Until this winter it included just two names, and both are legends of the sport — splitboard pioneer Jeremy Jones and Frenchman Xavier de Le Rue.
But Whitefish’s Jason Robinson has kicked down the door to that exclusive club. The 31-year-old compiled a portfolio of staggering Alaskan descents last winter that turned the heads of his contemporaries and ultimately garnered him recognition as one of the most progressive snowboarders on the planet. In a nod to his versatility, he also was ranked the No. 4 rider overall in the world.
Snowboarder has been handing out these awards since 1999, which are voted on by past winners.
“It’s a huge honor for me,” Robinson said. “There are only two other people on that list. To be considered to be in their realm is mind-blowing. I’m very grateful.”
While Robinson has been a known entity in the snowboard film industry for years, his segment in this year’s Absinthe Films production “Eversince” simply couldn’t be overlooked. Robinson took on aggressive lines with a freestyle flair rarely seen in big mountain no-fall zones.
Robinson got his big break with Absinthe in 2013 after years of building his resume as an all-around snowboarder,
“I jumped right from never going heli skiing or even considering big mountains and jumped in with them,” he said.
It was a seamless entry.
A highlight from “Eversince” shows Robinson in Alaska spinning off a cliff before outrunning a monster cloud of snow to the safe zone.
The film won best snowboard movie of the year at the Transworld Awards.
Robinson admits that watching his own segment on the big screen is something like an out-of-body experience.
“It’s shocking to picture that it’s you and that you actually lived those moments,” he said. “When [you’re riding] it almost seems like a dream and everything slows down. In your head, you’re reacting on a millisecond level. Then you get to the bottom and you’re like, ‘That happened!’”
Local photographer Brendan Rohan has witnessed Robinson’s progression over the years. He first started shooting Robinson as a teenager riding in the old half-pipe at Whitefish Mountain Resort. He calls Robinson’s “Eversince” segment “the most well-rounded part he’s ever produced.”
“Jason was always able to jib and ride street rails,” Rohan said. “But he was able to learn big mountain riding.”
“He can get creative where he drops into huge lines with freestyle moves he learned in the terrain park. This is terrain where you can’t mess up and he drops in doing a rodeo.”
Robinson reflects back to his winters on Big Mountain as a young boy learning to ride with his brother and friends as setting the foundation for his professional career.
His family moved here when he was 4 years old and he got his first snowboard at 9 years old.
“We would stay up [at the resort] all day,” Robinson said. “With my mom [Pam Robsinson] being a liftie, she took to the snowboard kids. She took care of them and would bring them homemade pizza and snacks.”
He says the varied terrain of Big Mountain gave him the skills that translate well to riding the bigger and more aggressive lines found in Alaska.
“I couldn’t picture a better home mountain to hone my snowboard skills,” he said. “There’s not a ton of big faces, but there are tight trees and some steep terrain.”
He even credits the notorious fog.
“Riding in low light instills this sixth sense,” he said.
Robinson is quick to credit a number of locals for inspiring him to push his riding to the next level. Guys like Andrew Crawford, Travas Johns, Leland McNamara, Mike Gallo, and professional freeskier Tanner Hall.
“I was hitting little jumps off cat tracks with Tanner at 12 years old,” Robinson said. “A few years later he started this reign over freeskiing.”
“Andrew Crawford was the first guy I saw in magazines and movies. He showed that you can come from a small town and make a lifestyle out of snowboarding.”
“Travas Johns was one of the local guys who I got a lot of inspiration from. Mike Gallo took me under his wing and Leland was the first guy to point a camera at me.”
Then there’s his younger brother, Aaron, probably Robinson’s biggest influence as a snowboarder, and in life.
A professional snowboarder, Aaron died in 2011 while in the backcountry of Chile when he fell and hit his head on exposed rocks.
“My biggest inspiration is my little brother and watching him take his own path,” Robinson said. “He always stayed true to what he wanted to do. He was the first person I rode a real line with and dug an avy pit with. He gave me a ton of pointers in the backcountry.”
In fact, he always thought Aaron would be the one earning accolades for his backcountry snowboarding exploits.
“Something I always imagined my brother, Aaron, would win one day and I’m sure he would have by now if he was still alive and snowboarding,” Robinson posted on Facebook after learning he was named Big Mountain Rider of the Year. “Either way this one’s for you AROB! Couldn’t have done this without your guidance and inspiration.”
Robinson says he’s taking a different approach to this winter. He’s preparing to hit the road next week with a trailer house he’s fabricated pulled by a vegetable oil-powered pickup. He’ll be making a travel documentary on the adventure.
“It will be the first year I’m taking the house on the road,” he said. “I’ll be telling that story. I want to show that if you align your life in the right way, you can travel with little money and have a small environmental impact.”
Of course, there will be some snowboarding along the way.
“I plan to do some grab-your-pack-and-go riding,” he said.
“We’re going to Whistler first, then will chase the snow until mid-May.”
— By MATT BALDWIN for This Week Whitefish