ANDREW BURNS INTERVIEW | AGAINST ALL ODDS
By Rob Lemay | Photos [o] Ben Girardi Andrew Burns. That name goes hand in hand within Canadian snowboarding. It’s one that...
You don’t know me, but you should know Joel. But you don’t, and I don’t… I mean, not really. I met him 10 or 12 years ago working a restaurant at Big White. I filmed a few shots in the park of him doing toeside Frontside Rodeo 540s or whatever you kids want to call it these days. But, as quick as I met him, he left for the big show in Whistler, BC, and I stayed in Big White only to see him again five years later in the “Show.” Joel is a straight-up guy that you can rely on to be stoked to see you and burn a couple laps. He’s unassuming. Meeting him off mountain you’d would never know that he’s the boarder getting after bigger lines than most pros. Let’s find out what those first years in Whistler were like.
“I met Joel probably in 2000 or 2001. He was riding with a group of guys who would come to our local resort and clean up at all of the contests. Joel had jumping dialed: big frontsides off the toes, popping way higher than everyone… We didn’t stand a chance. Now, 15 years later, he has turned into one of the best all-around freestyle / freeriders that Canada has to offer. He always rides balls out whether it’s laps on the resort or camping out in Alaska—a real man’s man. He can probably start a fire with two sticks.” —Rusty Ockenden
Let’s start with a few basics: where you’re from, where’d you start snowboarding, what was your first board?
Well, I grew up in Kelowna (BC). I moved there when I was five from Moose Jaw, Sask. I grew up riding Big White, and my first snowboard was a 1994 Nidecker Cad. It had the front end of a Cadillac on it. It was twin shape, and a really sick board. I’ve been trying to get my hands on it actually. I almost tracked it down.
Who was your biggest snowboarding influence growing up?
I always looked up to Jamie Lynn for tricks and for style. It was always Jamie Lynn. I never really looked passed the old school. I looked up to Tom Burt, Noah Salasnek… you know, dudes that had style, tweaked their grabs, shredded big mountain. I never really changed my childhood idols. I just kind of always stayed the same.
What was Whistler like when you first moved here? Did you get caught up in any partying?
When I first moved here, it was actually kind of casual. I moved to Whistler to get away from partying. I was definitely losing my focus there at Big White, when I was 19. My friend Stacey Zeman pretty much forced me to move here. Her and (Andrew) Burns, who she was dating at the time, came and picked me up from Kelowna. When I got here, I just kind of laid low for a bit and just snowboarded. It was a shitty season, icy and shitty, and all I wanted to do was ride pow. But, I ended up riding park, and it was still amazing. It kept me here even though the plan was for one winter. That was 12 years ago.
It’s crazy to think we met more than 12 years ago when we were working together at the restaurant in Big White?
Yeah, you were serving and I was cooking.
Yeah, what was the sous-chef’s name again?
Crazy Jay who stole the kitchen tips from the safe?
Yeah, fuck that guy. He stole everything I think. What a fucking douche.
What was Big White and growing up in Kelowna like?
It was great, but I don’t remember fucking snowboarding at all. I was partying a lot. I was on the Island Snow shop team. We traveled around doing contests and stuff, and I remember doing contests when I was 19. I was living at Big White, but I don’t really recall too much riding which is crazy. It’s just like a blur. I just remember working in that restaurant and partying.
So are you going to stay in Whistler for another decade or so?
I’ll be staying around here hopefully forever. I definitely will be snowboarding and snowmobiling for the rest of my life, so hopefully here, maybe Pemberton, I don’t know. It’s hard to say for sure.
How’d you get into big mountain riding and who’s helped you along the way?
Well, that’s why I came here, to buy a snowmobile and start riding backcountry big mountain stuff. It’s all I really ever wanted was just to ride, and go fast down steep stuff. Meeting up with Cam Unger, David Henkel, Dave Short, Josh Lipovsky, that was kind of it, I guess. It was just finding the right crew, and people who had the same ideas. The same focus, you know? That was pretty much it. Once that happened, it was just all of us hiking, riding mountains, and learning. We’re going to be doing it together forever. Getting started, everyone was really smart about everything. Definitely still a lot of trial and error, though. We got lucky lots, but you learn so much just from being out there all the time. I feel like I make smart decisions most of the time, but sometimes things happen when you’re putting yourself into weird places. Some stuff can catch you off guard as safe as you want to be.
I see lots of photos of you taken by Cam Unger. Tell me about how you guys linked up.
I met Cam, because he’s a photographer, and a big mountain rider, but he’s more a rider than anything. I went out and hit a jump with Burns and a couple of other guys, and Cam was shooting the photos. I ended up busting my face open and needed a bunch of stitches. He bandaged me up and then went to the hospital. We started riding together all the time after that. He had the same kind of style as me. And through him, I met Henkel, and we all ended up living together for a really long time. It was the “Shredquarters,” and it was awesome. We all set it up so none of us were working winters. Cam’s brother, Tyler, jumped in there too, and he was with us all the time. Plus, Josh Lapo, that I’ve known forever, and he likes the steep stuff, too. It’s funny how the crew just came together like that. Dave Short’s in the mix, too.
I saw that you got to ride the Tantalus mountain range last year. How was it?
It was great. Everything worked out perfect. We had amazing weather. There was lots of really good stable snow. Right off the bat, we rode the east face of Dion. That’s steep, super fast with lots of little mini spines that were just clinging on to the face. We did two lines down there and we rode a lot in there. We didn’t get everything we wanted, but that’s totally fine because that leaves you wanting to go back, which I will for sure be this year. We’ve already set up the crew and everything. We’re going go with a super small crew and just hammer down lines.
Was it a mission to get out there? I heard that you have to cross Squamish River.
No, no, $150 in a heli, and we camped out. There was a crazy windstorm, like just howling and really cold. We spent four nights, two nights camping and then the cabin when it was empty. It was clear every day and amazing riding. The view up there is insane.
A few years back there was an unsanctioned top-to-bottom Chinese Downhill race on Whistler that you won a couple times. What was that like?
It’s nerve wracking. It’s something you don’t even want to do, but you’re like well, I guess this is what I’m going to do today. It’s fucking scary as shit. There are other people on the run, straight-lining down a moguls, no speed checking—is all pretty insane. I usually missed it, because I was always working. It’s always kind of like last minute, and I was kind nervous to do it. I understand why it doesn’t happen anymore. It’s quite the liability.
“Joel is by far the most dedicated snowboarder I know, and at the top of my list to be in the mountains with. His energy level is always off the charts, and his stoke for shredding is contagious. When Joel is snowboarding he’s having the time of his life, and so is everyone around him. Riding with a good crew in the backcountry can make or break a good day and Joel is always down to get after it no matter what the conditions are. He somehow makes charging down steep technical lines look effortless.
Joel always remains calm, collected, and positive. He embraces what it means to be a snowboarder — chase what you love. He works hard and saves all summer, so he can take the winters off and shred everyday possible. –Cam Unger
What kind of “real” jobs have you worked to fund your winters?
Well, I worked at the Mongolie Grill restaurant in Whistler for about seven years. I wanted to make more money in the summers, and not work in the winters, so I started painting. I got laid off of painting in September, and started doing metal roofing with my buddy, Carter. He asked me to come help for two months or something, and now I’ve been doing that for five years. This winter, I’m actually back at Mongolie Grill. I still get to snowboard and/or sledding every day. I’ll be starting at 6 p.m., so it’s casual and kind of fun.
Yeah, I hear the staff parties there are amazing. They usually have a “Flip-off” contest.
Yeah, yeah. I’ve been judging the Flip-off.
Describe the Flip-off?
The Mongolie Grill Flip-off is a spatula-flipping showdown between the cooks. I’d say the best spatula flippers in the world, even though that sounds weird when you think of spatula flipping, but it’s like skateboarding-influenced spatula tricks with clown juggling and stuff. It’s usually done over top of food in front of the customers, and it’s insane how good people have gotten. They do the flip-off championships every year, and I’ve been judging them for the last, I don’t know, years now. It’s awesome. There’s a trophy, too. It’s a big bong shaped like a dick. A big dick bong. It’s spray painted gold with two spatulas coming out the side and whoever wins has to take a hit off the dick bong.
That’s amazing, but you’re not the only snowboarder that’s gone through Mongolie right?
Yeah, that’s where I met most of my friends that I snowboard with now even. It was kind of like the intro to learning the mountain when I started there. Andrew Burns, Matt Belzile, Brian McClatchy, fuck, the list goes on. There’s been so many snowboarders that have gone through that place, you know? Jason Borron’s been holding it down forever, and he’s a legend. He knows Whistler like crazy, and he’s up there every day, shredding. Lots of OGs there, for sure.
I’ve had some people asked how did I get so lucky to still be out in the mountains. Have you been asked similar questions?
Yeah, people always say, “Oh, you’re so lucky,” but it’s nothing to do with luck. If you set out to accomplish something and decide that’s how you want your life to be, it’s not really luck. It’s what you want to do with your life and what you want to do with your time. I’d say everyone should do that. You don’t have to abide by the standards of society. I still snowboard all the time and that’s all I think about. I don’t know, there’s definitely nothing with luck to do with it at all. I live half a block from the Creekside Gondola. I have all these lakes right beside my house, rope swings, beaches. It’s amazing.
Very nice. I’ve also noticed you’re also into fishing. What “king of fishermen” are you?
Fly fisherman. I’ve got a little tin boat and it’s pretty much all I really do. I’m big into rope swinging too.
A man of leisure. Sweet, Joel. I want to finish with a little word association game. Just say the first thing that comes to your mind. This is the Crazy Rob Awkward Fave Five Finale.
I say turtle, you say …
What I like most about cats is…
They’re fucking awesome.
The best wax out there is…
And best part of your day?
Sweet. Thanks, Joel. Anyone you want to shout out and we’ll shut this down?
I’d like to thank all my sponsors: Paul Whittle at Westbeach, Ryan Willisko at Nitro, Mike Strato at Vans, Dave Bestwick at Flux, Inga at Herd Headwear, Kevin Sansalone at Sandbox, Orion at Northern Lights Optics, and of course my parents for being into skiing and bringing me up boarding since I was very young. My brother for getting me into boarding and letting me chase him around when I started. And all my friends for being the best people to ride with and to share so many amazing memories with.