Professional snowboarder and Boston native Jonathan Cheever has competed in over 40 World Cups and is the 2011 National Champion. A plumber by night and snowboarder by day, Cheever consistently defines snowboardcross. We were able to chat with him, and here’s what we learned.
Did you learn to ski first, or were you born a snowboarder?
I was born and raised in and around Boston. I skied for 3 years or so before I started sliding sideways. My parents brought my brother and I up to New Hampshire a few times a month and we had a lot of fun. To be honest, I was more into baseball and hockey when I was younger.
When and where did you learn to snowboard? How long was it before you realized you wanted to compete in snowboard cross (SBX) competitions?
I was always competitive growing up. I learned to snowboard at Attitash in New Hampshire. There was a promo with a gas station and my brother and I had free snowboard lessons. We both fell in love with the sport immediately. I think I was competing before the end of my second week on a snowboard. I did everything – big air, SBX, slopestyle, and pipe.
For those who don’t know, can you tell us what SBX is all about?
SBX, snowboard cross, boarder cross, however you want to put it – it’s pretty cut and dry. But I’ll break it down. For starters, you need a SBX course. At the elite level they range from 55 seconds on the short end to 1:45 on the very long end. The average course is about a 1:10. A course consists of a start gate that can fit 4 or 6 racers in it, a slope with bumps, jumps, banked turns and other obstacles, and of course a finish line.
Every racer does two qualifying time-trial runs where the best one counts. The sport is leaning towards 6 racers per heat. If that is the case, 48 men and 24 women are seeded based on qualifiers. If there are 4 racers per heat, it’s 32 men and 16 women.
Next up is racing. Riders line up in the start gate and then a gate cadence begins. “Racers ready” is yelled by the person dropping the gate. It is a question to make sure the riders are ready in the gate.
“Attention” is then yelled. This is when we have to be ready because once we hear it, the gate can drop any time in the next 5 seconds.
The gate drops. We race, we bump and occasionally we crash, sometimes hard. On most courses, we hit at least 45mph. On some courses, we go as fast as 60mph. At the X-Games one year, I clocked us going 85mph off of the last jump.
The top half of the field racing advances into the next round and so on until there is only one heat left. First one down wins.
Which athletes did you admire most growing up, and who do you look up to now?
I take it this is a snowboard related question. But in all honesty my favorite athletes growing up were the Boston greats – Ted Williams, Bobby Orr and Larry Legend. Larry Bird for those of you who aren’t familiar with Basketball.
As far as snowboarding goes, there were a ton of influences. Shaun Palmer is one I can’t leave out. I was fortunate enough to snowboard on the same team as him for five years. The guy is a legend in snowboarding, mountain-biking and action sports as a whole.
Now, my teammates really push me and my girlfriend is incredible at snowboarding and everything else she does. The talent pool is so deep that it is nearly impossible to be elite at multiple disciplines, but there are a few guys on my team and others that push the envelope everywhere.
What’s been your most memorable moment in snowboarding so far?
I get asked this question almost every interview. It’s hard to narrow it down, but what’s sticking out to me right now is the first time I was in Sochi, the 2014 Olympic Venue. Two years ago I arrived in Russia. It wasn’t exactly a solo trip, as there was a Europa cup there, but I was the only American that went… originally 12 planned on going. A translator named Ksenia, a petite Russian law student, was expecting to just help out the American team and turns out she became my personal assistant for my stay. It took her a few days longer than it should have to realize I was joking when I asked if she could carry my snowboard to the lift every day.
It was like a test event for the Olympic test event if that makes sense. My bags never showed up. I was riding on borrowed and rented gear and it dumped. Nuked even. 6 feet in less than 20 hours. I was riding the Women’s downhill course. It was 40 degrees steep at some spots and about 50 yards wide. And not a soul in site. It was incredible. That trip I also got a phone-call from one of Warren Miller’s producers to film in Utah. I turned it down for my own project I had lined up in Europe. Turns out I tore my Achilles the second day I of filming in Austria. But that led to some other things… please check out SBXtheMovie.com for how that injury led into a production of a documentary on the sport of snowboard cross. Coming Summer 2014.
Ha, this question is awesome. I could hold my own in freestyle. I’ve qualified first at the U.S. Open Slopestyle event before. I stopped pursuing a freestyle career in 2010, but at the time I had a few double corks and other tricks in my bag. Now I am just as satisfied doing a straight air.
What’s the worst injury you’ve ever had and how did it happen?
I’ve had a few. I tore my Achilles in March of 2012, and that was by far the worst. I hit a bump about knee high and was going to backflip off of it, but was going to slow so I just rolled out of it and that was it. Here’s the video of my injury and here’s a mini documentary about it. The videos will do more justice than words.
What’s the most difficult course you’ve ridden? Why?
I wouldn’t label any courses difficult in terms of not being able to get through a feature anymore. There were a few tough Grand Prixs in 2004 or 2005 when I could go straight but had trouble turning. But now I want to see bigger, faster, and longer courses. The difficult part is being consistent; the field is so deep, it is as competitive, if not more competitive than Men’s Alpine Ski Racing. In most time trial rounds, the top 48 guys are within 3 seconds.
What’s your training regimen like? Do you try to stay on snow year round, or do you switch to other sports to stay fit in the summer?
This is the first year since 2009 I started my off season without surgery below my knee, so I can thankfully say that rehab is not on the list. I went surfing for the month of May to get some core stability work done. I’m terrible at surfing. Once I stand up, it’s not bad, but the whole paddling part and holding my breath is not for me. Plus I am scared of sharks.
I tried to get a good cardio base in early in the year, but June, July and August are where the strength program starts. I usually try to pack on about 10 pounds here. September is the start of power and Olympic lifting, and I’ll continue that until race time begins.
I get on snow a few times in the summer and then usually head over to Europe in the Fall and am on snow three or four days a week until we race. I take a different approach than the rest of my team does, but my girlfriend is on the Austrian team, I love Europe and to be honest, it’s cheaper to train in Austria in the Fall than it is to train with my team.
The last healthy summer I had, I was on a baseball team and played hockey too. I think its just as important to train the brain’s split second decision making abilities as it is to get jacked and tan.
How do X-Games courses compare to Euro courses?
X-Games courses are bigger, faster longer and more open than any course, not just Euro courses. The X-Games were our Superbowl and SBX was there for 17 years before they nixed us last year. Maybe we’ll be back. Anyway, the bottom line is probably the budget. X-Games invests so much in snow-making and cat time because they can. So it’s an awesome venue.
That said, most World Cups do an excellent job, too. It usually depends on the builder and snow situation, not so much the location. Some builders, like David Ny of Sweden, put big jumps, big rollers and sections where it helps to stay off the edges. Other builders favor riders who can burn turns.
What I like is that most courses are starting to take on their own characteristics too. For example, Stoneham, Canada is a battle all the way down the hill. One really needs to know how to work transition to do well there. In Switzerland’s Arosa and Veyzonnas you’ll find courses where the hole shot doesn’t matter too much. There are drag strips in between some of the turns that may give being in the slip-stream an advantage over those in front. Some of our other normal stops are taking on personalities, too.
20 years from now, what do you want to be remembered for?
To be honest, it would be great for being remembered as being an influential snowboarder, but there are so many out there. I don’t need to be remembered for that. I don’t need to be remembered at all. I just want to influence my peers and many others in thinking we are lucky to do what we do. We should be able to help those who are less fortunate and leave a lasting impression that way.
Who are some of your favorite people to follow on Twitter and Instagram?
What 10 songs to have you been listening to while riding lately?
Sometimes I listen to music when I shred, sometimes I don’t. I like to when I am time trialing. When I do, it varies, but there is a lot of Elvis and Stray Cats.
Rapid fire! What is…
- Your all-time favorite ski/snowboard film? BXtheMovie! Coming 2014. One I am not involved in would be “AfterLame”
- Your go-to breakfast before a big day on the slopes? Go to almost everyday. Vanilla yogurt… sometimes I go Greek. mixed with blue berries, strawberries, a banana, granola, and about a hundred grams of oatmeal.
- Your go-to après drink after a long day on the slopes? Water tea or insert potential beverage sponsor here.
- Your favorite run or mountain? Stateside I’ll have to go with Canyons.
- Your favorite thing to do for fun, outside of skiing? Spend time with my dog Sam.
- Your guiltiest indulgence? I never feel guilty about anything.
- The weirdest thing you’ve seen from a chairlift? Probably going to want to check out some GKC edits for that.
Have any more questions for Jonathan? Ask them in the comments below or tweet at him at @TeamCheever!