Raised on the mean streets of Jackson Hole, Rob Kingwill is a DIY kinda guy with a super positive outlook and a desire to make things happen on his terms. He discovered snowboarding nearly 30 years ago and since then has trekked around the globe in search of powder and new adventures. From halfpipe comps in the 90s to the Himalayas with Warren Miller, starting a facemask brand to making his own movies, his career has spanned a wide spectrum of pursuits. While he’s an OG as far as the snowboard industry is concerned, Rob lives his life like a young buck and shows no signs of slowing any time soon.
You’re still a very active member of the snowboard community but I want to start a ways back. I remember when you won the US Open and K2 made an ad about how it was gnarlier than winning the olympics cause Terje was there.
Oh yeah. I think Terje still hates me for that one. I had no idea they were going to run that. Dicks.
Does he really?
He’s so competitive I think he hates everybody just a little. He could make taking a shit into a contest.
He’s loosened up a bit lately, I invited him to the PowWow a couple of times and he always writes me back in a nice way. If I could tell my younger self I could email Terje and have him actually send a response I think my younger self would fall over.
He did confront me me at the top of the Baker Banked last year because he thought I was talking shit about how I was going to beat him in the Switch Race. It really made me uncomfortable having one of my heroes get mad at me like that. I told him I never said anything specific about him, I’m pretty sure I never said anything at all. I just told him that I was hoping to beat EVERYONE in the switch race, not just him. What’s the point of racing if you don’t want to win? I think he understood my point and backed off. He ended up beating me by .02 seconds or something. Because he’s Terje.
Haha, is that on the record?
Sure. I think it’s funny. I still have crazy respect for him and what he has done as a rider and as a representative of true snowboarding. I got really nervous when he tried to call me out.
Did he really go to North Korea? Did you hear about that?
I did hear about that, but I didn’t hear much about it afterward.
I think if everyone snowboarded it would solve a lot of the world’s problems. It is like a great unifying factor, an activity so filled with joy and passion that we can over look our nationalities, our creeds, our politics, and just all be snowboarders.
I don’t care if you are Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, or Zorarostrian, as long as you are a snowboarder we share a higher bond. That’s why I have the tag line We Are All Adventurers for my company A7– snowboarding and being outside and sharing those experiences brings us all to a higher level that overcomes petty differences.
A7 representing from Nepal.
Tell me more about AVALON7. How long have you been running that? What’s the mission?
I started AVALON7 in 2005 as a way to start putting my art out in the world and build a company that would keep me in the industry without working for someone else. I took $1000 that I won at a Grand Prix and put it into buying some breathable mesh material at my local fabric store. I started hand cutting and block printing mesh bandanas at my house, and I’ve been building from there ever since. A7 is rooted in adventure, optimism and the art of continual improvement- things that are really central to my life as a snowboarder. I really believe that the smaller rider owned companies keep the industry spicy and soulful, and are crucial to the health of the sport. I love what brands like DWD, YES, Lago, SalmonArms and Howl are doing, and I’m stoked to hear about the launch of Public snowboards as well. Viva la independents!
Working for yourself is super rewarding, especially when everything starts to come together, but it is 24-7, and really takes a lot of dedication to build something meaningful, especially if you don’t have a ton of capital like me. 10 years later I can pretty much pay my mortgage with it every month, and still go snowboarding almost everyday, which is something I’m extremely proud of.
Tell me about the Futurepositiv project. How were you involved in the Far From Home movie?
￼The Futurepositiv Project is a 501c3 non profit that I started with my lawyer buddy Scott McEachron, who used to be a security guard at Camp of Champions before he became a lawyer. We both have worked with the Chill program before, and loved the positive impact that getting kids on snow has. I wanted to have a non-profit arm of AVALON7 so that I could do more to help more kids have access to snowboarding. It is still a very small enterprise, but I’m really proud that we were able to give the FFH movie crew a way to raise enough funds to tell Brolin’s story by making it a non-profit film. The story of how Brolin discovered snowboarding and it helped him to really focus his life into becoming a doctor and a possible Olympian really resonates with what we are trying to do.
￼I also hope that it will inspire other kids that they can pull themselves up from small beginnings and do anything they set their minds to.
How did you meet Brolin? What is it about his story that made you wanna help?
￼Brolin and his adopted family moved to Jackson a few years ago, and I met him on the hill a couple of times. He was always unique, being one of the only African kids around here, and I could tell he just loved to snowboard. I hadn’t heard much of his backstory until his brother Phil Hessler started putting together the idea to make a film about him. I came out to support a local fundraiser that they were putting on at the start, and could just see what a rad story they had to tell and I wanted to get behind it 100%, both with AVALON7 and by offering my coaching services if he needed them. I managed to hook them up with the Camp of Champions and we had a couple epic weeks there in the summer which really helped Brolin to progress. He is super strong, both mentally and physically, and I am really proud of what he has going right now, by taking the opportunities he has and pushing as hard as he can to make his dreams come true.
￼Brolin came from a very interesting place in Africa, with a lot of hardships as a kid. When I first met him I could tell he was holding on to a lot of anger and mistrust of just about everyone. It has been amazing to see him really grow as a person because of his goals in snowboarding as well as the awesome community of brothers that support him.
You went to Nepal last year with Seth Wescott for a Warren Miller movie. Tell me about some of the highlights.
￼It was the most epic, chaotic travel story of all time- 8 days stuck in airports just to get there, plane crash in Kathmandu closed the airport, bad weather shut down our flights, the airline lost our bags for another 10 days when we arrived and we only shredded 10 runs the entire time. But we got to ride on elephants, sleep at 14,000 feet, and see the real humanity that exists in India and Nepal with insane amounts of people everywhere. My favorite part was teaching the sherpa family that lives at 14,000 feet at Annapurna Base Camp how to ride our snowboards on the down day, and that I ultimately left them a brand new 162 Flight Attendant to ride for the rest of time up there. The concept that those folks are all snowboarders now puts a huge smile on my face.
That is pretty amazing.
￼I can see the sherpa kids now in my imagination ripping those beautiful mountains on that board.
There is pretty much zero snowboard culture in Nepal, and I am so stoked we could start a little fire there.
How did that trip come about? Who’s idea was it? How did you get involved?
￼I ride for LLBean, and they sponsor Warren Miller every year to send Seth and I somewhere cool around the world. We went to AK and Japan previously, and Seth and I are pretty good international travel adventurers. The idea came up to go to Nepal, and Warren Miller had never been there before, so it was definitely going to be a marque segment. The dates got finalized and ended up being smack dab right over the original dates for the PowWow last year, and changing that event to a different date seemed impossible, so I actually said no and that I couldn’t go when they first told me. I slept on it and realized that is was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I better just change the PowWow dates, which was a pain in the ass, but worked out fine.
We were originally supposed to get 10 days of heli in the Himalayas, which would have been insane! Due to all the delays and weather we ended up getting two mornings, but they were so worth all the effort- even though avy conditions weren’t super good. They landed us at 18,000 feet!
The PowWOW hole of destiny. Photo Kelly Halpin
Crazy. ￼Tell me more about the PowWow? What exactly is it?
The PowWow is an invite only freeride and powderboard test that I put on every year at Jackson Hole. It is designed to have a very loose format so that shapers and industry folks and my crew of testers can focus on riding and testing boards in a legit way.
I put a heavy focus on inviting the engineers and shapers from all the snowboard companies out so that they can all get together and ride boards and inspire each other, which I hope will ultimately lead to better board design throughout the industry.
Traditional demos set brands up against each other, everyone trying to prove to the buyers from the shred shops how rad their design and brand is. This takes away that competitive vibe and unites everyone under the higher purpose of better design and stronger community.
￼I love getting all these people together who live and breathe snowboarding, but never get to do it enough because they were silly enough to take jobs in the snowboard industry. The PowWow is set up so people can just come and ride and test their asses off at the best mountain in North America.
￼I have the test set up as an app on your phone, and all the results from all the riders get sent directly back to the brands by the next week. We pulled in over 250 results last year, making it one of the largest samplings of boards ever put together.
I also do some rad little evening events focused on strengthening the snowboard community- one night is called the SHREDX talks= Snowboarding History aRt Entertainment and Design. I invite people to give 20 minute presentations on stage at the Pink Garter about those topics- I’ve had people like Jeff Grell and Tim Zimmerman speak.
This year I’m working on getting JG and Todd Kohlman from Burton to talk, and maybe invite Chris Christiansen to talk about his concepts of surf shaping influencing snowboard design and vice versa.
￼Asymbol gallery has an art show this year featuring Jamie Lynn and Schoph, and I am coordinating having one of my buddies who has a huge vintage Lib collection to bring some up.
Jesse Loomis from Powder Jet is also doing a build your own board clinic on the weekend following the PowWow at the Franco showroom.
At the end of the day though the event is really focused on riding our asses off at JHMR for 3 days straight.
Photo: Colin D Watt.
What’s your take on Windells going ski only?￼
I hate to see it happen, because I love Windells and have a ton of history there.I started working at Windells in 1995, sleeping in my car and hiking up to dig everyday and ride the pipe. That place really helped launch my snowboard career. Having a camp that started as a snowboard only camp turn into a ski only camp is pretty ironic, but it makes sense from a business standpoint as far as marketing HCSC as snowboard only and Windells as ski. I do think skiers like poppier jumps, so they will be able to do a better job making features that work better for each sport, but in the end I prefer the camaraderie with the ski and snowboard crews that I get at Camp of Champions. There are some amazing characters in both sports, and I get just as inspired watching Bobby Brown shred jumps as I do watching Stale.
Speaking of togetherness, how did World Snowboard Day go? What was your role?
I was the North American Ambassador- I spent a whole day emailing and calling all the shops and resort marketing folks I knew trying to get them to run their own independent events on that day. Jackson Hole kicked in free snowboard lessons and cheap demos, Sugarloaf did the same, and I got a few other ones going. I think it is a really cool idea, and hopefully next year we can get a ton more shops and resorts involved and get some new riders to try snowboarding as well as uniting riders who don’t always shred together on one day.
I got Trav and Carter, Guch and Clancy all to hype it up, and I think that was pretty effective. Setting up an event day for all snowboarders just to come together and celebrate shredding is a really cool thing.
The world snowboard day posse.
How long have you lived in Jackson Hole? How have you seen it change over the years?
￼My family moved from Durango, Colorado to Jackson in 1980. I’ve lived here ever since. Jackson has changed a lot- when we first moved here it was truly a small town, super dependent on summer tourism to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National parks. People would barely scrape through the shoulder seasons and the winters. There really wasn’t a ton of people coming to ski. It was, and still is a super harsh, cold place, but one of astounding beauty, which is why my Dad, an artist, decided this is where he wanted to raise his family. It has really changed in recent years, with more money and more year round tourism allowing the town to build a new Center for the Arts and have year round programs that we never could afford in the ’80s. My family was middle class, and we always thought property was expensive, but recently it has gotten pretty much unattainable for any normal person to be able to buy a house. Now there is very limited housing, and it is only going to get worse, which makes it hard for the wheels to keep turning in the service industries that the town runs on if there is no one here to work. I still love Jackson Hole and the amazing community that has always supported my “snowboarding career”- people always stop my at the grocery store and ask where I’m adventuring next, which is pretty cool.
￼I learned to ride at JHMR in 1987 on a rental Burton Elite 135 from Ski and Sports. There was a renegade feel to the mountain and the people who skied there back then, especially the snowboarders. The equipment sucked, and going out and trying to ride it down Corbet’s Couloir in the late ’80s like Chris Pappas was definitely punk rock. There was definitely an air of “rugged individualism” cultivated by the community and the mountains here.
Photo Kelly Halpin
What’s your preferred camber profile? Best innovation in snowboard technology? Worst?
I’m a traditional directional camber guy- I ride a Custom X most of the time. I do like some of the early rise camber blends in the Family Tree line coming out though, especially the new Branch Manager, which rips.
Best innovation in snowboard technology? Of all time?
Probably boots and bindings that don’t crush your feet and you don’t have to duct tape all the time.
One of the worst new innovations I saw at the tradeshow recently was an all metal mount so that your could attach your IPad to the tip of your snowboard and watch yourself filming yourself while riding (or watch episodes of Family Guy on the chairlift?). That one was definitely out there.
Future design wise I think 3D hull design for better float and performance in powder is on the horizon and will be the next big selling point. We are returning to the roots that people like Dimitrije Milovich were experimenting with in the 70’s. Surfing on snow.
Are you psyched turning is cool again?
To me the essence of snowboarding has always been the turn. My grandma turned 101 years old today, and I hope that when I am that old I will still be able to drop in and turn left and right, and find the flow even at that age! I think that a lot of kids rode reverse camber so long they forgot what it felt like to really ride a snowboard the way it is supposed to be ridden, so I am thankful for this revival of the turn.
The next step beyond is the level of flow and connection that can be achieved between rider and mountain. It is a craft that you can practice your whole life, and always be able to refine and discover new ways of reaching for that perfect arc.
Turns by Seth Wescott. photo by Rob.
There have been several stories recently about snowboarders dealing with addiction to alcohol and drugs and many blame the culture. You don’t drink right? How has that affected your career and path through the snowboard industry?
￼I chose a long time ago to not drink, because that is who I am. I’ve always thought of snowboard culture as one of independent thinkers and renegades, and being a snowboarder, I follow my own path. I’ve never been against anyone having a good time, but I’ve seen a lot of my friends get crushed by their addiction to drugs and alcohol, and it makes me really sad.
￼Being mostly straight edge makes me feel like a bit of an outcast sometimes and probably worked against me in the industry here and there. ￼For me snowboarding has always come first, and doing whatever I have to to be able to keep riding. I just never felt drinking fit into that equation.
What do you think snowboarding needs more of? Less of?
Snowboarding needs more people who give back and share the stoke, and more programs to get new people on snow so they realize that being outside sliding sideways is ten thousand times more fun than playing Halo (even at the X Games.)
We need less hype and more soul.
Not a lot of people stand the test of time in snowboarding, but it seems like you’re in it for the long haul. But has there ever been a time you considered hanging it up and doing something else?
￼Never. For whatever reason, snowboarding came into my life as a kid and truly became the main motivating factor in my life. Back then there really wasn’t any true concept of having a career in snowboarding- it just was the funnest thing you could do with your time. I fell in love with the first pow turn I ever made and I’m still in love 29 years later. I’d rather spend my days snowboarding as much as I can, feeling healthy and strong, and not making much money, than go work somewhere chasing dollar bills so that I can go spend them all trying to ride on the weekends or on vacations, feeling fat and slow and unable to ride the way I want.
I am very grateful for all that being a snowboarder it has done for me, I love the joy and perspectives on life that it gives me, and I want to share that stoke as much as I can now and into the future.