Shaun White embraces retirement, seeks to find his new place within snowboarding
Retirement is treating Shaun White well. Most days.
Driving by Copper Mountain earlier this season, he felt that blip of competition adrenaline begin to set in before realizing those days are now behind him. He also popped his shoulder out of socket doing a basic butter on his snowboard, something the now 36-year-old credits to old age.
Undoubtedly, it’s the start of a new era for the snowboard legend.
“There are those moments where you realize the pure enjoyment of the sport is still there. There is so much that is still there, I just took out this aspect of the sport I’ve done for so long,” White said in an interview with The Aspen Times earlier this month. “It’s so normal that I’m always doing other things, so I’m just focusing more on those things. But again, it’s so fresh.”
White, the Californian who helped bring snowboarding to the mainstream and served as his generation’s superstar for two decades, retired from competition following a fourth-place finish at the 2022 Beijing Olympics in February. His final resume includes five Olympics appearances, with halfpipe gold coming in 2006, 2010 and 2018. He won X Games gold a record 15 times, with Aspen’s Buttermilk Ski Area serving as center stage for the launching pad of his storied career.
“Even after my retirement, we are still doing fun things and activations. It’s just been great,” said White, who spent time earlier this month at Beaver Creek, including getting to hang out with fans during the Birds of Prey World Cup ski races to help promote his new sponsorship with CELSIUS, a brand of fitness drink. “That’s what is so great about my involvement in the sport and having interests like that outside the sport is being able to retire and stay busy has been pretty clutch. You realize that snowboarding, skateboarding, surfing, they are not like those traditional sports where you got to get a whole team together to go play. It’s like playing guitar. You can still enjoy the music; you can enjoy riding.”
After a summer spent traveling, White has really turned his attention toward being a businessman. This includes the launch of his company, Whitespace, which offers snowboards, goggles and outerwear, among other merchandise. Whitespace had a soft launch during the Olympics, but is slowly beginning to find its footing as White settles into running the company.
“It’s been great. It’s what you would think of as a startup. We got to get the product out, we got to get the feedback. What’s our vibe that we want to push out over social media? Who is going to do that? You are just building this team and it’s so much fun and nothing is perfect,” White said. “I started getting blasted with DMs, or people tagging me. There is this young girl pulling the board out of the box and just so happy and smiling at her parents and I’m like, ‘Oh my god, I remember being the kid getting my first board.’ It just meant the world to me that I’m that for that next generation in many ways.”
A strong desire for White going forward is to remain relevant in snowboarding. Maybe not as an athlete any longer, but as an ambassador of sorts for the sport. Some of this will come through his companies, including his Air & Style brand of competitions he plans to bring back since going dormant during the pandemic.
How else he makes an impact remains to be seen.
“I just want to be involved. I want to show up and ride and use my influence where I can to make it better for the next generation,” said White, who made note of Danny Kass and his coach J.J. Thomas as former riders he has found inspiration from post-retirement. “Just being around and being in the mix like they are is just so cool. I don’t know if I’m ready to be a coach. I think it would take a real special individual, but I know definitely through Whitespace I’d like to get a few athletes I really believe in and help support their career. There is a lot to do. It’s all in time.”
White has been in Aspen over the holidays, including making an appearance at the Aspen World Snow Polo Championship. He’s also collaborating with Aspen Skiing Co.’s ASPENX on making an exclusive Whitespace snowboard for its line.
He even recently took his niece snowboarding for the first time on Aspen Mountain.
Whatever White chooses going forward, he’s sure to continue to make an impact on the sport. He believes snowboarding remains in a good place, even without him dropping in during competition, and refuses to be the “grumpy guy” who talks about how the sport “used to be.”
“I want to embrace the future of where it’s going,” White said. “It’s cool to see it move and change. But I’m not worried about the future of it. I’m more worried about the environmental impact if it keeps getting warmer. That’s the only thing that is concerning. Just because the seasons are so much later.
“It’s so weird to be hanging up one … role and picking up another. I don’t think it will be that easy for me. I want to take some time and see where I can fit and where I want to put my time in. There is definitely something out there for me, which is cool.”
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