Ask a hundred different snowboarders who are the best snowboarders in the world, and you’ll get a hundred different answers. That’s because different riders have different styles, skills, achievements and strengths. There are halfpipe medal winners who would never dream of going off-piste in fresh snow and likewise, backcountry dragons who would never set foot in a park. So, running down the list of who’s who is really dependent on what you consider important in snowboarding. Let’s take a look at our list and you’ll see what we mean.
Does this name sound familiar? It should. At the age of 17, the Korean-American became the youngest person ever to win a gold medal at the Olympic Winter Games. She did it by completing the full tableaux spins, including the desired back-to-back 1080s on both sides of the halfpipe. Afterwards, she told reporters, she wouldn’t have been happy with just a gold if she hadn’t scored full points. So if you rate snowboarding by spins and medals, this is the world’s best snowboarder, and even if you don’t, she’s the best half pipe boarder to date.
Redmond “Red” Gerard
However, shortly after Kim’s win, slopestyler Gerard became the newest, youngest snowboard Olympic gold medalist in history. Slopestyle is often referred to as show jumping meets half-pipe, minus the horse. A good slopestyle rider is someone who has the discipline needed for the halfpipe, but the will to go bigger and faster. Gerard does both. Like Chloe Kim, Red is at heart a gymnast who can also snowboard and for many people this mash-up of talents automatically moves them down the list of ‘the best snowboarders’. So, what attributes are required to score the points needed in the list?
No list of the best would be complete without at least a passing mention of White. This three-times Olympic gold medal winner (he won the men’s halfpipe gold this year too) was originally seen as the king of gymnastic snowboarding, but recently, he became accepted as a more talented all-rounder. White started off as a skater and is still the only skater to ever land a front-side heel-flip 540 body variable. He is also the highest points scorer of all time in the Olympics. However, at the height of his influence in the sport, Snowboarder Magazine still only offered him 8th place in the best of the best of all time. What can you say? Snowboarders are a hard bunch to impress. But as the highest earning snowboarder of all time, I don’t suppose he minds.
Rice has X Games medals, but no Olympic medals. The US team claimed him for one of their own in advance of the Nagano games, the first year that snowboarding was admitted, but he didn’t compete. Instead, most people know his riding from his 23+ films, most notably Transcendence. Rice got offered a part in this film when he was 18 years old, after one of the producers witnessed him completing a 110 foot gap jump. These days, his films have only become more intense. A typical scene will have him dropping in from a ridge that’s accessible only by helicopter, hitting massive pillows and throwing down spins on the way down and possibly even riding out on avalanches. This is the level of skill and experience that no amount of pipe or park can teach you and for this reason, he usually rates higher than his Olympic compatriots.
The Norwegian is highly respected, based on his smooth flow and ability to dominate any type of mountain terrain going. He does a mix of classic disciplines such as powder freeriding, big mountain and big air, and he always looks rock steady. He dominated the freestyle snowboarding scene in the 90s, but for Håkonsen, it was a matter of principle not to go to the Olympics. He was among a group of riders who quickly saw how the Olympic committee wanted to package snowboarding up as a sellable product, and he took a stand. He set up his own snowboarding competition, The Arctic Challenge, in ‘99. In snowboarding circles, this has always been taken much more seriously than the Olympics, with even the Ticket To Ride events (qualifiers) being seen as a bigger deal than the Winter Games themselves.
The next woman in our list, Bleiler, is one of the few riders to have been both to the Olympics and The Arctic Challenge. At 37, she’s considered old school. In terms of spins and technicalities, many say the newer generation left Bleiler in the dust, but her style and enthusiasm for the sport still stand her in good stead as one of the true believers. She retired after failing to make the Olympic team in 2014, and is now part of the environmental ‘Protect our Winter’ rider initiative.
This Austrian snowboarder is famous and emulated for his style and creativity. He’s another one you’ll only ever see on film, and one who mostly stays out of the limelight, going with the mantra that ‘as long as he’s paid to play, he’s happy’. His film segments are the highlight of any new video, with other snowboarders using slow-mo to dissect his lightning fast tricks and turns. But some talents just blow you away and it’s hard to say why.
So there’s a small sample of the best of the best and those coming up. While we’d like to add a few British names to the list, it doesn’t really make sense. Being a ‘world’s best’ at snowboarding means being on a snowboard - a lot - from a very early age, and most UK riders only do their first season after leaving school. But that doesn’t really matter. Snowboarding isn’t about being the best, it’s about having fun, getting fit and doing things you never thought possible - and we’re good at that.