All photography courtesy of RIDE Snowboards
It is a bizarre thought to grasp, but snowboarding can become a job complete with its own set of grievances and frustrations. The activity that so many use to escape is also what traps others in a race for recognition. It’s a trade that can take away as much as it can give, and Jake Welch experienced all of those ups and downs in his career. This is what strengthens the mission of Off Course.
This past January, Welch joined his fellow RIDE team member Jake Blauvelt deep in Interior British Columbia to complete one primary goal: to snowboard as much as possible. For the Utah native, it was a relatively new concept in his career as a professional snowboarder accustomed to a rigorous travel and production schedule. More than anything, Off Course resembles the fabled laissez-faire approach to a surf trip than it does filming for a snowboard movie. Down to Earth, approachable, attainable, this was an expedition for the soul with the cameras rolling.
For Welch, Off Course was a reminder of why he started snowboarding in the first place: to have fun with friends. It has strengthened an understanding that he is applying to life in general, a gratitude that you can hear in his voice and see in his riding. He has allowed himself to slip back into the escapism that brings so many people to snowboarding. It just took losing himself to find it.
So you live right in Salt Lake City?
Yeah, I live downtown. So from Brighton I’m maybe 35, 40 minutes.
What is it like having that as your backyard?
It’s been insane. I think I’ve spent more time up there over the past 20 years of my life because that’s where I grew up going. I’ve definitely taken it for granted because it’s so close and it’s such easy access to so many different mountains, awesome terrain. It’s been amazing. I definitely feel like I’ve grown up in a pretty awesome spot. That’s why I’m still here, it’s hard for me to leave. How much in our backyard is here all throughout the year. In the winter, you have all the mountains. Then in the summer you have all the rivers, lakes, all the hikes, it’s awesome.
Brighton has become a snowboarding capital, or a center, especially for Utah. At one point, Park City kind of had that and Brighton has really embraced its role.
Brighton has always been like that. I remember Brighton was like that when I was a kid. I remember growing up and going to Park City for a couple of years—a lot of people started going there. Then everyone came back to Brighton. Everyone loved it there. You don’t have to hit someone up to go for the day, you can just head up and you’ll meet up with a bunch of people, like heading to the skatepark.
What was it like in those early years?
It was crazy. I would always see Jeremy [Jones], JP [Walker], Seth [Huot], all those guys grew up there. They would be riding all the time. I looked up to them when I was young and watching them snowboard. And it was at the resort I grew up at! Kind of a trip when I think about it. Now we cruise every day. I’ve become homies with everyone.
"We just had the mentality of going out and having fun; what we found, we were going to ride."
Let’s talk about this Off Course trip with [Jake] Blauvelt. How important is it for you to take those trips to get out on your own program and do something else, versus a high-stress trip?
That’s what was cool about this trip. It was the whole purpose. We were going to explore some terrain that I had never been to. It was just about going, riding, exploring, and it was stress-free, laid back. It was a really fun trip because we rode a lot but it was just trying to find things that we could do really quick or ride together, especially with the weather he had. We didn’t see sun the whole ten days we were there. It just snowed. We were low in the trees, limited to certain aspects and what we could actually do. But that’s what was fun. The zone had everything from pillows to tree lines.
It sounds like when you were there it was low pressure, cloudy, snowy, and when Jake was there with Shayne [Pospisil] they were able to get up to the alpine.
Yeah, it was complete opposite. It was sunny for them the whole time but they had awesome snow, then when I got there it was warm and high 20s, 30 degrees, with these huge flakes all day. It was gray out most of the time but there was so much terrain and easy to do stuff. It’s hard to find zones when you’re able to do that. You’re either going to a spot in the alpine to hit, or when it’s snowing down low you’re going to be in the trees, but this zone had all of that. It was super close, it was awesome.
What board did you ride for this trip?
I rode the Alter Ego and Jake’s board, the Berzerker.
Riding that board and being with him, can you see how it was designed?
Totally. You can tell that board is made to ride how he wants. He has tweaked it over the years and made little changes to the shape, where it’s lifted, the flex a little bit. He definitely knows what he likes to ride. For his style of riding, that board suits him really well in that type of terrain. It’s a board you could literally ride anywhere.
"You can tell that board is made to ride how he wants."
"Going through ups and downs in life, at times I take a step back..."
You guys were going for a certain style with the film by trying to give people a feeling that they could go do it themselves. It’s definitely a style that has gained popularity in the past few years, but is there a difference for how you ride when filming that way? Or is it just business as usual when you’re out there filming?
There are definitely times when gears switch. You get the butterflies before the first time hitting a jump, especially if you have to guinea it [test it out]. But this trip there wasn’t any of that. We just had the mentality of going out and having fun; what we found, we were going to ride. Jake and I used to ride together, but it’s probably been ten years since we spent the winter filming for THAT. That’s when he went his way from Forum and I stayed there until the end. But we rode a lot back then and it was really cool to come back together. We’ve crossed paths over the years and rode a couple days here and there, but this trip was rad to have a mini-reunion.
How do you think Jake has evolved in his riding since then?
I was there in that whole transition when Jake was riding pipe, powder, rails, kind of doing it all. He just made that decision instantly that he was going to do his thing, ride what he wanted to ride and not care what people thought. That was cool to see. He can just take charge, say what he wants to do and do it, whether people like it or not. Regardless, if people didn’t like the way he snowboarded now, he wouldn’t change. He would still be snowboarding that way, whether it had worked out or not.
And what about yourself?
As for myself, where I grew up and the people I was around, my friends, I just snowboarded on anything and everything. That was my passion. Over the years, that’s what I’ve done and still try to do. In the early season, I’ll try to ride urban stuff, then when there’s a good base and good snow I’ll go find some good powder. I still do that schedule. Getting a little older, I ultimately love riding powder. I see myself transitioning to that and enjoy that way more for the last little bit, but I still try to enjoy and ride everything.
You had your own trials a few years ago (Jake went through a divorce with Torah Bright and was left without major sponsors after the fall of Forum, Special Blend and Foursquare). Has your relationship with snowboarding changed over the years? Or has it played a different role in your life?
Going through ups and downs in life, at times I take a step back and try not to take snowboarding for granted. When you’re in the middle of it, you’re just going. It’s hard to slow down sometimes and really be thankful for what you’ve got. I’m just really appreciative that I’ve been able to do it for as long as I’ve had. Then, I just had the mentality that I was going to do it forever. Now, I’ve been really fortunate to have been doing it this long, and I love it, and I still have just as much fun doing it as I did 20 years ago.
You said that it’s fun. People sometimes forget that, like looking back to stories and accounts of the Forum years being high stress and super competitive.
Yeah, there are lots of stories like that. When you’re given opportunity like we were when we were so young, the both of us, you kind of want to prove yourself and you’re really hungry at the same time. I had a weird bringing into it, with the filming stage of snowboarding. It went from seeing [the Forum guys] at the resort to the next day I was in Whistler filming in the backcountry with them, hitting the same jump. So you’re pretty stressed out, you don’t want to suck in front of these guys. It has definitely changed. But going through those trials and coming back, I’m not going to take it so serious. It’s going to be more about having fun. I’m not a competitive person at all, and I don’t do good under pressure. That’s definitely what deterred me from snowboarding early on when I used to do contests. I enjoyed this side of snowboarding and filming with my friends, trying to not be so stressed and have it be more about having fun.
Do you try to seek out isolation?
To disconnect? Totally. I love it. Especially when I’m in the middle of it. We’re just hanging out rather than being in a ski town and eating at a nice restaurant, things like that. We’re out in the middle of nowhere and more or less camping. You’re way more disconnected from the world and just in the moment. I love those times. That was such a rad opportunity. I took a lot from that trip. But just to try to snowboard more like that: just going out and having fun, exploring, riding everything, having more fun and whatever comes of it, comes of it.
Disconnect from the world but connect to that moment.
"You’re way more disconnected from the world and just in the moment. I love those times."
"Since coming back I’ve actually ridden a lot more, which has been my goal. Less stress, snowboard more, have fun."
It’s cool to talk with both you and Blauvelt so I’m going to ask a similar question here, about riding for Forum and riding for RIDE. What is the difference for you?
I guess they were just different periods in my life. It was the end of an old chapter and then a new beginning. When that all happened, it wasn’t like I was trying. It just kind of happened. After going on a couple trips with Pat [Moore] that winter and filming with Mr. Plant, I didn’t go into that having any expectations. I was just going to snowboard and help out in any way, just to be there. My mentality was different because I was just going to ride, have fun, and if I hit something I’d hit it. If not, I wasn’t super bummed, if I didn’t get a trick. I didn’t have a contract or anything so I was just going to hang out. And my mentality since then has just been that, to not be so stressed about things, have more fun and ride more. Looking back in earlier days, you were constantly traveling and filming, which equaled not that much snowboarding. There was so much work going into it, constantly traveling, filming, looking for spots, building jumps. Since coming back I’ve actually ridden a lot more, which has been my goal. Less stress, snowboard more, have fun. Take it back to what it was all about and not have everything revolve around it.
Yeah. That’s one of the many reasons why Jake [Blauvelt] did his own thing too. Going up, build a jump all day then hucking yourself off it a few times, scaring yourself shitless.
Yeah you get a few tries, be super scared, maybe you’ll get a shot, maybe two. But you’re psyched because you put so much work into it. It’s not like it doesn’t pay off, because it does in those times, but there are a lot of times that they don’t. You’re just beating yourself up. It’s a lot of hard work. The amount of effort that goes into building a big backcountry jump and then to hit it. If you go from building it to hitting it, you are so exhausted after that day, it’s insane. But it has definitely been fun.