An Interview With Olympian Ryan Stassel
What follows is a conversation I had with Ryan Stassel—a nice kid with good work ethic...
An Interview with Ryan Stassel
By Cody Liska
Photos by Cale Green
It seems like every time I interview a young gun, I have this preconception that they’ll be an uppity little prick. Probably because that’s what I was, so that’s what I expect. It’s a shitty judgment call for a lot of reasons, mainly because predisposing someone’s character is lame and also because all the youngins’ I know are cool. Those preconceptions inevitably come from my own jaded perspective of a snowboard industry lousy with privileged try-hards and too-cools. I have no doubt that those kids still exist, I just don’t have the unfortunate privilege of experiencing them.
What follows is a conversation I had with Ryan Stassel—a nice kid with good work ethic—and a reminder to myself to not be such an asshole.
What up, man. What are you up to?
Right now, I’m down in Clam Gulch. It’s in between Kenai and Ninilchik. During the summer I run a fishing sight, which is pretty much what helps maintain me through my winters.
How long have you been at that?
I’ve been fishing, oh man, ever since I was a little kid. It’s a family sight, so I grew up doing it. Now, I’m running my own sight. Been doing that since I was about 16.
What does running your own fishing sight look like?
Oh, pretty much running a crew of four people. We have two boats and together we set nets in the inlet and catch a lot of fish. We run twelve nets and whenever we’re able to fish, we’re out there catching fish.
Do you have any superstitions or rituals?
The one ritual I have before a contest run would be, before I drop in I do some quick little wave motion with my arms. Kinda helps just loosen me up and gets the blood flowing. And then I just kinda say a few words like, “alright, man, you’ve done this a thousand times. This is just a thousand and one.” And then I drop in.
Did you learn how to snowboard in Alaska and then move, or did you get to a certain point and realize that you needed to get out?
At a certain point—I think I was 14—there was a coach, Dillon Omlen, from California who came up to me and my dad and said that he believed he could give me more than what Alaska could. So, he kind of took me in. He gave me a place to stay in Truckee when I would travel during holidays, because I was still going to school at the time. From then on it became more of a career. Dillon is actually still one of my coaches. When I’m in Tahoe, I stay at his house—I’ve been living there during the winter for the past 8 years.
Did you realize that you couldn’t stay in Alaska if you wanted to turn snowboarding into a career?
Now I do. But, at the time, you had to get out in order to do events and contests. So, I would go down to [the states] to train with a coach. I would train for a week and then it kind of just became a thing, like, “alright, for me to get better, I’m gonna have to get out and train on jumps and rails that are up to par with what are at these events.” I think that happened when I was about 17. That’s when I actually moved down to California.
And how old are you now?
Did you look up to anybody when you were coming up?
Yea, when I came up, it was all about Boarderline Camp. Like Jason Borgstede, Jesse Burtner, Gus Engle, a bunch of kids that worked at Boarderline and pretty much anyone in those Boarderline videos.
Right on. When did you start snowboarding?
When I was 5. I got into a program at Hilltop called Hotdoggers and there was a bus that would take us up to Hilltop after school and we’d have lessons three times a week.
Me and Gus [Engle] would do that same thing—go up to Hilltop everyday after school.
Yea, Hilltop was the stomping grounds for a lot of up and coming riders. It still is.
How was your experience at the Olympics?
Oh, man. I wasn’t quite ready for it, you know? I was sitting on the bubble for the last like three events and there are so many good riders that I had to compete against. When I got over to Sochi, I was really just taking everything in. I just felt lucky to be there. I had a blast when I was there. I really hope I can go again because I’m gonna have a different mindset on how I wanna ride.
And you took Shaun White’s spot, right? Like, when he dipped out, you were in?
No, I had a spot before that. When Shaun dipped out, which really sucked, he dipped out a day too late for an alternate to take his spot. Which was a big bummer because I know the kid that could’ve gone and he’s really good. Like, that course would have fit his riding style really well.
Here in a couple years, when you potentially go back to the Olympics, what did you learn from Sochi?
I guess, it’s not what I’ve learned, it’s about being more prepared. Last time, it was the fifth event. The U.S. team didn’t know if they had a fourth spot. I ended up being in that fourth spot. So, if they had the spot, then I got it; if they didn’t have the spot, then I didn’t get it. There was this period of four or five days before the event, where it was like, “you’re not going. You’re going. You’re not going. You’re going.” So, I kind of shut my mind off to the possibility that I would actually go. Because, most likely, that’s what was going to happen—things don’t work out and you don’t get in. I was in a shuttle going to Breckenridge when I got a phone call saying I made the [U.S. Olympic] Team. I think I was just out of place. I think that’s what it was. I wasn’t fully focused, like, “yes, this is what I’m doing.” It was more just like, “okay, whatever. If it happens, it happens.” And then, literally, two days after that phone call, I was on a flight over to Sochi. So, it was just me not being mentally prepared for it.
That’s a pretty fucked up situation. Like the biggest dick-tease in competitive snowboarding: “guess what, you’re going to the biggest event of your life. Oh, wait, no you’re not. Okay, yea you are.”
Well, technically, they didn’t exactly tell me I was officially in. It was just that it was a possibility, but don’t get my hopes up. They didn’t tell me, “yes, you’re going.” So, I just shut it off and told myself, “I’m just gonna go ride and have fun and hang out. And what happens, happens.”