?
Yeah. Every time I went out to ride it would swell up on me. Physically I could feel it, but I noticed it a lot mentally. I wasn’t confident dropping into lines and whatnot, knowing that my body wasn’t 100%. That’s what almost scared me the most. It’s crazy how poppy and crackly it was. Now it’s just all smooth and glides really well. It feels strong. Good to have it back.
"I think that’s what it’s all about for me, to go on these trips with people you like hanging out with,"
Your board, the RIDE Berzerker, you helped design it for six years now. What was on your mind as you have been evolving it?
It’s the all-mountain board. We designed it with that in mind. It can float in pow, but it can rail an edge on hardpack as well. My home mountain is Mt. Baker, so you can get all ranges of conditions there, from neck-deep powder to super hardpack, icy moguls, and everything in-between. We did a lot of the testing for it to ride any piece of terrain. It’s hybrid camber, with a lifted nose and camber underfoot. Over the last two years, we have really dialed in the camber profile and matched it up with the shape. I was riding it at Mt. Hood in the pipe, and it rides well there, too.
Through the trees, through the alpine, what’s your favorite place to ride it?
Alpine terrain. Not even too deep, maybe just a foot of good powder that progressively gets more dense. We call it sporty snow. You can dart in and out of turns. You don’t just have to be going straight down in deep snow. You can traverse over to one side hit, then get back to the other one. That’s where the board really shines because it’s that blend of being able to make your camber work, snap in and out of turns, and hold edges. That’s the terrain we ended up getting in Interior B.C. during those twenty days. We didn’t really have to worry about the snow being cooked, even on south aspects where it’s getting sun the whole day. But it was seriously like -20 degrees for two days.
You had a couple different people cycle through right?
Yeah, the first half of the trip was Gabe [Langlois, Off Course Cinematographer] and I, then Shayne Pospisil, Cole Barash, then Jake Welch.
You and Cole grew up together, right?
Yeah, Cole and I grew up together. We grew up ten minutes from each other in Waterbury, Vermont. He actually learned to snowboard before me, but I started riding with him, so I learned to snowboard with him. Then he started shooting photos, and we both got on Forum. I was riding and he was staff photographer. With Shayne, he is originally from New Jersey, but he was always doing the Vermont USASA contest series. We ended up living together when we were both 18, out in Mammoth. My wife’s sister is dating Shayne. And they’re really serious, so there’s a good chance that Shayne is going to be joining the family. It’s pretty funny how Shayne might be my brother-in-law pretty soon.
Do those guys push you in your riding?
Definitely, because I trust them in the backcountry. I trust their skills and their knowledge, so it makes you feel more confident when you’re out there.
How does it feel to still have these connections that shaped you as a person and still be able to do these kinds of things with them?
I think that’s what it’s all about for me, to go on these trips with people you like hanging out with, that you like being around. That’s why when those guys had to leave, Jake Welch came back in. I love riding with Jake, how could you not? I’ve been riding professionally for 14 years now, and there have been a lot of times when it’s like a job, and you have to go to a place you don’t really want to go to with people you don’t really want to go with. So when you can dictate your own trip and set it up, you’re going to go and ride with people you enjoy being with and inevitably collect awesome footage. That’s when the magic happens.
"I was too one-dimensional. Just a snowboarder. I wasn’t seeing my family."
"I don’t understand how there can be any negative feedback when it comes to protecting the Earth."
I want to talk about balance. You have a farm. You moved back to Vermont from Washington. Was there a line that you crossed where you needed something else?
I was too one-dimensional. Just a snowboarder. I wasn’t seeing my family. My wife and I’s families are from here, and we were only seeing them occasionally. It felt like something was missing, and I think it was just that; the balance. So when we did move back here, we started getting into very low scale farming. We have big gardens but I hesitate to call it a farm, because we don’t have any animals or anything. When I did get back on my board, I was so stoked and I had this new energy. That was a big lesson for me. You don’t have to try so hard to be good at something and dedicate everything to it. If you pull back a little bit and give yourself time to grow in other areas, you end up helping yourself in snowboarding in the long run. I found my stoke, fire and the passion that was missing.
Are there other things that you really want to learn more about?
I want to learn how to produce good food. Whether it’s just for us and our family and learning how to tide it over with root cellars and whatnot, or selling some of it. It’s not a plan to get rich, but to enrich the community. I would like to learn how to build. My dad is a carpenter, and I’ve been slowly learning skills over the last couple of years. We’re building a mini ramp in my backyard right now, my dad is really showing me how to do it proper. Knowing how to build something, knowing how to grow the food that you’re going to feed your family. That stuff inspires me.
With that in mind, has your approach to snowboarding changed with this shift in lifestyle or shift in mentality?
I just have more confidence. I have a good relationship with all my sponsors, and I know they back me. It only took fourteen years, but I’m going to do whatever feels good on my board when I’m out there. I do that 90 percent of the time, and ten percent I’m doing for the wrong reasons. I’m still learning to do it all for the right reasons. I won’t really build many jumps these days, and I just want to ride my board as much as possible. Years ago, we would ride our snowmobiles around all day and maybe find one feature to hit. You build it then you go huck; it didn’t even feel like snowboarding. Now we just go out, take a party lap to begin the day, or two or three, and get the stoke level high. It’s a low-stress attitude, a don’t-give-a-shit attitude.
What are your priorities? Whether it’s in snowboarding, or life. What makes you wake up in the morning and say, “This is important to me?”
I would say my wife, my family, and my health. Just trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Health is first and foremost, because without that, what do you have? You don’t even have your family, you don’t have anything without it. Making sure you have good relationships with the people you love. Those are my two main priorities. From that, in the wintertime it’s finding good snow, having a lot of fun and producing. My wife struggled with lyme disease for two years. It’s crazy how much it consumed her. Now she’s back to a regular life, which I’m so grateful for. Lyme disease is only getting worse with warming and whatnot. Tick populations are getting crazier every year. It’s not good.
Speaking of warming, I did the story a while back about the Paris Climate Agreement and gathered statements from some influential people and featured your opinion. You were pretty vocal about it on social media. What was some of the feedback you got from your viewpoints?
Mostly positive. I try not to be too opinionated unless I feel really strongly about something. I felt strongly enough about that to put it on my social media. You always get some people that say something that doesn’t make any sense. But there is no convincing, no reasoning with someone like that. They’ve got their mind set and that’s how it’s going to be. So I try not to spend too much energy on that. But for the most part it was positive. I don’t understand how there can be any negative feedback when it comes to protecting the Earth. That’s the health of everyone.
"That was always my goal from the very beginning: to gain the trust of the brand, do what I want to do and see a vision come to fruition."
"I realized there wasn’t going to be much longevity with a snowboard career if I’m always doing what the brand thinks is best for me."
When Marie-France Roy did “The Little Things” a few years ago, she really did a good job of identifying the hypocrisy in all us. Snowboarding is not exactly eco-friendly.
That’s so true. That’s probably the most negative feedback I get. Like, how am I going to offset all my helicopter, sled, and plane-use?
How do you reconcile that in your own way?
I try to support organizations. We’re putting 24 solar panels down in our field. It’s just trying to make more moves like that and voting with your money to companies that you believe are doing the right thing. I think we should be so much further as an advanced civilization than we really are. Everyone should be driving around in easily affordable, accessible electric cars by now. Fuck, I would think that helicopters and planes would be too. Whether it’s being a little more politically active, making sure we’ve got the right people making the right moves for society and the environment, or voting with your money and donating to organizations that you think are doing the right thing.
You’ve been on RIDE for quite some time, and they have trusted you to do what is best for not only you, but them and their image. How does that make you feel to have that support?
That was always my goal from the very beginning: to gain the trust of the brand, do what I want to do and see a vision come to fruition. It makes me really happy to be with a brand like RIDE that will sign on to a project like Off Course because they have the confidence in Gabe and I to pull it off. RIDE is very core, and I’m very grateful to be with them.
It wasn’t always like that with Forum right?
With Forum, I loved it. I was filming with my heroes. But it got to a point where fall would roll around and they were pitching ideas at us. It was never where they wanted to hear my ideas and what I could bring to the table. I worked for them, I did what they told me to do, I got paid and it all happened again the next year. I realized there wasn’t going to be much longevity with a snowboard career if I’m always doing what the brand thinks is best for me. You have to find that balance. With RIDE, we get together, bounce around ideas, and make sure to align so we’re both stoked. I just feel very thankful to be with brands who hear me out, hear my ideas.
Is there anything else you want to say about the idea of “Off Course”?
I’m really excited to see what Gabe has to come up because he hasn’t produced too many of his own projects. He’s such an awesome dude. Great in the backcountry, all around one of my best friends. He’s going to have a very new take on snowboarding, and he’s an amazing rider. Just to see his vision come to life is really exciting.