At the bottom of the park chair at Dagmar Resort, a small ski hill 45 minutes from downtown Toronto, pro snowboarder TJ Schneider stands unassumingly in a Capita demo tent. With a helmet and goggles on, it’s tough for anyone to single him out of the crowd. It’s not until local Lifetime sales rep (and Push.ca blogger) Andrea Ciccone begins luring kids with the promise of free t-shirts that a small mob gathers. And once TJ removes his disguise, like Bruce Wayne peeling back his Batman mask, the Sharpie’s emerge and the high-fives and autographs begin.
TJ making a limited edition shirt even more limited edition.
This night is just one stop of many that TJ will make across Canada (and in other parts of the world) to produce his Snowboard Realms video series this winter. And the best part? Not only does TJ spend hours mingling with the locals, he actually goes out and films them in the park. Stomp a trick or two, and you may just see yourself in the next Realms episode.
“I don’t really notice how people react,” TJ says, when asked about the typical response he gets in these situations. “It’s usually pretty mellow. Kids just say ‘hi’ and say, ‘come film me on this’. Some kids are super nervous at first, but I’m just a normal, dorky shred guy like anyone else.”
Rob Madill, Capita rep for MHG Sales, posing in front of a preview of next year’s Capita line.
It’s the second night of a three-stop Ontario tour, with Capita rep Rob Madill and No Limits marketing manager Mikey Scott running the logistics, and TJ stepping up as the star attraction (plus one-of-a-kind Capita staff photographer Joel Fraser lurking behind the scenes to snap stills). Not that TJ thinks of himself that way, of course.
“Pro snowboarders make themselves a bigger deal than they are,” he says with conviction. “They forget that they used to be that same kid who wants to talk to them.”
Push.ca’s Matt Houghton, Red Bull’s Andrew Sayer and Ride’s Taylor Ricci
With the Snowboard Realms website, TJ has created a community for riders of all styles and opinions to become equal (“It brings everyone together,” he explains). He posts his travel schedule and actually invites community members to meet up and ride with him, whether it’s just a casual day of shredding or a more organized event like the Dagmar session. A grip of kids clearly learned of his appearance, and keeps the Capita tent and terrain park busy all night, fuelled in part by endless cans of free Red Bull. Ontario locals like Dani Brown, Taylor Hill, Natalie Gough, Chris Powling, Taylor Ricci and Andrew Sayer also drop by to enjoy the extra-soft park conditions, thanks to a last-minute snowstorm that offered legitimate pow turns if you could break away from the boxes and rails.
Capita rider Dani Brown and Red Bull’s Chris Powling, angry face.
After a few hours on snow, Push.ca content manager Matt Forsythe and I step away from the action with TJ and Joel to the Dagmar lodge, where we warm ourselves by the fake fireplace and conduct an on-the-fly interview. Here are the highlights.
Don’t worry, the fire is very not real.
What do you think your favourite shot from tonight will be?
Probably that Taylor kid [Taylor Hill, who was doing ridiculous ollies off an a-frame box and landing flat every time -ed.]. But I wish I would’ve filmed this little guy, Nick, who dropped to his knees and torpedoed off the end of the flat-box and still landed.
Did he mean to do that?
No, no… But I missed that shot – that was the shot I should have gotten. But I was watching with my eyes and I have it in my head.
TJ “Why can’t I get warm in Ontario?” Schneider and fan.
What are you looking for to film in these situations? Is it something specific?
No, not at all… I film exactly what’s in front of me. The whole point is to be as organic as possible, not to contrive things or make it like a big deal. It’s about sharing real snowboarding. And real snowboarding to me can be crazy pow runs in Japan or the Red Bull Gap Session, or it can be coming here and shredding with kids. It’s just awesome. It’s unfortunate that some people might look at what we’re doing here and think it isn’t legitimate, because this kind of riding is real snowboarding for 99% of the riders out there. It’s not meant to be Mack Dawg. It’s meant to be real, fun snowboarding
Why you don’t shoot snowboarding with a point-and-shoot. TJ, A-frame to flat, with Joel Fraser shooting it legit.
It sounds like you’re trying to democratize snowboard videos.
I’m just trying to not do what everyone else is doing! It’s the same thing with my snowboarding career. When everybody went left, I said, “What’s the point of going left?” If there are thousands of snowboarders doing the same thing, why I don’t I go a little bit right and do my own thing? Why do I need to live in Whistler? Why do I need a film crew? [pauses] It probably didn’t work out the best for some situations, but who cares? I’m stoked. The kids are stoked. And bottom line, that’s what really matters.
Most people would think that a pro snowboarder like you would never want to come and ride at a small hill like this. But you actually seem like you’re having fun riding here.
I am having a ton of fun riding here… It reminds me of where I grew up riding, which was pretty much a river valley in Red Deer, Alberta. It doesn’t have to be perfect. I enjoy this kind of stuff, because I get to ride with kids who are in the same situation that I was in. And I can let them know it’s possible to do whatever you want, no matter where you’re from. It makes snowboarding more rewarding than just doing the typical pro snowboarder stuff.
Which one is TJ? Really…I have no idea.
We were talking on the chairlift about how there are a bunch of kids, some of whom are here tonight, that are obviously influenced by you and how you dress. And someone joked that one of them “Out-TJ’s TJ”. Do you notice that?
[laughs] I don’t know… Maybe in the early days when I was dressing pretty differently than people; tight jeans and acid-wash and bondage pants… But now? There are so many different styles and influences that I would never claim or credit myself as an influential person. But I am probably the biggest Debbie Downer on myself out there… [laughs]
I think you’re just modest…
My feet are cold… [laughs]
That’s because the fire isn’t real. OK, that’s a wrap. Thanks, TJ.
[laughs] OK. That’s a weird ending, though.
The Snowboard Realms was here.