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.


2014 Sochi Olympics


And how old are you now?

I’m 22.



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.”



What does your season look like?

I don’t really know. I kind of go with the flow. I won’t know my contest schedule until probably a month before winter starts, even then the schedule changes throughout the season. I’m always trying to film and go ride with people, wherever the snow is. Pretty much just having fun. That’s my motto. If I’m not having fun, I’m not gonna do it.



You don’t know your competition schedule until right before the season starts?

There are just certain events that are recommended for me by sponsors and the U.S. Snowboard Team. When I say “recommended,” I mean there are events that I have to do. They’re mandatory. And then there are other events throughout the season that I get to choose from. So, I look around and see who’s doing what events and pick the ones that fit my schedule best. I kind of pick them based on their location.



Have you learned anything from the people you’ve met during your travels?

Each place I travel to I like to learn the people and the culture. What’s going on around me and their way of life. And how life isn’t just one way. Everywhere I travel, it’s very cool to be able to experience different lifestyles and see how different people live. It gives me a different perspective on life.



Do you see anyone as your main competition right now?

There are so many good riders coming up, it’s crazy. Slopestyle snowboarding is constantly progressing. So, it’s not just one rider I’m competing against. I look at all of them and try to see what I can learn from them and what I can put into my own riding.



That’s a cool way to think about it. You kind of piecemeal these different  bags of tricks and you look at their style and you’re like, “okay, I need to make that a part of my repertoire.”

Exactly. That’s how I see it. No one is the best rider, it’s just a bunch of riders that are really good.



Do you think that that universal level of riding is something specific to this generation of snowboarders?

If I were to think of the biggest change in snowboarding, it would probably be the Internet. Just being able to see what’s happening that day and the new tricks that are going on or a cool video part or a new way to ride something different. Instead of wondering what’s going on in say a specific town, now it’s like, “what’s going on in the world?”



For sure. I mean the Internet is great for riders in Alaska because it makes us feel connected, like we’re not so alone up here. And, I guess, we’re not really that alone because we all have each other. At a certain point, it’s like a brotherhood. We’re all in this shit together up here. We’re struggling through it together… struggling through January and February together.  

I like that. It’s so true, man.


This interview originally appeared in Crude Issue 04 / Legacy.

Follow Ryan on Instagram @ryanstassel