Interview by Stan Leveille
BEN FERGUSON IS AN ARTIST. And while there could be some cliche metaphor about him drawing lines in the snow with his board, I mean it quite literally. Certainly it’s not the thing the public knows first and foremost, rather it would be his full bore riding style, edge precision (matched by few), and one of snowboarding’s most appreciated Methods.
Recently, Ben dug up an old sketchbook where he had drawn his family crest, a tattoo that he and his brothers now share. The image shows a bee pollinating a flower with triumphant, thorny leaves. Circling the image is a belt, filled with the Latin words “Dulcius Ex Asperis.” The Latin phrase translates to “sweeter after di culties, and it’s not only an apt metaphor for life, but it adequately summarizes Ben’s transformation from a chubby blonde kid, to an Olympian, to one of the strongest all-around riders in modern snowboarding.
So...Let’s start light. Should we talk about Terje? Haha.
I’m down to talk about Terje. I told you, he is one of my favorite snowboarders and I think no matter what, I’ll always enjoy his snowboarding.
As a pro snowboarder and teammate of Terje’s... He was seen as kind of untouchable, and now we’re watching him kind of fall from grace. Is that disheartening to watch?
Even though he is one of my favorite snowboarders, I’ve never thought that he’s anything more than another human, you know? Really, I didn’t become a fan of his until I turned 19 or 20 and started watching Subjekt and older movies that he had footage in. Terje’s position as a rider over time is crazy. Like, in my mind that’s the goal, to have that long of a career is insanity. If you can pull that o then you did something right because there’s not a lot of dudes who have been in the game as long as he has been. I’m not saying that he’s not anymore, but it’s just different now.
Maybe I am a little biased but his style of snowboarding is what I appreciate and the stuff that I like to do as well. I like using my edges and turning and freeriding and riding lines. Even following him in Vail for the last US Open. Just watching the way he enters a heelside turn to enter this backside side hit on this cat track is fucking psychotic. He’s so fast and agile, it’s crazy, so I’ve always been a fan. Like I said, that’s the goal, if you can last that long and get paid to snowboard that long. But the whole situation breaks my heart. I think he shot himself in the foot.
I just think Terje came from an era where there was still that ability to be bigger than a civilian. With social media, one of the things that it has done is personified these gigantic stars. It’s a lot easier to view their daily life and make them a little bit more human. Now he’s caught in the realities of being held accountable on a scale that matches his stardom.
I just know I’ve always been a fan of his snowboarding and I wish that things went differently.
I think he is sort of the closest thing snowboarding has to Tony Hawk.
I mean, our Tony Hawk is sort of Shaun White. Terje is almost before that. It’s hard to say though. You can’t put a cap on a professional snowboarder or skateboarder’s career like you can on a football player’s career.
Because a football player just physically can’t get up and go play on Sunday at the level with these other people. There are so many different kinds of snowboarders and there’s so many ways snowboarding can be appreciated and interpreted that a 54-year-old can wake up and click on Terje’s Instagram and see this older dude doing some shit and get hyped up to go get their crusty ass up to the mountain.
So should he still be the top paid candidate?
Dude, it’s a weird conversation because like I just said, that is the goal. I want to be 54 and I want to get paid to snowboard. I told you that story where I had just gotten surgery, and I was walking through Vail and I saw Danny Kass and he was trying to make me feel better. He was like, “You are what you have accomplished, don’t let people devalue your worth just because you’re older.” I think that’s what he was saying to me. Like try to think of all the stuff you’ve done and how valuable you’ve been to these companies. But I don’t know if that’s enough. That’s what keeps me motivated throughout my career is like I need to earn my keep. That is a motivating factor in why I get up early and why I want to go learn these tricks or why I want to go on this trip and film all this stuff. I’m trying to earn my keep. I want my little slice.
Don’t you think that part of having that keep though is making sure that you’re not putting the company and the people that you represent in a weird position?
Terje’s kind of showing us what you can and can’t do. We’ll learn from the things he’s done well and his mistakes I guess.
True. But after all this is your interview, not Terje’s, even though I started it, let’s move on. I think it’s a common discussion about Ben Ferguson that you have never won a major contest. Was that an idea that was presented to you first, or is something you carried with you while competing?
I said that in those Natural Selection interviews and realized that it’s not necessarily true. I haven’t won X Games, haven’t won the Open, I didn’t win Natural Selection. But, I won the Bode Merrill Minipipe contest! I also won Peace Park one year.
It would seem you win a lot of rider-judged contests.
Yeah, I did pretty good in those for sure, which I think is dope. Honestly when I made a podium at any contest I was fucking hyped. I never really cared because I was competing against robot psychopaths. Like Ayumu Hirano —I’m going to do a contest and be bummed about not beating him? I have beat him before, it’s fucking sick, but that dude is insane. Even Shaun. To do a contest and be pissed that I don’t beat Shaun White would be pretty crazy.
I’d say Shaun White is a snowboarder who is really in it to win. Do you not feel driven like that?
I’m highly competitive. I think a lot of snowboarders are, even the snowboarders that aren’t competition snowboarders are very competitive.Sometimes you can be so competitive that you have to decide not to give a shit because if you put yourself on the line and you don’t do good, then your headspace is fucked. You’re really bummed. Sometimes I feel like it’s easy to play the card where it’s like, “I don’t give a fuck about this.” Because I definitely know I’m competitive and I want to be one of the best, but also it got to a point where it’s just like, I don’t know if I really do care that much about winning. I just want to do good. I care more about doing the best I can do and feeling OK with myself and the way I did it. Working hard. If I tried the best I could and I worked as hard as I could to get what I got, then I’m pretty satisfied.
Let’s take it back to kid Ben Ferguson for a second. Are you a contest snowboarder as a kid or what?
All of us were, dude. Warbington’s, Stax, Griff, we all competed in the same contests. That’s how we all met eachother.
Do you think the road into filming is a side effect of riders who can’t consistently win contests?
Mmm, it’s just another route.
What I’m driving at here, and this is such a common discussion with snowboarders who did contests that it’s a cliché question, but why did you stop?
Oh my god, they’re the worst. Sometimes they’re fun but especially halfpipe—it’s Groundhog Day. To be competitive in the halfpipe, that’s all you do. You turn into the halfpipe robot. I never wanted to be that. And I never really became that. I always tried to film and I always loved snowboarding. Halfpipe was just kind of a way that I could justify a career for a while, it’s how I proved myself.
Is halfpipe snowboarding doomed?
Hard to say. Kind of.
It feels that way.
Halfpipe itself isn’t doomed. I get to wondering if halfpipe contests are doomed. That’s my stance. Resorts make mini pipes and stuff, and people love riding those. Mt. Hood this summer was crazy. People were hiking the mini pipe all day. That shit is fun! But halfpipe contests might be kind of doomed because that’s all you get to ride and no one really cares that much. Unless you’re a certain kind of halfpipe rider where other snowboarders do care.
Would you not agree that almost every single snowboarder, with the exception of Travis Rice, that has reached mainstream fame over the last 20 years is a halfpipe rider?
Shaun White, Danny Davis, Louie Vito, Chloe Kim, Danny Kass.
Mark McMorris is the only baller in the game. If you were going to take all of snowboarding right now, the one who closely resembles a NBA player, it’s Mark. He’s the prince of Canada, dude. So that’s an example of a slopestyle rider icon.
I think that you are someone who doesn’t really get enough credit. Do you feel that way?
Not really. Sometimes I feel like people probably think I’m overrated. People probably think I get too much. I’ve been lucky with my sponsors, dude. I have good sponsors. I know for a fact that people think it’s fucked up I have two drink sponsors. Do I think I’m underrated? No. My Instagram is pretty shitty haha. I’m not very good at Instagram and especially nowadays, that’s very important. Not just for your sponsors but for peers and the way that your peers think about you.
Some snowboarders pay people to run it for them.
I know. I always thought that’s so whack. Not that I hate on people for doing that; I just don’t want someone else pretending to be me or someone else’s words being perceived as mine. If I’m going to do it, even if I’m going to do it shitty, I’m going to do it.
Then of course Instagram goes down for a day, I think about how quickly it could mean nothing, and I’m like god, I wish this world didn’t have this.
I know. Instagram is whack, dude. It’s the worst. It literally makes people’s days worse than they would be. It gives people a preconceived notion of the way you are before they’ve even met you.
"Halfpipe itself isn't doomed. I get to wondering if halfpipe contests are doomed. That's my stance. Resorts make mini pipes and stuff, and people love riding those."
Yeah absolutely, it can be very curated.
Well there are people who I actually really enjoy talking to and I think they’re good people but then I look at their Instagram and it makes me want to blow my head off . There’s people like that out there, and that’s why Instagram is kind of gnarly.
I know. And it’s so important for getting sponsored these days.
It is kind of cool in that way where you can be nothing and if you have some fire Instagram clip that makes it onto Slush Magazine’s Instagram, a bunch of people are going to see it and maybe you’re going to get hooked up. Pros and cons, just like anything. But yeah, I’m just not very good at it.
Do you think it’s ruining video parts?
I almost think it can kind of help video parts. It filters out the really, really good stuff that you are actually going to sit down and watch and enjoy, and the bullshit. If you can make a movie that people actually sit down and watch multiple times and not just see the bullshit on Instagram, you fucking killed it.
Yeah, I mean I struggle with that too. I take Ingemar Backman’s Method for example, probably one of the more iconic moments to happen in snowboarding. I think about how many covers that photo got, how many different angles, and that moment becoming a remembered moment of snowboard history. I can’t decide for myself if Instagram helps or hurts that possibility. I think that in some senses, truly viral clips are memorable but then again, here I am, and I can’t really think of an Instagram clip that happened three years ago that people are still talking about.
That’s a good point. I can’t really either.
Competitive snowboarding seems like it’s having a bit of a renaissance. What are your thoughts on Natural Selection?
I thought it was really cool to be a part of and it was crazy when I was one of the people even invited. There are people who didn’t get invited that easily could have. When you are one of those dudes who did get nod and then people talking like, “Why didn’t this dude get invited?” Then you compare yourself to that dude and second guess your invite. So it was an honor to be there, straight up. And then the way the first event went was really cool. I thought it was something really special to be a part of for me. It was a crazy week. We rode pow at Jackson Hole the whole week with a crazy crew of amazing snowboarders, and I had a blast. It was the most nerves I’d maybe ever felt before a contest. It’s something completely new and different. You don’t get a run down this course.
What would you say was your least favorite part?
Just being at the top beforehand and being mad nervous. The run itself, the actual run that I got to take the first and second day were some of the best runs I’ve ever had in my life. You don’t hit that many jumps in a row in that kind of snow on one run that often. I know it’s man-made and fabricated but the snow was amazing and the jumps were crazy.
I get the vibe that Natural Selection is kind of trying to fuck with the Olympics.
Oh yeah. Which is sick. I think that Travis is deliberately doing it. It’s like you can’t go to the Olympics and do the first contest.
You’re working on a movie. What’s up with that?
We started off conversation for it right after Joy. We were kind of riding high after it got Movie Of The Year and shit. Tyler [Orton], Sage [Kotsenburg] and Red [Gerard], we were all hyped. Then One World happened, so the Burton riders split to do that, while Sage and Tyler made Halcyon and got Gabe [Ferguson] in the mix. The whole time I was doing One World and they were doing their thing, the plan was still to get back together and make something. Then of course, COVID year. On top of that, Sage wanted to do a Real Snow, and for timing reasons over the summer, Tyler opted out of editing. Then it was me and I thought, well we could get this money from Red Bull, you’re not just going to not take it. I was like alright, let’s film a fucking movie. So it is going to be a two-year project, which is awesome.
And a lot of riders are in the mix though, right?
A lot of people are involved. Gabe’s got some clips, Jared Elston, Travis Rice, Mark McMorris, and Danny [Davis]. I filmed with Danny more than I filmed with probably anybody last year. When he was doing Real Snow stuff, he crewed up with us and we got him clips for Real Snow.
I wanted to talk about that, the Real Snow shit. I understand you ended up crossing paths/helping people with their Real Snow quite a lot. Good or bad thing?
Dude, Real Snow kind of blew up my whole scene, like straight up. I was supposed to film with Sage and then he’s like, “Well actually I’m going to do this Real Snow,” and then I was filming the new movie and Danny is like, “Yo I’m filming a Real Snow,” so I’m not going to tell him no he can’t film with us and take his footage to Real Snow, so we built a jump together and he used some clips for his Real Snow part. Then I had Brock [Crouch] coming out with us and stress-building kickers because he had a Real Snow that he had to stop filming for in like three days. Yeah, fuck Real Snow honestly hahaha. Fucked up my whole scene.
Well I also remember hearing stories about the shovel plant, as I like to call it. where you went out and planted a shovel at a jump…
Oh my god, yeah. So this is some other shit. We’re in Jackson Hole and It’s January. It’s still a little sketchy out there and the snowpack is not dope. You can’t really ride any lines, and you gotta stay in the pretty chill zones where nothing is going to avalanche on your head. You’re just hitting these little landings. You’re looking for these jump spots with little landings that are protected so you don’t kill yourself in some avalanche. So [Aaron] Blatt knew this jump spot that we were sussing out. It’s this spot that he knew of from doing Vans stuff back in the day. We go out to this spot and found this jump, it was sick, no one is there, it’s perfect. It’s really flat, good little in-run zone. It’s safe and going to work. I’m on the knuckle sussing out how to build the jump and next thing I know I see these two red jackets on snowmobiles pull up on the cat track that is below the face that the jump is on. I’m like, “Uh oh.” I know Sage is there filming for his Real Snow and he’s with Pat Moore. When I see these guys pull up, I’m basically joking with them like “What’s up, beat ya to the jump motherfuckers!” like all hyped we got there before them. Pat walks up and says, “So I got a proposition for ya. If you let my athlete hit this jump with you guys, I will show you exactly how to build it and tell you the speed for it,” I’m like, “Alright.” What am I supposed to say? And honestly, I was fucking down because all I wanted to do actually for this whole fucking movie was to film with Sage and these dudes, so I’m down. So that’s how it went. It went perfectly. Jerm [Jeremy Thornburg] was there, Pat was there, Sage was there. They helped us shovel. Pat told us exactly where to put the jump and where to put the drop-in.
And he was right?
This is the thing. Gabe will tell you he was not right hahaha. Gabe ended up losing rochambeau and starting from exactly where Pat told us to start from—and overshot the fuck out of the thing first hit. I think he just did a big Front Three and landed completely flat. I mean, it all worked out. It’s just funny the way shit goes. That’s what I’m saying. Everyone is competitive, even if you’re not a competition snowboarder. You want to get to the jump spot first so you can hit the jump so you can have the shot so your part is better. It’s a pretty competitive thing, and people get lost in it and it makes relationships and hanging out with people weird sometimes, and it sucks. I’m guilty of it for sure. I get competitive and I act weird. I don’t like it. People will call me out.
"Everyone is competitive, even if you're not a competition snowboarder. You want to get to the jump spot first so you can hit the jump so you can have the shot so your part is better."
Why does it seem so hard nowadays to make a project that isn’t one-brand oriented?
No one wants to be in a movie where they’re going to get the middle part, which kind of makes sense but it also sucks. I was thinking though, dude, I’m ready to do that. I want to be in a big group movie. I think it would be sick. It’s not like there’s different crews. It’s not like all these people are filming for the same movie and for their part. It’s still a personal project and it’s like that because the people that I’m going out with all have their personal projects going on too. That’s such a strange reality of snowboarding in this day and age. It has become so much more individual. Look at Lame or a Shakedown. My favorite part in Shakedown isn’t going to be your favorite part in Shakedown, but they provided us with a couple different options and different people can choose accordingly. I mean, Joy was the closest thing we had seen to a crew movie in a long time. I wanted to do that again. I straight up wanted to do exactly the same thing. I wanted Tyler Orton out on the sled getting stuck everywhere, and I wanted Sage Kotsenburg cracking the whip at three o’clock in the morning getting us out the door. I wanted to do that whole thing again and it just, for some reason, didn’t happen. Then it got turned into my thing. And I’m down because I’m hyped to have something to do. I’m going to put my heart and soul into it.
I mean, you’ve been in movies since a kid, was it you or your brother that was in Warren Miller Movie, Playground?
We both were. That was OG Burton Smalls team. I went to USASA Nationals and I got first in slopestyle and second in halfpipe, then I got invited on this trip to Mt. Hood to meet Chaka, and other Burton heads like [former Burton Team Manager] Adam Moran. It was kind of like a little try out. The kids on the team at the time were Hans and Nils Mindnich, Kyle Mack, and Ben Watts. But yeah, we had this little try out to get on the Burton team, and I fucking got on.
What did said try out entail?
I think the first time I went up there and we just rode. It was all good, then I started getting gear. Then the next year actually was a full-on try out. Gabe actually got on Burton when we went to that Warren Miller shoot. He had just done Nationals and I went to Mammoth. My mom drove us to Mammoth from Tahoe to do this Warren Miller shoot, and that’s how Gabe and Brock got put on. It’s a hilarious video. I look like the Campbell’s Soup kid. I’m this chubby little blonde kid. I knocked the fuck out of myself that trip. Did this Front Seven to my heelside edge and fully knocked the shit out of myself. It was one of my first major concussions. I’ve had a lot of concussions. That’s my main injury that I’ve dealt with my whole career is head injuries. I’ve been knocked out so many times.
What do you do about that? What are your thoughts on that?
It’s pretty gnarly. I think it’s affected me for sure. It’s affected my whole mental being. I’ve got a terrible memory I’m pretty sure. If you ask Gabe when we go driving around anywhere, he’s the directions guy. I’m the driver but he’s telling me where to go. I think even socially, it has affected me at times. When you hit your head really hard, for at least a while you just aren’t right. You’re not there. You’re not yourself, you’re not having the same conversations you would normally be having.
At what point does that start to freak you out?
I don’t know, dude. I mean, it definitely has. I think about it but also, life is so short anyway. I’m going to do what I want to do and do it the way I want to.
"Snowboarding and style is all about positions and shapes your body makes that are agreeable to the eye and mind."
Do you feel pressure being someone who has identified as having a modern day good Method?
It’s kind of nice. I kind of fucking ride that son of a bitch.
I think I’ve been kind of wrong to argue that the Method grab should be grabbed between the bindings. I think if historically you look at who the snowboard industry has universally agreed has the best methods, 90 percent of them grab outside of the bindings.
Jamie is the only one that you can really say had a really baller method who grabbed in between.
But even he sometimes grabbed outside.
Snowboarding and style is all about positions and shapes your body makes that is agreeable to the eye and mind, so when you grab a Method in between the bindings, it turns you into a straight C. There’s no lateral tweak. It’s just a full circular thing which can look really bad. You can tweak the fuck out of a Method in between the bindings and it can look like absolute garbage. Also it’s the way you’re flying through the air too. You have to be flying base downhill for the most part. Your base has to be going the direction that you’re moving. But yeah, style is all about shapes your body makes and if that shit looks good, it looks better sometimes when you have some lateral movement to your Method. You can’t do that as easily when it’s in between the binding. Also, because James was one of my coaches for a long time and one of my big mentors, he always taught me in between the bindings, otherwise it’s whack. Then I just started really watching [Nicolas] Müller and Terje and they always grab outside, so I was like, that’s kind of dope. Then I was watching these skateboard videos, Jeff Grosso’s Love Letters To Skateboarding, he talks about the backside air. They grab in front of their foot. [Christian] Hosoi is doing these big ass backside airs and he’s grabbing in front of the truck and in front of the foot, like on the nose of his board. Those were the first ones to ever kind of happen. That being said, if you can do a Method and grab in between the bindings and still have that lateral back leg push movement without being just a full C-shape, that’s fucking dope.
So what’s up with your knee? What’s going on there?
I tore my meniscus. I’m pretty sure I did it this year in Jackson Hole before Natural Selection. We were filming and I hit this cliff and had kind of a pretty snipey landing. I Had to land right where I was trying to and I didn’t. I landed too far left and kind of flat. I did a Front Three so on impact, I twisted this way and I could tell it hurt, but it didn’t hurt bad enough to be done so I tried it again. Then I snowboarded on it all year. Remember Recharged when I did that Front 10 that you filmed that I ate shit hard on? Then it was like, oh fuck, that was bad. Even all of Recharged, it didn’t feel very good. Once I got riding not pow and riding firmer, more chundery stuff then I could tell that it was fucking with me. I just couldn’t use my leg and I used to be able to.
What’s the thought process when you’re in the middle of a two-year project and you have to get knee surgery?
It’s pretty stressful for sure. Like I said, I haven’t had any crazy injuries in the past really besides like concussions and stuff when I was super young. It’s kind of new for me. It makes me respect the fuck out of Danny, Brock, Stax, and Mark, and just the way that they have had these crazy injuries happen to them and the way they’ve been able to come back. It’s pretty inspiring and it’s gnarly. It’s crazy that they were able to do that. Brock’s back was shattered when he got in that avalanche and now he’s shredding again. That gives me some inspiration. My shit isn’t nearly as bad as anything like that so I should be able to be okay.
What do you hope to get out of snowboarding? And what do you hope to give to snowboarding?
Okay. I mean, I’m not looking for anything out of snowboarding. Obviously I am going to take what I can get. I’m going to try my hardest to succeed and make a living for myself and set myself up for whatever I have going on down the line. I would like to say that if I didn’t get paid what I get paid and didn’t have that, I would hope that I’m still the dude that is going to be like, working a job in Bend and going up to Mt. Bachelor on the weekends and doing that shit. Because I do love it. Like Chris Luzier. He’s a fucking gangster. He’s the man. I got a few days where I got to shred with him last year and it was sick. We got first tracks on a couple chairs. He is so dialed on his shit up here. He’s the mayor. So I would like to think that I would still be that.
What I would like to give? I don’t know if I’ve even thought about that. I’ve definitely had discussions with people on Shaun White versus Travis. Travis has given way more than Shaun White has. They both have been given a ton from snowboarding but Travis has given substantially more back. Even talk about Terje. Terje has given a bunch to snowboarding. All those old Arctic Challenge contests were insane. He tried to get snowboard contests away from FIS and out of the Olympics, not just because he thought the Olympics were whack but he just thought it would be better for snowboarding to be out of that and to have their own thing. You can even see the crazy shit that is going on with skateboarding being in the Olympics and surfing, like I don’t think it’s good for those sports. I don’t think it’s helping them. It’s making them more weird. That’s stuff that we already had to do. He tried to get us out of it. He worked really hard to get us out of that with all those Arctic Challenge contests. Drink Water was the head sponsor for the Arctic Challenge the last year it happened in Oslo.
It’s hard to say what snowboarding “needs.” There’s a big difference between the way the snowboard industry itself views things and the way the world views things.
Well that’s what everybody gets caught up in too. It’s not the end-all be-all. I was listening to that podcast the other day with Draplin and he was like, “Yeah I started in the shred scene but there’s way more going on besides this shit.” So One World I was not in a good way at the start of the year, dude, for sure. I think it was a bad start to the season here. I fucked off in the summer a lot. I wasn’t super ready. I remember wondering, I’m going sledding with [Mikey] Rencz and shit, and I’m on trails and I’m like, “Dude, what am I gonna do? I’m gonna be a welder, I’m gonna start landscaping. I gotta learn a trick today.” Dude, we’re all very sensitive people, I think. At least I am. I don’t know about everybody else. All we have is what our peers say we have.
That’s a really genius point. Do you still consider a backup plan?
Dude, I don’t know. There’s other things that I really like to do and I would like to be really good at and maybe have a career later on, but I don’t know if I got it. It would still take a lot of work. Like I do like art and painting and drawing. I would like to use my status in snowboarding to all of a sudden start doing board graphics or whatever, that kind of thing. But that’s another fantasy, that’s another dream, you know? Pretty unattainable unless you really start working at it. And I can tell I definitely need some work at it.
You’re an artist in more ways than one, Ben. Thanks for talking.