Oli Gagnon

ON THE WAY BACK FROM BEIJING, Red Gerard snuck me into first class for our eleven-hour flight home and then got me a drink. I thought, Wow, what a legend. Then, before we even took off, my drink was taken back by the flight attendant, I was kicked to the back of the plane, and I was told to stay there until landing. So I thought, Okay, not a legend yet.

But Red is well on his way to becoming one. Winning Olympic gold (2018), the US Open (2019), the Dew Tour (2020 and 2021), and having Ben Stiller drop your name on late night TV is all a strong argument to start things off. Add Red’s Backyard, a network of free snowboard parks inspired by his family home in Colo- rado that he hopes to keep expanding, and the bio looks even better. Style is subjective when talking about legends and he obviously has it, but the ability to land is absolute. Red already has an inhuman talent for landing when it matters, a proven fact (his family can’t remember a contest that he didn’t land his run), except of course, if it’s landing a friend in first class—that is not in his wheelhouse. He attributes all of his non-airline success to the time spent on his board, simple dedication that he takes seriously and enjoys.

Oh, and he’s only 22. Hailing from a well-known and hardworking family of boarders, Red seems to have it pretty figured out. It at least looks that way as we sit outside his new house in Southern California, with our feet up to imitate a taste of business class. Coming off an Olympic year where he just missed the podium, Red immediately finished off the winter filming alongside Ben Ferguson for Fleeting Time, another strong resume builder. Enjoy the interview. – Mark Clavin

p: Oli Gagnon

Do you consider yourself a top-tier athlete?
No, I don’t. I would like to, but the formula is not the same for us. We don’t have enough contests or enough things to make me feel like that. I would have to treat my body better, be in the gym a lot more like basketball players or baseball players. They are playing every other night. I couldn’t fuck around as much.

So, slopestyle contests are just for fun?
Ha. I think at a certain point they were, when it was like doing 1080s and 1260s, and maybe even 1440s. But now where we’re at, with 1620s and moving onto 1800s—I’m not doing it for fun. I’m a competitive person, for sure. I think I’m a different kind of competitive. I don’t really let people know, but I want it bad. So I can keep living in California, doing the things I want to do, especially right now at this age. I like where my head’s at with snowboarding. I feel pretty balanced.

And you have a few parts under your belt filming, as well.
My brothers were always pretty on me about that, not to just do contests. And now I look at it and I’m so happy because there are so many of my homies that are just like stuck in a hole because all they did was contests or whatever. I’m lucky enough where I did do both and I enjoy both. My first Grand Prix was probably when I was 15. I didn’t exactly grow up competing. You know my brothers. I guess in a weird way, I respect backcountry snowboarding more. You definitely have to have much more insight and go about things so much more strategically than you do in a contest. You just can’t get paid the same, you know?

Do you think coming from such a large family has had a huge effect on your snowboarding?
Huge. It is all through how I try to go about snowboarding. I mean, I think I’m constantly reminded of like how lucky I am to be successful at a young age. So many of my brothers, my sister, and my cousins work a nine-to-five and they grind so hard. My dad probably talks to me about that like once a week. Even at the Olympics, I was recognized for being Tieghan’s brother.

They seem to be in the spotlight with you, whether it is on Kimmel or wherever. How does it feel to have people know so much about your family?
My sister is way more in the spotlight. She’s got way more eyes on her, so that takes a lot of pressure off me. We were sitting in the mess hall in Beijing and these two girls came up to me and were like, “Hey, you’re Red Gerard!” Hailey says I went from a huge smile and red-faced to immediate frown when they said, “Oh my god, we are huge fans of Half Baked Harvest!” Haha. But I love it. It is way easier to talk about them than myself. I can talk about Teighan and my family all day!

Do you ever worry about your image?
I think I get a little stressed that one day the F-minus fame [editor’s note: as in, not A-list fame] will go away or I won’t be the snowboarder I want to be, but I’m more just worried about the future. I’m happy with my snowboarding. Image is kind of whatever.

p: Mark Clavin

Are you still angry about fourth place at the Olympics?
My mind has changed on that. No. When I was younger, I would take fourth or fifth any day. That meant straight from the contest, jumping in the pool, having a shit ton of fun. Fourth or fifth and you still did good, you keep your sponsors, but you didn’t have to stay on good behavior for a medal ceremony while all your friends were partying. Now that I am a bit older, though, and thinking about my future, getting fourth, especially at the Olympics, is like a punch in the face. But there’s nothing I can do to change it. As soon as I left China, I think I was over it. It is just one of those things. I definitely wanted that so bad. This year was the best I’ve ever been snowboarding in my life, for sure. I had a lot of people I really wanted to make happy, and in some sense, it gave me relief because it’s like, I went there and I did all I could do and I landed my run the best I possibly could. If I got on the podium, where would I have been right now? Would life be different? We’re sitting in the sun and I’m looking at my home. I can’t really be that pissed, you know?


Yeah, there was a lot of talk around the judging, even Ben Stiller chimed in. How did that feel?
So dope? That was incredible. I think I would’ve been in a really dark spot if I didn’t have the support I did. I don’t like going down that rabbit hole, but we need to look at this Olympic year and we need to start paying our judges year-round. So the judging happened in slope and I think it was either the next day or the day after, the same exact thing happened in halfpipe. I’m really happy that Ayumu landed his last run and was able to get up there. But if he didn’t land his last run, he still deserved that gold. I’m not hating on these judges. I’m hating more on FIS at this point. The judges need more support to study what’s going on in snowboarding year-round. Their scores are deciding our futures and if we can snowboard professionally for the rest of our lives. The Olympics only happen once every four years, and even though it is not the best snowboarding you’re going to get, that’s make or break for a lot of people.

2022 Olympics. p: Clavin

Did you lose any sponsors?
No, but fourth place isn’t exactly paying the bills either. I thankfully have sponsors that help me because I’ve been on the podium. But a lot of riders can’t say that or continue to pay for the travel to keep doing this anymore. If we’re going to be risking our lives and training all year in terrifying situations, learning new tricks, the least we can get is proper judging where they know what they’re scoring. It’s bigger than just that, but we’re definitely missing that piece of the puzzle.

What do you think is the best showcase of snowboarding?
I think it was the US Open because they seemed to mostly follow a points list. Dew Tour could probably do that, but they have been the qualifiers for the Olympics the past few years, so they had to follow those rules. There are also always movies. Any project done well is pretty insane.

What about Natural Selection?
That’s how I want to do slopestyle snowboarding; head-to-head in slope would be so sick. Yeah, maybe it is right in front of our eyes, you know? I kind of want to transfer my snowboarding into Natural Selection. I would love to ride those stops. The motivation is there, but I love doing slopestyle. I want to find a solution. I think so many people do want to find a solution for contest snowboarding so it can keep going. But it doesn’t feel like Natural Selection is the other option for slopestyle snowboarding yet. You know, it doesn’t feel like for pipe either.

Coastal British Columbia. p: Oli Gagnon

And what about big air?
Fuck big air. Why are we just going to keep going and doing these spins when we’re already dealing with jumps getting smaller, courses getting smaller, and not as much snow. I would love big air if it was almost like a circus act. Let’s just go to this place and let’s get Sean FitzSimons to do his double backflip. I’ll go do a backside 540 or something. I’m sure the same people would come and watch. That’s the one thing about big air that I agree with: It’s an easy way to get people and kids who aren’t in the mountains to look at snowboarding and actually get them inspired. That’s probably why basketball does so well, because everyone can relate to shooting a ball into a hoop, you know? No one can relate to doing a 2160. And again, for a lot of these riders, they are putting their lives on the line and the payoff doesn’t add up. The prize money doesn’t really cover the expenses for travel, lodging, and all that.

Yeah, and then you have guys playing golf for 80 million on the LIV tour.
Yeah, in snowboarding I don’t even know how to compare it. But if someone came in the contest scene with even the tiniest bit more prize money or it just was backed by snowboarding, everyone would move over to that side.

You’ve been golfing a lot, yeah?
I really got into it right before the 2018 Olympics. It definitely tests my patience, but I enjoy the thing with golf that always brings you back—like you play a terrible round but hit one good shot. That’ll bring me back every time.

You take any of golf into your snowboarding?
Haha. It just screws with my head. I think about my swing. What I want is just the most fluid swing, something that I can always rely on and come back to, and I think that’s something that I’ll never find. It’s like at the top of the slope. I’m always trying to get into a ritual that works. I’m always trying to find something, whether it’s bending down, touching my board, strapping my bindings in tighter, or you know, saying some words before I drop. I’m always trying to find a routine that works for me.

Dream group to golf with?
People that don’t take it seriously and are down to just go out there and have some beers. But if I had all the money in the world, Michael Jordan would have to be there. Betting 10,000-dollar holes would be intense. Kelly Slater, too.

Austen Sweetin and Red Gerard. British Columbia. p: Oli Gagnon

What’s a worse feeling, tacoing a rail or landing a huge trick and then dragging your hand on the landing?
Haha, I will take tacoing on a rail anytime. Even just checking your snowboard a little bit or coming off a touch early for a back 270 off a rail, you get in your head thinking, Are they going to give me a break? Are they really going to dock me on this? while still trying to complete your run. I’d rather have pain from tacoing, as long as it’s not going to last like all week.

Do you have a person that you want to emulate in your career?
I think Ståle Sandbech has done a really good job. He always puts the time and effort into his own style with his tricks. And now he’s transitioning into other parts of snowboarding outside of contests, you know? I’ve never talked to him about it but being around him, it seems like he probably thinks the same way I do about contests right now. He’s probably made a good amount of money, so it is one of those “I don’t really know what I want to do” situations.

But you want still want to go for another Olympics, yeah?
I’ll take as many as I get. Right now, I’m number one in the world, so I’m like, I’ve kind of got to go for it. Body feels good. If I can keep going at this pace, I might as well.

Whistler backcountry. p: Aaron Blatt

And how about filming with Ben Ferguson for Fleeting Time this year?
It was super fun getting to do that. The biggest thing for me was just leaving the Olympics and having something to do after. It was seven long days and with Ben, if it is good out and it is sunny, you just put in the work and get the clips you want. We hit this jump called Mother and it was pretty fun to see the way he operates. He took that contest energy he had and put it right into the backcountry. He was just directing everyone and where to go.

How was the session?
Scary. That was my first time snowboarding since big air in Beijing. We flew back, packed the trucks up, and drove up to Whistler. It was the first thing we rode, and I lost roshambo, so I also had to hit it first. Terrifying. Happy it worked out. I was super hyped on the clips.

Ben always makes fun of me saying that I can’t do shit by myself. I need Kai, my brother and fimer, and all this. But Kai was hurt this year, so it was fun to go on a trip where it was just me and Ben. He was like, “Oh, you can actually book an Airbnb?” “Dude, yeah. It’s like ordering an Uber.”

How do you switch your mindset from competing to filming?
At a contest, it is one big burst of energy. You land your run, do your thing, and you are done. When filming, I have to remind myself about keeping my energy throughout the day. The days are long and you have to be prepared for that. So many times, the days don’t go the way you want and then randomly at the end, something will just work out. It is hard, though, because you still want to do enough to be tired at the end of each day, because clouds are going to come eventually and you are going to get stormed out.

To finish up the season, you spent some time surfing with Travis Rice in Canada?
That guy is crazy. The crew was all time: me, Bryan Fox, Mikey Wright, Travis, and Austen Sweetin. It was sick. The Quik dudes. We had a boat and the original plan was to heli from the lodge up into the mountains, but we could only do that one or two days because of the weather, so it really just turned into a surf trip. It was crazy just being out in the ocean with a big swell. It was gaining every day. Brian and I didn’t even go out. Just Mikey and Travis, which is crazy. Travis is good at surfing, but I didn’t know he was that good. It was big and cold. He is a nutjob the way he operates. He is so focused on what he is doing.

Have any ideas for this upcoming season?
This is going to be like my only year where I think I will have the most free time. I will do a few contests to hopefully keep my points relevant and then focus on filming. I want to do my own project and have my brother edit it. It sounds like it’s going to work, not a forty-minute thing, just maybe ten to twenty minutes with good snowboarding. Then it will be two years out again for the Olympics and time to start focusing on qualifying all over again.

Is filming a project considered free time for you?
Eh, it’s time on board.