Industry Profile: Burton Academy Manager Chris Hargrave
25 Jun, 2009
Shay: So tell us about yourself?
Chris: I’m not that complex. I love my family. Snowboarding has a been force for good in my life for 15 years. I love learning new things. My mind is always searching for more clarity in all things but especially shred related issues. I love music and have learned how to hack at a few songs on my guitar. My goal in all of this is to help our industry grow, its nice to have a mission in life.
Shay: What is your job title?
Chris: Consultant and Burton Snowboard Academy Manager
Shay: Did your parents question your job choice?
Chris: My dad was always supportive and loved that I pursued something that made me happy and fulfilled my life with more than just a paycheck. My mom questioned my path for several years. Then she became a supporter once she understood that I could figure out how to make a living (not easy). Now I have traveled the world on snowboardings tab, have started raising a family and still get to enjoy what I do. She’s stoked now and it only took 16 years or so?
Shay: What was your first set up?
Chris: First I won a K2 Budweiser promo board with bindings off of a local radio station. I rode it one day and sold it to a guy who saw me on the beginner hill and said he had to have the board. I figured I didn’t know anything about it and I could take his cash and buy something without a beer can on the bottom. I purchased a Jon Boyer Promodel board from Barfoot, a pair of pill playschool bindings and a pair of Kamik boots (so soft like sorels). I still have the boots but the board and bindings were stolen the same season.
Shay: What is your current set up?
Chris: I ride the Burton X8 most of the time with a pair of triads and some slx boots.
Shay: What was your first job?
Chris: I worked at a baseball card shop after school… It was a great job for a kid who lived for baseball, too bad I run slow or I might still be playing. My first industry job was teachers assistant in the ski wee program at timberline lodge. After going earning my chops with the kids I started teaching snowboarding full time.
Shay: What’s a great day of snowboarding to you?
Chris: I ride with friends. I get them learn some rad new thing. I learn or master some sweet skill on my board. There would be a half pipe, some sick transitions, a couple of relatively big airs, lots of fresh lines, tons of natural jibs, a sweet spin, an old school grab, a front flip or two, at least 10 hand plants, somebody falls, everybody laughs, so many high fives my hand gets sore, a delicious warm beverage (I like hot chocolate and green tea lattes), backed up by a eurosnack at Northstar. All this means a pretty sweet day. When I get to do all this with my kids (my oldest just learned and my youngest is too young) I will be an even happier guy.
Shay: Who are your influences?
Chris: When I started I really didn’t know anything about the industry and the pro’s who were representing at the time. One of my best friends taught me how to shred my first turns, it was a good day. I became friends with and rode with so many people out at hood in the winters but even more so in the summers that its hard to say. I would say that I have been inspired by some of the greats and some who were never named. My friend Patrick Smith for showing me how to love this sport even on the bad days, my friend Mike Langdon for being that good and not caring, All of my friends at HCSC, my friend Dustin Semb for reminding me that balance in life is a good thing, Craig for his slashes, Terje for his landings, Mark Frank for not grabbing, Travis Parker for shredding outside the box, Shaun White for pursuing perfection in the pipe, Luke Mitrani for front flipping everything, Jake Burton for helping to build a pathway for our sport to thrive.. To name a few…
Shay: How long have you been snowboarding?
Chris: 16 years now. 15 of those years I have been pursuing an endless winter.
Shay: How many days do you get to ride a year?
Chris: I average between 180 and 250 a year.
Shay: What is your role at the Burton Academy?
Chris: I worked as a consultant to help align the goals of both Burton and Northstar during the start up. Helped with the design of the program overall. Developed and cultivated the Terrain based Methodology that we use. Manage all aspects of operations. Develop and implement training. Coach as much as possible. Work with our team to develop new ideas and next steps.
Shay: What is the focus for the Burton Academy?
Chris: To fully immerse our students into a snowboard world and help them become snowboarders, not just teach them how to snowboard.
Shay: When students come to the Burton Academy, what are they looking to get out of it?
Chris: Hard to say but for the most part they have the expectation that we will help them shred. Little do they know we aim to change their lives! I think people who have no experience come there and put their trust in us to help them. People who have had past experience with coaching tend to have clearer goals (though often they have low expectations which makes it easy to blow their minds).
Shay: What makes the Burton Academy different from other Learn to Ride programs?
Chris: The LTR program is influenced and controlled by the resort mostly. Burton has criteria in place to enable resorts to partner with them to become an LTR center. However the operations of the program are then left in the hands of the resort.
The Academy is influenced very directly by Burton from branding to layout to ops they have had a hand in it. This enables the program to have a very strong identity. The other big differences are the private and fully interactive lounge, the LTR and demo gear in house (no rental shop experience), Rider influenced goal setting, Coach caters to all aspects of the sport from how the gear works to how to spit the talk to how to shred turns, small groups (4 or less), we have indoor training areas with balance boards and boxes, our learning area is designed and built to help riders learn how to slide in straight down the fall line practicing moves first while doing all the speed control and stopping for automatically, we back it up with a 100% that guarantee our students will feel like snowboarders and be able to link some turns and or get closer to their goals.
Shay: What do you think the industry should do to welcome and bring in new snowboarders?
Chris: The industry? That is so multi-faceted that I wont try to answer to the whole process. Bottom line we need to create better pathways for new riders to learn with out getting injured, vibed out, or just scared. Being thrown out on to the mountain after a short lesson or no lesson at all is likely a recipe to really inspire the determined or just turn off those less motivated. Right now as an industry (and it makes sense that we do this) we glorify only the highest levels of success, skill, and performance. From the equipment that is built for high end riders to our competition venues to the mags, videos and other forms of media we have missed a huge piece of the promotion puzzle. There needs to be a big initiative to promote and support new and novice riders and the coaches and programs that help them become snowboarders. Without a strong focus on success in this area the industry is likely to shrink. As well we need to build pathways to the high level riding that are supported on all levels. For example most areas have terrain parks now. They usually build a challenging park and an introductory park. Two huge things that need to be considered are the development of features from small to big and transitions form low to high intensity etc. Then the education and training programs in place need the full support of the resort and the industry to be promoted well. If we want people to learn how to do things with greater success we need to be able to teach it, build the great venues, then we need to promote it and back it. That is what Burton and Northstar are doing by the way… Pretty sweet.
Shay: How does the equipment play into the learning progression?
Chris: Well for those who dont know LTR boards are built to make turning easier (soft torsionally) and to prevent downhill slams (base is beveled and the base edge is beveled). for our beginners this makes it so much easier for us to teach them how to dominate their boards and control how they slide down the hill. From there we have a full demo line that enables to put our riders on gear that supports their goals. for example, If they want to freeride they can rock a custom, to hit the park an X8 or a Jeremy… This again gives the coach and riders the best tools for the job. Not to mention that the coach is trained to teach the rider all about the use, function, fit, and feel of their gear.
Shay: How it working with Northstar-at-Tahoe, any specific reason why Northstar was the mountain for the Burton Academy?
Chris: Of course no project like this could come together without challenges. However the commitment that Northstar has shown to helping this program succeed has been instrumental in our success. We had an amazingly successful first season and the mountain stuck with it 100%. Northstar was chosen because it is one of the few resorts that has partnered with all of the Burton programs. As well it should be no secret that Northstar is an ambitious and growing resort with an aggressive approach toward forward thinking innovative ideas. All of this combined with endless phone calls, meetings, sleepless nights (JK LOL) enabled us to turn on the lights and make people smile.
Shay: As Head Coach, how do you help your staff become better coaches?
Chris: We started the season out strong and I was able to clinic and train them. As the season progressed I had to focus my attention on making sure that facilities were dialed in. My training staff did a great job of promoting growth in riding and teaching. Overall I just wanted to make sure that they had all the tools they needed and then made myself available to them for support when they needed it. More importantly I tried to stay out of their way so that they could flex their skills and take ownership of the new methods we implemented.
Shay: You’ve spent some time at Mt Hood in the summer, how did you get into coaching for HCSC?
Chris: I was asked to do some custom training for the coaches at HCSC in the early summer (pre camp). After working with the staff to create some great energy and focus on growing their coaching skills I was offered a position there as a coach. I decided to make the switch because their program is so well developed and truly offers a pure snowboard experience that is second to none in the summer. The leadership at that camp are so creative and work hard to stay aligned with and even create industry trends. It always feels like your in a snowboarder’s play land when you’re there. I love it!
Shay: How is coaching for HCSC different than Burton Academy?
Chris: The clients are generally teenagers at HCSC and we have a more balanced mix of adults and teens at the academy. 60% of our business is intro while more like 90% of HCSC’s business is beyond intro. The sessions are 7 days on snow at HCSC and the Academy offers single day experiences as well as multi day. When you have 7 days to train a group of riders you can make huge changes that are backed up by lots of shared practice time. Folks at HCSC are there to do the whole camp thing and they live it for a solid week. Plus most of the attention is placed on park and pipe so we have some pretty clear direction to follow.
At the Academy we wanted to capture that same fully immersed feel with a big focus on beginners and first turns. Our methodology is very terrain/skill specific meaning we help our students look toward new terrain (park, bumps, trees, steeps) and new skills (spins, carves, slashes, blocks, butters) to help guide our coaching toward long term goals. We don’t do bandaids at the Academy. We want people to tear down and build up organically for lasting results.
I am so stoked that both experiences are complimentary enough to each other that we were able to partner together in the summer. Check out the soft start program at HCSC for more info.
Shay: What education/experience/certification did you have prior to getting this job?
Chris: I studied computer science in college (nerdy i know). I have 31 seasons of coaching. 10 seasons consulting. Work as a presenter for NSAA. A clinician at Cutters Camp. Cert III snowboard instructor (also cert III ski dont tell anyone though). Full examiner for AASI NW. Worked for several resorts and camps all over the country and other parts of the world. Have coached several teams and athletes in a competitive environment. I just signed up to be a level 100 coach with USASA. I wrote a book and still try to write articles now and then. Developed several FS education programs for various resorts. Consulted on park development at various resorts. Assisted as an expert analyst/witness for ski area defense. Helped develop FS education and accreditations within AASI. and I can fry up a mean omelet… That’s the short list I don’t like talking about me that way it always feels so arrogant. I could shorten it up by saying I’ve been around and worked hard.
Shay: Do you work year round with this position or work any other jobs in the off-season?
Chris: Yes and yes. This project is a year round reality for me and to stay on top of the industry with marketing, branding, and overall growth we crank on this thing all twelve months. However things are slower and easier in the summer so I get to coach at HCSC and travel to South America for some pow!!! (you’re all invited, seriously) During the winter I still travel some and work with AASI and as a consultant to other resorts. I love this job:)
Shay: What qualities make a good instructor or coach?
Chris: The number 1 quality that I look for in a coach is the ability to show true consideration for others. When working with any student it so important to be able to discern what they are going through and care enough to make that experience better. It helps if you like talking to people and can communicate. Coaches should be team players. It’s so easy to get caught up in how great you are when people are telling you how you changed their life and how awesome a coach you are (that has never happened to me I am just assuming). Good coaches can separate themselves from that and know that its all about the students efforts and what they do that makes the difference. Also I look for riders who love to ride. Regardless of ability level they have to be in love with this sport. I think it’s great if the riders love breaking life down into smaller more simple steps. Coaches should always understand our place in the industry. Its easy to think that we are more special than the guy bumpin chairs or hauling trash but the truth is we all do our part. Good coaches know more about the industry than just how to teach people to turn better. This enables us to truly help our students find their path in the sport.
Shay: What are your thoughts on certified instructors vs non-certified instructors?
Chris: First off it depends on the person. Often times being humble and being certified at the highest levels don’t go hand in hand. That said I respect anyone who dedicates enough of their time and energy to pursuing professionalism. It’s a hard road and it costs a lot of money so high fives to those who are out there going after it. Most times you get a more seasoned veteran when your dealing with a higher certified coach, that also costs more money operationally. However it is no surprise that un-certified or low-cert coaches do an amazing job. I think certified instructors or those pursuing it should keep this in mind: Certification is only part of the process and really its just a great place to start. Coaches should pursue a greater understanding of all coaching tactics out there as well as look toward other facets of the industry for inspiration and knowledge. Without an open minded attitude that supports personal growth and connectivity to the industry as a whole we wont be able to truly support the goals of those we teach. Don’t be trapped in the box!!! But if you are make sure you have good friends with you.
Shay: What other jobs/companies have you worked at?
Chris: I have operated cat, Park crew manager, Park designer, sales/marketing, food server, dishwasher (those were the days), rental shop tech, board repair tech, snowboard retail sales, photo/video shoot coordination there’s more but i’m forgetting. I have worked for timberline lodge, winter park, aspen, dodge ridge, echo mtn, to name a few. As well I have worked as a rep/rider for Oxygen, Atomic, And Burton snowboards.
Shay: What’s your average day like at work?
Chris: Arrive at 7. Make a latte. Turn everything on, hit my email. Train and help the staff. Send out lessons. Shred with my athletes. Check in with the management team. Jib something. check in with my coaches. Shred with riders more. Check in with students and coaches at the end of the day. Wind it down with some video in the lounge. email. home.
For the coaches it’s so sweet. The start at 9 meet their students and its on till 3:30. They work on balance inside then hit the features, link turns, explore runs and parks, do video analysis, wrap it up.
Shay: What are some memorable experiences from working in the industry?
Chris: I got to tell you I love this industry. I have had so many great experiences and made so many good friends all thanks to snowboarding. One my favorite moments was at HCSC. It’s late summer and the pipe has become back flip central. Every kid wants to learn how to flip out of the bottom of that thing. I roll up and see the Airblaster crew doing a clinic with some students. One girl in particular is struggling with the idea of fully committing to a flip (sometimes 0 to 60 can be scary). I asked her coach (who happened to be one of my favorite all time shredders Travis Parker) if he would mind if I helped out. He was stoked for the help. I broke down the flip into several simple and less intimidating steps for her to try. first she learned how to make the board pop all the way out from under her in the flats (its like over ollying to falling down). Then she tried it at low speed down low in the tranny of the pipe. Then she tried to pop her board out so that her feet went above the lip and she rolled back down. Everything that she did Travis Parker was doing right along with her. It was so cool to help a rider of that caliber learn with their student how to coach first back flips. After that I turned it back over to those two to finish the job. She landed that flip and there were high fives flowing. That’s it for me being able to turn the lights on for riders of any ability to make this sport more attainable.
Shay: How is working for Burton Academy (any cool work events, work environment, job perks)?
Chris: It’s amazing! For me I have full creative license to grow the program. We get discounted lattes and full access to everything in the lounge (that includes riding any board I want). For next season I am working on a full on comp series for my staff so they can practice and showcase their skills. As well all of them will get huge promotion on the website and beyond in the near future. The lounge is the epicenter for us and we all get to chill there and shred together. It’s almost like a private club that we want everyone to share. When the big events like Dew tour roll through town we get to hang out with athletes and media making for an exciting time.
The Academy coaches are at the top of the list with work. They have access to clients at work that other instructors may not. The pay is competitive and the company works hard to take care of their staff.
Keep in mind that this program was built by snowboarders for snowboarders. When you’re there you always feel like you’re in the right place at the right time to be a snowboarder. It’s so much fun!
Shay: What’s the best perk you’ve gotten from your job?
Chris: A steady pay check and free gear tickets and lessons for my family.
Don’t get me wrong shredding with Burton coaches, team riders, and other friends is amazing too! There are so many perks I am so thankful for the generous support that both Burton Snowboards and northstar-at-Tahoe resort have afforded me. I think having a place to really showcase my ideas and partner those ideas with some truly brilliant people has been amazing. This season I got to coach some of the worlds top BMX athletes now that was a fun day.
Shay: Any disadvantages of your job?
Chris: It is very time consuming. This industry in general teaches to work hard all of the time and this job is no exception. Outside of that I don’t really see a down side.
Shay: Since you started in the industry, what’s been the biggest change?
Chris: Money. There is so much money behind snowboarding now. When I started Craig Kelly was working on his first million and that idea was ridiculous to most people. Now riders are making millions and there are so many opportunities for people to get involved on so many levels.
Terrain parks have come so far as well. I remember shaping half pipes by hand and learning to ride features that made no sense. Now jumps, rails, pipes, etc are so amazing. If you go to a resort that is behind the curve you really know it now. The quality and designs have come so far in a relatively short time. Amazing!
Equipment… It’s like night and day. Every season manufacturers push the sport through their designs and make riding feel just that much better.
Thank you to all involved in growing these aspects.
Shay: What’s the busiest time of year for you?
Chris: Operationally december through march. From a design/development perspective spring summer. Oh early fall how I long for vacation.
Shay: Education vs Experience…which do you think is more important?
Chris: Experience. Education without experience is like wine without age or cake batter without baking it in the oven and putting the icing on top. Education becomes so much more valuable when backed up with real time experience. I think in this country right now people are too impatient. Even if your capable of doing a good job you won’t have confidence until you’ve done the job. If we could all take a step back and remember the importance of the journey then success will come more naturally.
Shay: What advice would you give to people wanting to work in the industry?
Chris: Stay committed to serving others. Our guests/clients are the reason why we are able to live this dream (yes I think we are all livin the dream). Pursue new understandings and perspectives that will help you see the industry in a different light. Creativity and innovation are what we need to thrive. When Burn out sets in and you feel underpayed and overused remember the pure reasons why you started and refocus on the right things. No matter what happens work hard with lots of passion and always keep moving forward. If we stick with this long enough we will have truly impacted the lives of so many who can carry it forward.
Shay: Final Thoughts?
Chris: Sorry about my long answers. I love talking and thinking about this stuff (as long as it’s not about myself). I think it should be mentioned that Burton and Northstar have invested a tremendous amount of money and time into this program. The true purpose of this program is to grow our industry. In fact Burton makes no revenue from this program. To me, its amazing that companies in this economic climate would invest themselves into an ideal like this. We aim to do what we do so well that we clearly become a contributor to our sport.
*Pictures courtesy of Chris Hargrave