Shaun White is many things but most notably he’s driven. Coined one of the most accomplished sports stars in the world, he holds many of the highest accolades within snowboarding and skateboarding, and at 23, he’s only getting started. An X Games double threat with medals in both snowboarding and skateboarding, as well as a gold medal from the 2006 Winter Olympics, Shaun White possesses insane skills and instantly recognizable looks. That amazing combination has made him one of the most recognizable sports athletes of his time.
Born in San Diego, California in 1986, Shaun Roger White endured two major surgeries to correct a heart defect before he was a year old. The growing youngster proved that he was far from frail, charging into sports like surfing, soccer and snowboarding. Shaun grew up in a family of five: Mom (Cathy), Dad (Roger), Sister (Kari) and Brother (Jesse). The family liked to snowboard together, so they started taking road trips to the local mountain resorts. At 4 years old Shaun was fearless on skis as he raced down the slopes with older brother Jesse.
Cathy thought he would get into less trouble snowboarding, so at age six she put him on a snowboard and instructed him to copy everything Jesse did. Shaun did just that, he was a natural progressing at an amazing rate. His parents quickly started entering him in as many snowboard contests as they could afford. To save money at events, the family lived out of a 1964 Econoline van -nicknamed Big Mo.
At seven, Shaun entered his first amateur snowboard contest and won, earning him a wildcard entry into Nationals, where he placed just outside of the top 10. At that time, his mom sent Burton a homemade video of Shaun just as the company was coincidentally developing a kid-sized snowboard line. Not surprisingly, they were impressed, and offered the 7-year-old a sponsorship deal. With the support of Burton, he turned pro at 13.After winning five national titles as an amateur, Shaun captured his first major win as a pro in 2001 at the Arctic Challenge, by the unanimous vote of his fellow competitors. He earned his first Winter X Games medal when he was 16, and between Slopestyle and Superpipe hasn’t failed to stand on the Winter X podium since. Between skateboarding and snowboarding Shaun now holds 16 X Games medals, and a record 10 of them are gold.
While Shaun was being lauded as a snowboard prodigy, he was simultaneously turning heads on the skateboard scene. Professional skateboarder Tony Hawk befriended the 9-year-old at a local skatepark and mentored the up-and-comer, helping Shaun turn pro in skateboarding at 17-years old. In 2003 he became the first athlete ever to compete and medal in both the Summer and Winter X Games in two different sports. In 2007 Shaun set unparalleled standards, winning the overall title and prestigious honor of Action Sports Tour Champion thanks to his impressive skills in skateboarding vert.
Red Bull Project X –
The brainchild of long nights on the road and years of spinning, flipping, competing and evolving, Shaun came to Red Bull with the idea to create a place where he could finally learn the tricks that he has had spinning inside his head but had yet to make a reality. He wanted to progress the sport, and in order to do that, he needed to change his routine. Shaun wanted to create a place that not only allowed him to ride and to progress in the world’s best halfpipe, but to do it under complete secrecy. How secret? There was a rumor floating around the Internet after a photo from was leaked out and people didn’t even think it could be real-they thought it was all just a hoax. I can assure you it was not.
Project X was located on a remote part of Silverton Mountain, eight miles outside the town of Silverton, CO. This is not your average resort. Founded by two snowboarders looking for a change, Silverton Mountain is a single lift operation, with no such thing as a cut trail and where the only constants are the snowstorms and the avalanche danger. But it was the perfect place for Red Bull’s Project X. The zone where the halfpipe was built had a natural 18 degree pitch (the perfect pitch for a 22ft pipe), and it was located at the bottom of 8 different avalanche chutes of which their avalanche debris would be the building blocks for the this superpipe. There was no snowmaking here. Located at over 10,000 feet of elevation, all of the snow that went into building this superpipe, first settled over 1000 feet above in the mountain peaks and was avalanched down to form the base for the pipe build. It was the type of location that would either make Project X famous or infamous.
And there was one day when everyone thought that it would be the latter. It was early February and as the Snow Park Technologies crew was putting the final touches on the pipe for our first week of shooting when unexpected weather had quickly moved in. Before we knew it, a blizzard had socked in the mountain and let loose its most vicious and glorious of tidings…feet and feet of snow. We awoke the day before our shoot was supposed to begin to see that the storm had vanished overnight and the crisp, cold, Colorado bluebird sky was here to stay. Frank Wells, lead cutter from Snow Park Technologies was the first one to go in and survey the snowfall. After meeting up with Aaron Brill, the owner of Silverton Mountain, they decided that there would need to be some avalanche control work before anyone could get even close to the pipe, which is located 6 miles from the nearest access road. This meant helicopter access only.
As Brill began tossing out bombs to test the snow pack, the rest of the crew had arrived and was staged six miles out on snowmobiles at the trailhead, waiting for word. The helicopter quickly circled back after a few charges had been dropped and upon landing Brill jumped out and ran over.
“The good news is,” he said. “You guys are clear to go in. The bad news is that there was so much snow hanging in the chutes it ripped out and buried most of the pipe. You better get in there and check it out.”
Upon arrival, we saw a 22 ft superpipe filled with about 15 feet of avalanche debris. There was an eerie calm around the entire crew, was this an omen, a warning sign or a by-product of natural conditions. They said it was a Class 3 avalanche (the classification scale only goes to 5!), ripping all the way to the basin floor. If we thought we were in control, this taught everyone to respect the power that Mother Nature holds over everything.
But like the spirit of the town itself, the team would not be deterred. Working for 24 straight hours, Snow Park Technologies was able to clear the avalanche debris out the pipe and have it ready for the next day’s shoot and it would prove to be arguably the most progressive session in snowboarding history.
Shaun White arrived that first day after the avalanche and knew that his vision had become a reality. The 22ft pipe stood majestically against the rugged mountainous backdrop of the San Juan’s and the foam pit was perched perfectly along the wall. All of the elements were in place, now it was up to him to use them.
Having the added dimension of the foam pit allowed for something totally new and unique. It gave Shaun the ability to make mistakes. To try and to fail. To get back up again and keep going without risk of injury or getting hurt. It was the defining part of the project as it put Shaun into a new mind state, he crossed a mental boundary and was able to understand something very few snowboarders have truly understood-the double cork. The foam pit allowed Shaun to attempt tricks he never thought would be possible. The one-month training window drove Shaun to push the progression of snowboarding, and he emerged at the Burton New Zealand Open in August ’09 with back-to-back double cork variations, sealing the victory.
This session would go down in history as arguably the most progressive ever and would prove to the rest of the snowboard world that it was possible to land double corks, setting the stage for a massive leap in snowboarding progression.
Red Bull Project X was more than just a training facility, it was a statement to the snowboard world that Shaun was ready for the Olympics and was going to make his mark not only on this year but on the sport. In the words of Bud Keene, the US Olympic Snowboard coach that was with Shaun in Torino for the Gold said,
“I think some people have questioned whether Shaun has been an innovator in his career up until now. He certainly has done anything that anyone has ever done, and done it bigger and better than it had ever been done before. But an innovator, not until now! Now, he is pushing the sport further and faster than it has ever been pushed, and it looks great!”
Red Bull Project X would prove to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Shaun to prove to the world not only who he is as a rider but that now is his time to show the world the best of Shaun White and when he needed it done, he came only to Red Bull.
Fun Facts about Project X:
11,400′ – feet above sea level, or in other words, way the hell up there.
30 – Avalanches created by dropping dynamite to build Shaun’s pipe.
34 – Hours Shaun spent in the pipe developing new tricks never seen before.
300 – Number of man hours to build the foam pit.
550′ – Length of the pipe from let’s ride to stickin’ it in the pit.
250,000 – cubic yards of snow moved to make the half pipe.
20’x30′ – foam pit was custom-built to give shaun 600 sqft of soft landing.
7,200 – number of foam blocks it took to fill the pit.
525″ – inches of snowfall last winter. The most in Colorado.
6 – Silverton Mountain is the sixth largest ski area in Colorado.
12,300′ – Silverton Mountain is the highest ski area in North America.
Silverton is the only ski area designed exclusively for advanced and expert skiers and snowboarders.
Silverton has less skiers and boarders all year than most ski areas have in a single day.