Retirement treats Shaun White well. Most days.
Driving past Copper Mountain earlier this season, he felt the adrenaline of competition kick in before realizing those days are now behind him. He also snapped his shoulder while making a simple butter on his snowboard, which the now 36-year-old attributes to age.
It’s undoubtedly the beginning of a new era for the snowboarding legend.
“There are those moments when you realize that the pure joy of sport is still there. There’s so much that’s still there, I just took out that aspect of the sport that I’ve been doing 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 just focus more on those things. But again, it’s so fresh.”
White, the Californian who helped bring snowboarding into the mainstream and served as the superstar of his generation for two decades, retired from competition after finishing fourth at the Beijing 2022 Olympics in February. His most recent résumé includes five Olympic Games appearances, with gold in the halfpipe in 2006, 2010 and 2018. He has won 15 X Games gold, a record, using Aspen’s Buttermilk Ski Resort as the focal point for his launch pad legendary career served.
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“Even after I’ve retired, we’re still doing fun things and activities. It was just amazing,” said White, who spent some time in Beaver Creek earlier this month, including with fans during the Birds of Prey World Cup ski races, to promote his new sponsorship with CELSIUS, a fitness drink brand. “That’s the great thing about my involvement in sport and having such interests outside of sport is that I can retire and stay busy. They realize that snowboarding, skateboarding, and surfing aren’t like those traditional sports where you have to get an entire team together to play. It’s like playing the guitar. You can still enjoy the music; You can enjoy riding.”
After a summer of traveling, White has really turned his attention to becoming a businessman. This includes founding his company Whitespace, which offers snowboards, goggles and outerwear, among other things. Whitespace got off to a soft start during the Olympics but is slowly beginning to gain traction as White settles into running the company.
“It’s been great. That’s what you would think of as a startup. We need to get the product out, we need to get the feedback. What’s our sentiment that we want to spread through social media? Who’s going to do that? You’re building this team right now and it is so much fun and nothing is perfect,” White said. “I started getting bombarded with DMs or people tagging me. There’s this young girl pulling the board out of the box and just being so happy and smiles at her parents and I’m like, ‘Oh my god, I remember being the kid who got my first board.’ It just meant the world to me that in many ways that’s who I am for the next generation.”
A strong wish for White’s future is to stay relevant in snowboarding. Perhaps no longer as an athlete, but as a kind of ambassador for sport. Some of that will come through his businesses, including his Air & Style branded competitions, which he’s been hoping to bring back since going dormant during the pandemic.
How he works otherwise remains to be seen.
“I just want to be there. 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 credited Danny Kass and his coach JJ Thomas as former riders he’s inspired after his retirement. “Just being there and being in the mix like they are is just so cool. I don’t know if I’m ready to become a coach. I think it would take a really special person, but I definitely know that through Whitespace I want to attract a few athletes that I really believe in and help support their careers. There is much to do. It’s all in time.”
White was in Aspen for the holiday, which included an appearance at the Aspen World Snow Polo Championship. He is also collaborating with Aspen Skiing Co.’s ASPENX to make an exclusive Whitespace snowboard for his line.
He even took his niece snowboarding for the first time recently at Aspen Mountain.
Whatever White chooses to do going forward, he’s sure to continue to make an impact on the sport. He believes snowboarding stays in a good place during competition even without him, and refuses to be the “grumpy guy” who talks about how the sport “used to be”.
“I want to embrace the future where it leads,” White said. “It’s cool to see how it moves and changes. But I’m not worried about the future. I’m more worried about the environmental impact as it gets warmer and warmer. That’s the only thing of concern. Just because the seasons are so much later.
“It’s so strange to quit one… role and take on another. I don’t think it will be that easy for me. I want to take some time and see where I fit in and where I want to invest my time. There is definitely something out there for me that is cool.”