In The Groove: Jason Robinson on Absinthe Films, Dopamine and Simple Living

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I always knew Jason Robinson was a well-rounded rider who could hang with the best of them—ever since I first met him on the Lewis and Clark Trail around three years ago while working on a story for Issue #8.3, at least. Back then, “J-Rob,” as he’s known, was mountaing a comeback, having dropped out of the snowboard scene to chill with the Lemurians at Mt. Shasta for a few years. His renewed stoke and constant positivity brought new momentum to the humble Whitefish, MT native. This momentum grew through parts with Think Thank and People Films. Comfortable on urban missions to Quebec, Tahoe backcountry lines, and everything in between, evidence of his exploits appeared in a Fernie, BC travel story as well as a feature profile in frequency TSJ Volume 10. It felt like he was on the verge.

But this year, J-Rob started with no film crew and no real plan beyond spending some time at home in Montana and chasing snow around the Pacific Northwest. Then the call came: Justin Hostynek wanted him to come ride for Absinthe Films. The season was more than half over. He had little funding. J-Rob made it work. The result? Opening part in 2013’s “Dopamine.” No rails—just big mountain freestyling in BC and AK.

When Absinthe came through Bellingham, WA to premiere “Dopamine” a week back, I caught up with J-Rob to discuss filming with Absinthe, AK heli missions, East Glacier National Park living and his future plans. From splitboard days on the home front to easy living in a reclaimed storage container, his program seems to be working. It goes something like this: Simplify. Ride. Wander. Enjoy.

Colin Wiseman: How did you wind up filming with Absinthe?

Jason Robinson: I just checked my voicemail, which I guess I rarely do, but there was a message from Justin Hostynek in the end of February, saying, “This is Justin from Absinthe films, I got your number from Blair [Habenicht], and I was wondering if you wanted to film with us for the rest of the season.” I definitely was pretty excited about that, made sure I called him back.

How were you able to work out funding that late in the season?

Most of the time that stuff’s all worked out before the winter, so any budget my sponsors had was already committed or spent. So I was just like, “I’m good for it. I’ll pay you back. It might take me a while, but you can count on me to cover it.”

Luckily [Absinthe] was down to work with me on that. I got out with them as soon as possible. We did a month at Eagle Pass Heli [in Revelstoke, BC] and then six and a half weeks in Haines, AK, at Haines Pass. The terrain and conditions were unlike anything I’d ever ridden. The fact that it was that late in the season didn’t really matter that much because I’ve never had the opportunity to ride that good of terrain for that long. So it kinda balanced out.

You were just freeriding up until then?

Yeah, pretty much. I filmed a few days with Lucas [Debari] and his “Go!” crew. But it wasn’t the regular program of start early and film all winter. I came out to Washington, free rode for most of December, and then rode in Montana at my home mountain [Whitefish Mountain Resort] and in the backcountry.

How do you think that played into it? Obviously your part worked out.

It was cool because normally for the past couple years my first few days snowboarding went right into filming urban stuff. So you don’t really get a ton of time on your board. And this year, by the time of the Mt. Baker Banked Slalom [early February] I had already probably spent more time on my board than the whole year prior.

This was the first year you didn’t have any urban riding in your part at all. Was that conscious or was that just a bi-product of the program?

Well I didn’t start filming until March 3rd, and I just went straight up to Eagle Pass. Most of that [urban] stuff happens December, January, and then people transition to the mountains after that. But I was stoked ‘cause last year most of my filming days were doing urban stuff. And I love doing it; it’s a lot of fun. It sucks to just say, “Oh conditions aren’t good in the mountains so we can’t film. We can’t snowboard.” So I’d like to keep doing that stuff, but it was refreshing to just freeride the first half of the winter and then get to spend the next two months in the heli. I’d never even gotten to heli board before that.

What was that first day like?

The first day was not like what I expected heli-boarding to be, because it was a stormy day. So we just got dropped off in the top of tree line and rode pillows and hiked around. The pillow stacks and all the stuff was similar to something you would snowmobile to and hike around all day, except we had a helicopter that took us out there and picked us up. But the first alpine day, the first sunny day at Eagle Pass, that was insane. I was blown away, and just so stoked. I think that first alpine day I probably rode my funnest line of the whole season.

Was it in “Dopamine”?

Yeah, I think it’s the second shot. Only the bottom half made the movie, there was this big slough river going behind me. But the top was this full, crazy spine. It didn’t seem gnarly when I was riding it, I had only seen it from one side. When I got to the bottom afterwards I looked up and saw, that, yeah, if I had fallen to the right of the spine it was 100 or 200 feet of rocks and sketchy shit that you couldn’t have really rode down. But when I dropped in I didn’t even look that direction or anything, just looking down the spine. I guess you want to be pretty confident up there either way, ride it the same way no matter what and stay in control and on your feet.

I remember hanging with you at Stevens Pass [WA] in March and you were saying that maybe your Banked Slalom placement had something to do with Justin [Hostynek] calling you up.

I’d always wanted to film with Absinthe. I always thought that would be the dream crew. I’ve always been stoked with the films and the riders, and how they make their videos. I reached out to them earlier in the season and nothing really came of it. But after I got third at the Mt Baker Banked Slalom, Justin later told me that definitely played into why they contacted me. They figured I must be a pretty good all-around rider if I did well in that.

When we did our interview last summer you were talking about wanting to stay home and explore around Montana a bit. Did that happen early in the year?

Growing up in the Flathead Valley, obviously the ski area is super fun, and I’ve explored a couple little spots. But being there most of the beginning of the winter, I got to explore some new spots that I’ve just been hearing about or read about; some really cool spots in wilderness areas where you can’t sled—splitboard access only. The mountains are insane there. There’s full-on 5,000-foot vertical runs you can do in Montana on just a day trip, and you’re probably not gonna see anyone out there. And I got to explore just off the ski area, especially having the splitboard, going to little backcountry spots that are just a ten minute hike, that we’d all go to growing up. And then taking it to the next peak over, getting to know some of the terrain that you’ve seen from a distance that you’re like, “that would be sick to go over there,” but never really did it.

Did you have a crew with you or were you solo exploring?

I mostly rode solo up in Montana.

And this summer you got into whitewater kayaking out there as well?

I didn’t really realize that I grew up in a kayaking mecca. There’s a spot called the Wild Mile that’s on the Swan River in Big Fork, MT. I’m still not at that level yet. It’s a mile of class three, four-plus. If you exit your boat on that stuff you’re pretty much swimming for the whole mile, and hopefully you’re still breathing by the time you get down there. I’d be stoked to be ready for that maybe by the end of next summer.

But this is my first summer kayaking. I was on this two and a half, three-month adrenaline rush from heli boarding every day. It’s kind of tough to come down from that. You come home and it’s mellow. You’re trying to get back in the groove, and something’s missing. So it was awesome for that, just being able to get that same feeling I get from snowboarding, especially on some of the heavy rapids when you have to pull out on the shore and look at it and pick apart the line. You get those butterflies going into it and you’re kind doubting yourself and whether or not it’s even possible for you. After you look at it for ten minutes and you see what to avoid, what line to take, it’s the same thing—as soon as you strap into your snowboard and drop in. As soon as you start paddling into it you’re not scared anymore, you’re just confident that you’re gonna do it. And when you get to the bottom it’s the same feeling. It’s that dopamine flowing. So it’s rewarding, man. It’s helped keep me sane this summer, to say the least.

You were living on the Blackfeet Reservation all summer?

Yup. I was just looking for a place towards the end of May after I got home from Alaska, and I saw this place out there, on the east side of Glacier National Park, right at the foot of the mountains. I always wanted to spend more time out there. So I just figured I’d try that out. I was renting this little house on this crazy meadow with wildflowers growing everywhere, and moose running through my yard, grizzly bears, full on. It was pretty much heaven out there. It was amazing. I felt like I was in a dream. It didn’t even feel like reality. And you really are in a different world. It’s a sovereign nation, the Blackfeet Nation.

First part in Absinthe—did you expect that?

I don’t know. I didn’t really have any expectations going into it. I just knew it was going to be a good experience. If I didn’t get any shots in the movie, or only a couple shots, I guess I would have been a little disappointed. I just wanted to go out and experience snowboarding on the next level and be able to heli and be in those big mountains like that.

I heard the whole theater in Salt Lake City [the world premiere] was chanting your name?

At the time I was super embarrassed because I’m kinda shy about that, but yeah I’m pretty sure Blake Paul started the chant. I don’t even think my part came on or anything, it was just when my name popped up on the intro people started chanting “J-Rob.” And most of it’s just my homies, but I was pretty blown away. I was stoked to be around so many awesome people.

I feel like I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time, and I feel like I’ve been at that level to be able to do it, but a lot more goes into it than just like, “Oh you’re a good snowboarder, come heli with us.” It reminded me that I haven’t always been doing this. It’s a reminder like, “you’ve been through the ups, the downs and stuck with it.”

What’s in the works for this winter? You have a sweet little setup out in Montana, right?

I was looking for a place for the winter and wasn’t really feeling like renting an apartment or a house or anything like that. So I found this little place. I’m renting the corner of this guy’s farm for under a hundred bucks a month. And he’s pretty much like, “do whatever you want out here.”

It’s just west of Kalispell. And he’s got around 20 animals; goats, llamas, pigs. I don’t have any power or any plumbing. Right now I’m just leaving my tent out there. But I just found this sweet little aluminum storage container. It’s 16 feet by eight feet. I’m gonna turn that into a little house, insulate it, throw in a small wood-burning stove, get some nice big windows. I’ll have my little pad, and it’s cheap. I’m not there much in the winter, and then in the summer I won’t have anything tying me down like, you feel obligated to stick around ‘cause you’re paying so much a month in rent. I’ll be able to travel and do whatever I want. A hundred bucks a month, you can’t beat that. And then I’ll have a safe, warm little spot to be when I’m there in the winter.

For this winter I’m just getting the essentials, getting it sealed in, insulated, a wood stove and a couple windows so I don’t feel like I’m living in a little box. Then hopefully next summer I’ll have some focus and energy to put work into it and learn. I’ve never worked construction or anything like that, I’ve just built some small little things, so it’s a learning process.

Jason is supported by Lib Tech, Anon Optics, Dakine, Bent Metal and One Ball Jay. “Dopamine” is available now on iTunes and direct from Absinthe Films.

Photos: Copyright Colin Wiseman 2013.


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