Travis Rice’s father was in the ski patrol at Wyoming’s Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. And like many dads, he raised his son to follow in his ski tracks. Fortunately for snowboarding, things didn’t go as planned.
A decade ago and unheard of at the time, Rice arrived at Snowboarder magazine’s Superpark contest at Mammoth Mountain, launched a now legendary backside rodeo across a 117-foot gap jump, and left a star. Since then, Rice has developed into the best all-around snowboarder in the world: He is equally capable of showing up to win a slope style event in Aspen as he is in pioneering a first descent in the remote Darwin Range on the tip of South America. The 29-year-old makes use of all the tools in a snowboarder’s quiver—big-mountain tenacity, acrobatics, and snow and mountain sense, often in a single descent. And 2011 was the apex so far in Rice’s career.
Filming for the highly anticipated film The Art of Flight, which he co-produced with Brain Farm Digital Cinema’s Curt Morgan and Chad Jackson, Rice took the staggering aerial tricks usually reserved for the relative safety of the manicured, avalanche-controlled terrain parks made popular by the X Games and the Olympics, and applied them to the big mountains. In these peaks, a fall could mean tumbling down a vertical face or being swept into a gaping crevasse. Rice performed them all while under the watchful eye of director Curt Morgan’s superslow motion camera.
The movie, whose trailer went viral, marked the final stage of snowboarding’s crossover into the mainstream. It generated excited retweets from 50 Cent and Justin Timberlake and large movie industry players—such as Dolby Laboratories and Skywalker Ranch—teamed up with Morgan.
While the tricks and big-mountain lines mixed with cutting-edge cinematography inspire “ahhs” from wide-eyed audiences, ultimately it’s Rice’s enthusiasm for pushing the limits of his sport that resonate. In 2011, Rice made an entire generation of young skiers consider buying a snowboard.
“Experiencing the world through endless secondhand information isn’t enough,” says Rice. “If we want authenticity we have to initiate it.”