Sean Pettit was on the scene as soon as he was tall enough to ride the Whistler park, and he's been among the best skiers in the world longer than he's had a drivers license. So when a skier who helped define a decade of freeriding casually switched to snowboarding, he raised a few eyebrows. At first, it was a surprisingly smooth hit here or there, peppered into his ski-heavy Instagram feed. Last season, however, he dropped a snowboard edit just as long as his ski part for the year. He's earned respect from the snowboard world as a rider with a playful, relaxed style and a propensity for bold, creative hits cultivated over a lifetime on skis. (You can read the profile I wrote about Pettit and his carefully commoditized skiing experience here.)
We caught him in a rare break between gardening, filming with Red Bull, and working on designs for his new streetwear brand Superproof to talk about his transition to snowboarding. Which, he's quick to point out, isn't replacing his skiing. Pettit isn't giving anything up, he says, just bringing more of the good stuff in.
Abigail Barronian: Snowboarding is just one of many side hustles you've had going these past few years. It makes sense. Your adolescence was marked by such rapid growth: your career was skyrocketing, with fresh opportunities and challenges every day. Was this just another way to keep the pace up?
Sean Pettit: You know, it’s totally ingrained in who I am as a human; trying to keep up and be on top for so long. You want to be the best, so you’re going to do anything you can to come up with fresh ideas. You can’t accomplish something if you don’t present yourself with a problem or some sort of challenge. The ski industry is awesome, but it’s small, and eventually, I felt there was no room for growth. I did a lot of the things I wanted to do in skiing, so what’s next?
AB: With these projects--snowboarding, dabbling in film, the brand--do you feel like you’re able to come back to skiing with a new perspective? Does it offer you a reset?
SP: Definitely. Now that I have these other projects, I don’t need to present so many challenges to myself in skiing, which makes it really nice to go back to. It’s about the pure enjoyment of it, the leisure and the fun of the sport. I don’t want to redefine gravity or do some death-defying shit, that’s just not how I perceive skiing. There’s a huge side of the sport that's like; if you’re not putting yourself in extreme danger, then it’s not worth watching. That's crazy in my opinion. I’ve had a lot of friends die skiing. It's not something that I need to push. I'm not trying to be too serious or change the world because I went off a bigger cliff.
All I have to do is go skiing. I know how to ski. It’s ingrained in me. My brain doesn’t have to work that hard and I love that. I can just let my body take me. Whereas snowboarding I’m still learning so much. I have to focus, I still crash all the time. It’s one of those things where I still have a lot I'd like to accomplish. I guess that’s the difference between my skiing and snowboarding at this point in time.
AB: The way you’re describing how you approach skiing now is a little more playful and a little less about, like you said, doing the next death-defying thing.
SP: I think that’s where snowboarding is ahead in a sense. People think that it’s all about speed and charging really hard. And some people totally get off on that, but that’s not how I function. That attitude has been ingrained in skiing for a long time. “No friends on a pow day” is…so wrong. And not true. That's the craziest thing anyone’s ever said.
AB: Do you think that your style on skis has changed now that you snowboard as much as you do?
SP: Before I was snowboarding, it totally influenced my skiing. That changed a little bit once I actually started snowboarding and learned to approach terrain on a snowboard versus skis. It was fun to dissect that whole deal: what skiing is meant for and what snowboarding is meant for. For a long time, I was trying to ski how a snowboarder rode. Once I started snowboarding I realized oh, this trick, or kind of hit, or spin, doesn’t make sense on skis, this was actually meant for a snowboarder. Then I realized, oh, skiing should be done like this, because this feels natural and I’m not forcing it, to try and mimic the way it looks on a snowboard.
AB: Has the type of terrain you seek out changed? Where do you like to ride?
SP: I’ve been skateboarding forever, so I have a bit of this skatepark kind of feel for snowboarding. Mount Seymour in Vancouver is really fun for me on a snowboard because it’s flatter and there’s a lot of half-pipey terrain, back and forth side hits.
Not getting into too much crazy terrain, ever, even on skis, is what keeps it fun. I think my nerves have been shot over years of standing on knife-edge peaks where, if I lost my step, I could fall to my death. Over time I began to resent that feeling. I’m just like I can’t breathe anymore, I can’t do that, let me just have fun, please. I'm not trying to promote danger, which I think I was for a long time, realistically.
AB: Do you feel like your sponsors and your fans responded well to this new approach of just taking it easy and playing around? Or did you feel you got some pushback?
SP: I was known for something and then all of a sudden I changed. No matter what direction you go, there’s going to be some pushback. You just can’t please everybody, but I know that if you can please your personal needs and wants, then hopefully the people that are really behind you will get behind what you want to do. Not what they want you to do. I would hate myself if I did what someone else wanted me to do. And I’m really fortunate that all my sponsors are getting behind it and being super supportive.
AB: How does it work within the season? Are you giving up ski time to ride?
SP: I wouldn't say I'm giving up ski time. I’ve always been a firm believer that you don’t need to ski every day. Give it some space and some time, and it will always be fun. I'm snowboarding when I need a break from skiing and vice versa. Last year was one of the most fun years I’ve ever had because of that balance. I was just on my own program. I got to ride chairlifts all year. I was like oh, this is what everyone else is doing. I want to ski and snowboard like your weekenders--people who have jobs they gotta work and who treat skiing as their leisure activity. That’s the best way to do it.
As athletes we’re out promoting riding in helicopters and snowmobiles--how crazy and lavish a life that is. But realistically, it’s pretty fun to ride chairlifts and cruise around with your friends. No pressure or stress. Just mess around, play in piles of snow. It’s pretty light-hearted. And good to keep it that way.