The spirit of JH PowWow: Rob Kingwill’s vision for snowboarding’s future

Leaving the parking lot of Jackson Hole on the last day of the JH PowWow, I knew that I had experienced something extraordinary. Beneath the fatigue, sore muscles, and damp outerwear, a feeling of rejuvenation somehow surpassed the weariness from four days of charging down the most challenging mountain I have ever ridden. The collective energy from this group of individuals was electrifying. From shapers to company owners, board testers to pro riders, these people were brought together by Rob Kingwill’s unwavering passion for turning left and right. Below is why Rob believes in the PowWow, and why he believes the fundamental strength of snowboarding culture will only continue to grow.


Rob Kingwill

JH PowWow is Rob Kingwill’s manifestation of the soul of snowboarding: turning left and right with your friends. | Photo: Wade Dunstan

“Four years ago I had an idea. It was inspired by Travis Rice and Natural Selection. Before that, there was never really an event where everyone could come together and enjoy riding at Jackson Hole. I was hoping that would be it, and then it never happened again. So I was thinking, how do I create an event that doesn’t have an event? There’s no waking up and being stressed about going to the race, or having to stand around and watch someone else snowboard. It came to this idea of a powder board test where people could come and really push product design at Jackson Hole; we have some of the best terrain in North America, if not the world. It’s super variable: it can be pow at the top, slush at the bottom. It’s a great place for testing boards. Then everyone that’s here is part of it, they’re all participating and they are the event. That is at the core of PowWow.

Four years later I have a hundred frothing snowboarders ready to go every morning at 7:30, loading into the tent with all of these great new snowboard shapes, and lining up in the tram line ready to ride. Luckily this year we actually put some pow in the PowWow. Conditions were all time for testing powder boards, we could get out and actually see how some of the new shapes and dynamics work.

Yes there’s a test and all of this stuff going on, but a core concept is getting together and going snowboarding. There are tons of events where people talk a lot about snowboarding but never go. They go to an event where after parties and other things become the focus. What makes this one different is I’m trying to get people focused on getting here early in the morning and riding their snowboards from bell to bell. That’s a unique opportunity for some of the people in the industry. Most of the time they’re either turning screws or sitting at their computer. Let’s all, as industry folks, get together and be snowboarders on a primal, visceral level, like when you started riding with you friends a long time ago. Then you’re just a kid again. You’re riding because snowboarding is fun, not because you have to test something. It brings it down to the reason we all started doing this in the first place, because snowboarding is the funnest thing you can ever do with your life; at least for many of the people here.

Feeling the strength of our culture in an authentic way, you realize there is so much love and passion here from the true core of the sport.

PowWow is unique because you have all of these people riding together that have built their lives around snowboarding. It’s this whole different vibe. Everyone is a really good rider, ready to charge, and there are just mobs of snowboarders ripping back and forth shredding pow. It’s a really cool scene because you don’t really get fifteen people that are all high level shredders slashing pow at the same time. That’s what it’s all about.

As the PowWow has developed, I’ve understood that getting the shapers together — the people that drive the design of snowboarding — is a really big priority of mine. JG Gerndt from Burton, Pete Wurster from Unity, Mikey Franco, or the Gentemstick guys, can all ride each other’s boards and it’s non-competitive. Most demos are are there to sell boards and say, “I designed this, it’s the best snowboard you’ve ever been on, please buy it!” My intention here is to make it ok to like other people’s boards, to get inspired by that and hopefully progress your own design.

JH PowWow

The PowWow tent is where you can truly feel a love for snowboarding.

I’m trying to foster shaper culture in snowboarding, and put a name and a face to the people that are behind progressive snowboard design. I like to hear, “I’m going to ride this Gentemstick today because Taro Tamai designed it. I’m going to seek out Mikey Franco and have him build me a custom snowboard.” I think that’s part of snowboarding culture that is somewhat missing. The boards pop out of a factory and there it is. You see the pro riders on them, and sometimes they have a lot of influence with a pro model, but there is an entire subculture of designers that are very welcome here at the PowWow to come together and interact. Hopefully that will help design in the future.

On an emotional level, I have built my life around snowboarding. I have been riding for almost thirty years. I have been in all different parts of the industry, from being on the US Team, to being a pro freerider, to having my own company. Snowboarding is my heart and soul. In this PowWow tent, you feel the love of snowboarding. It really carries us through. The New York Times said we’re in decline, pro riders aren’t getting paid anymore, blah blah blah. They forgot to mention that there are over seven million people that actually snowboard. Millions of people that love snowboarding! We need to focus on the roots, which is ultimately freeriding and turning down the hill with your friends; hopefully in deep powder like we have in Jackson. But for me, turning left and right will always be at the core of snowboarding. Feeling the strength of our culture in an authentic way, you realize there is so much love and passion here from the true core of the sport.

I think snowboarding is alive and well, and there is no problem whatsoever. We need to take that love and broadcast it to our end consumer, to show people the side where it’s just riding powder with your friends. It doesn’t have to be X Games, energy drink, super radical triple cork things all the time. That’s actually starting to distance new riders because it’s not what they’re going out to do on a given day. A regular rider is just hitting little jumps, turning with friends, and enjoying the mountain. That’s the soul that has true strength. The more we can encourage that, I think we’ll get more participants and progressive board design that works well for people that rip around the mountain. I love seeing the progressive stuff like the X Games, it’s awesome, and I used to be one of those people myself. It should continue to be celebrated. But we should celebrate that simple practice of turning left and right on the mountain.

To slide and feel that flow is something that only snowboarding can give you.”

— Rob Kingwill

Watch also: Surf the Snow: Part 5 – Rob Kingwill and the JH Pow Wow

Learn more about JH PowWow and the board test on JHpowwow.com

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