Longtime Jackson resident Rob Kingwill is a snowboarding legend. The snowboarder, artist and entrepreneur is a former United States Snowboard Team member with career highlights that include winning the U.S. Open Halfpipe Championship in 1998, being a two-time Mt. Baker banked slalom pro-masters champion and garnering over 30 world cup podiums.
Kingwill is a successful entrepreneur as well, with his popular “adventure accessories” brand, AVALON7, providing neck gaiters, goggle shields and hats designed by mountain artists and his new venture ASTYR Cashmere which makes premium cashmere beanies.
Kingwill is one of snowboarding’s greatest ambassadors, with a never-ending passion for the sport. He recently stopped by the KHOL studios to discuss his career and his unique outlook on life.
The following interview transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity. This conversation was recorded on Tuesday, December 20.
JACK CATLIN/KHOL: You’ve been pretty much everywhere, but have been quoted as saying “Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is the best snowboard mountain in the world as far as I’m concerned.” Why?
ROB KINGWILL: Why? Well, number one, Jackson Hole never closed its doors to snowboarding. Back in 1987, they were letting us on the lifts as long we had retention devices on our boards. And I think this place is really special because there’s no other place in the world I’ve ever found with such continuous vertical, such easy access, both through the resort at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and, you know, Grand Targhee and all that stuff. As far as getting into almost any kind of terrain you could ever imagine, you can always push yourself to that next level at Jackson Hole from being a beginner, intermediate, and there’s always another step forward here. And then as far as the community, I’ve always just really supported how much community sport I got. I was on the U.S. snowboard team for eight years and was traveling around the world chasing World Cups and doing big contests. And I could always come home and just have people be like, “Hey, how’s the contest tour going?” And just feel like the community really supported that idea and endeavor to be a pro snowboarder. And that’s a really beautiful thing. And [Jackson] still has that small town atmosphere where people really believe in the people going out and doing great things.
KHOL: Your passion knows no bounds, and you’ve dedicated your life to snowboarding. In fact, many describe you as a snowboarder’s snowboarder. I want to know what that means to you and how do you keep the stoke so alive year after year?
KINGWILL: Snowboarding is the center star in the constellation of my life. And it’s always been something that really I truly have been passionate about; [it] gives me so much joy to be able to connect with the mountains and to have so much power under your feet to slide down the hill. You can get burnt out, especially if you’re pushing it on a pro level a lot where you start doing it either for the money where you’re like, “How much money am I getting paid to try and kill myself today?!” And so in the evolution, 30 years later of being a pro snowboarder, you know why do you do it? [F]or me, it’s to inspire other people to be out in the outdoors and to have those feelings that I feel. And I think it really makes people better decision-makers and more connected and calmer.
I always tell my family that I meditate all day long by turning left and right on my snowboard. It’s just a beautiful thing. So I’m very kind of balanced and centered and happy a lot of the time. Especially when snowboard season comes around. And then the other main thing that drives me is getting to ride with kids. Kids still have that connection to that stoke, that fire that they want to progress. And they’re like, “This is awesome!” every time I look and I’m like, “You know, you’re right!” And you pick that up and it just carries so easily into my value system. And then you spread that out to the rest of the world. I hope in some ways that stoke and that joy spreads itself out into the world. And more people can either do it through riding or finding whatever art it is that makes them happy and bring some light to the world in our own individual ways.
KHOL: In fact, on your website, when I was doing my research, I noticed it states that “AVALON7 is a brand rooted in optimism, creativity and the art of continual improvement. We believe in the concept that positivity is contagious.” I love that. Can you expand on that general idea and philosophy for us?
KINGWILL: One of the kinds of statements that I like to make in the last couple of years was just “onward” with Covid and the rest of it. Having a positive mindset was really important to me and through a brand like AVALON7 you can kind of influence a lot of people either through branding or social media or the products that you have. And I’ve always felt like I am a very positive person. I’ve always been very optimistic. And, you know, I was like, “How do I infuse this concept into the products?” And I think by being outdoors and connected to nature in some ways, you don’t get so caught up in daily life. And that’s a good meditation and a way to maintain that kind of positive mindset. A lot of it is just the choice to choose that more optimistic outlook.
And then at the root, I can tell you a really interesting story about the core moment in my life where optimism came in. I call it the “magic book story.” So I found a book and it’s ultimately what really pushed me towards optimism and the rest of it. I found this book in my mom’s barn. So my mom had purchased a bookshelf from the White Grass Ranch. So she was at an auction here in Jackson in like 1985 and wanted this bookshelf, but it had to come with all the books. We put the bookshelf in our house and we put all these old antique books from the White Grass Ranch in our barn. As a kid in high school, I’d come home and mess around with our barn and I was like “You know, there’s some interesting books in here.”
Looking through there, I find a book and it’s called “Your Forces and How to Use Them” by Christian D. Larson, and it was published in 1930. And I started looking through this book and it’s basically one of the first new age books that was ever published. And ultimately, Christian D. Larson in that book penned what became the “Optimist Creed,” which is very commonly known. So that’s where that creed came from. And I held on to this book for about two years. It’s got all these really great quotes in it about positive mindset, optimistic mindset and the power of being a human and really pushing yourself forward. But as I was looking through it, you know, reading, oh, there’s this Birtch-Ayers person who had signed the, you know, “this book belongs to so-and-so” from southeast Grand Rapids, Michigan. And I was in my dad’s house and I was like, “Wait a second. My great-grandmother’s last name is Birtch-Ayers right?” and my dad’s like, “Yeah, of course.” And I’m like, “Is this the same person?” And I brought him the book and ultimately this book belonged to my great-grandmother! And nobody in my family has ever seen this book before in the history of time. Nobody has any clue where it would have come from, if it had, like, accidentally migrated into the boxes from White Grass Ranch. So we are speculating that my great-grandmother stayed at the White Grass Ranch in the thirties, left her book there for my mom to buy at an auction and for me to find in her barn in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
And that is really the core of my optimistic view all over, all across the world. You know, and my grandmother has a similar outlook. My dad does. And it’s a really powerful thing to make that choice to make the best out of the situation. And I think as a snowboarder, a lot of time, especially in Jackson Hole, it’s 23-below and you’re standing above something. You’ve got to make good choices. Are you going to get caught up in, you know, being afraid or whatever? You’ve always got to move forward. So all that’s really important. But the magic book is sitting on my bookshelf right now and I see it every now and then. I’m like, “That is so interesting that that came to me.” So that is kind of the root of where the brand comes from as well.
Listen above for KHOL’s full conversation with Rob Kingwill.