How Scotty James Became One Of The World’s Greatest Snowboarders - Men's Health Magazine Australia

How Scotty James Became One Of The World’s Greatest Snowboarders

Following one of his most successful seasons to date, Australia’s most decorated snowboarder, Scotty James, is riding a high. Yet even with a fourth Olympics under his belt, he can’t help but feel he’s just getting started. In fact, he’s one athlete who couldn’t be more grateful to have a career going rapidly downhill.

You could be forgiven  if, upon looking at the life and career of Aussie snowboarder Scotty James, you came to the view that it all looks rather easy. that he’s the rare bloke who can get away with doing things BY halves, because, well, he’s twice as  good as the next guy.

From a child prodigy to the most successful Australian snowboarder of all time, 27-year-old James’ ascent to half-pipe dominance has a storybook, boy-wonder quality about it. The past six months alone have seen James cement his place in the snowboarding pantheon, with a fourth gold medal at the X Games and a silver medal at the Winter Olympics in Beijing. Proposing to musician and Formula 1 heiress, Chloe Stroll, was the icing on a very delectable cake. Throw in some lucrative endorsements with the likes of Red Bull and Optus, and James’ life could hardly look any better.

When I first met James back in October, chatting from his pre-season base in London, perhaps only the man himself could comprehend the possibilities that lay ahead of him. There, in the affluent suburb of Chelsea, James was a world away from his half-pipe refuge, but amid the hubbub of a Men’s Health cover shoot, he appeared laid-back and in control. If he was feeling nervous about any of his upcoming engagements, both professional and personal, he didn’t let it show. James was candid and forthcoming about his goals for the upcoming season in Europe, North America and Asia, leaning forward in excitement as he outlined his preparation and high expectations for the northern winter. 

As time progressed, so did his story. In November came his engagement to Stroll, announced via Instagram with a classically casual caption: “Hey, we’re getting married … everyone, this is my fiancé”. Following this personal triumph, James competed at the X Games in Aspen, winning his fourth gold medal in the SuperPipe event. The following month saw him in Beijing for his fourth Olympics.

I caught up with him again on home soil on a Tuesday morning in April, following a weekend at the Melbourne Grand Prix. He was grateful to be home, to reconnect with family and, perhaps most tellingly, for the chance to let his body recuperate.

Scotty James

Eyes on the prize: James doesn’t let the weight of expectation dominate his mind. PHOTOGRAPHY BY LEO FRANCIS.

As I debriefed with the humble, and perhaps slightly hungover motorsports fan on his recent achievements, I couldn’t help wonder aloud how a boy from Warrandyte, in Melbourne’s northeast, grows up to become one of the world’s greatest snowboarders. “I’m still asking myself the same question,” an incredulous James laughs. But any
mystery surrounding his decade-long dominance on the mountain dissolves within a handful of questions. It’s clear that despite his sunny 
disposition, a steely determination and serious work ethic underpin his every move.

That’s notable, for there was a period not so long ago when such resolute dedication could make you something of a pariah on the snowboarding pro tour. A culture of partying and a lionising of natural ability have long been associated with board sports – snowboarding, surfing and skating – a stereotype the likes of Shaun White, Kelly Slater and Tony Hawk have done much to dismantle. Gone are the days of wayward vagrants dabbling in competition to make ends meet. The professional snowboarder is here to stay.

Following in the footsteps of White, who turned the sport on its head in the naughties, James has spent more than half his life further legitimising adventure sports. Yet despite the progress made at a global level, a climate that isn’t exactly conducive to winter pursuits means many Australians are largely ignorant of the sport that’s made James a household name. That makes it easy to underestimate the extent of his achievements. Throw in his pin-up looks, easy-going demeanour and the effortlessness with which he traverses the half-pipe, and you can find yourself returning to that word: easy. 

As James tells Men’s Health, you don’t know the half of it.

HIGH HOPES

“Honestly, I can’t remember my first time on a snowboard. I was very young, like three years old. I do remember, though, the first time I did a toe-side turn, which if you understand snowboarding, you’ll know that the moment you do your first toe-side turn is quite a milestone in your snowboarding career. I was with my dad at a local resort in Australia. I was obviously eager.

My vision has always been to become one of the best at my craft and it’s very surreal sometimes to look at where I am now from that first toe-side turn. Not just in my sport, but where I am personally and the journey snowboarding’s taken me on, the success that’s come with it, the people I’ve met and the experiences I’ve been able to enjoy. Honestly, I still pinch myself.

I don’t forget Warrandyte. I love Warrandyte. It will always be there. I look forward to getting back there at some point, but at the moment I’m enjoying my journey. It’s taken a lot of hard work, a lot of dedication to live my dream. Having said that, from about 13 years old, I’ve been away from home. There was a lot of sacrifice at that young age.

I wouldn’t change much right now. I’m happy and I’m healthy and everything’s great. I feel really good as an athlete, but also as a person. The only thing I would change is being able to see my family and friends. And that’s probably been one of the biggest things, if I was being selfish . . . wishing I had a little bit more time. But also, it’s important to have perspective, because so many people have lost a lot more than just not being able to see their family and friends.

Scotty James

James is sitting pretty after successful X Games and Olympic campaigns. PHOTOGRAPHY BY LEO FRANCIS.

I started snowboarding because I loved it and I still love it. I’d go and do it with my family. I’d do it with my friends. I would go out on my own, just because I loved doing it. And I think that’s pretty much why all snowboarders compete. Skateboarding and surfing would be much the same; they’re sports where you get to feel this sense of joy. I think it’s important to stay in touch with that.

And while I love snowboarding, I am fearful on a daily basis. I’m fearful when I’m not on the snow, even when I’m just thinking about snowboarding. Everything scares me. As much as I’m talented, I also have to respect the sport. It’s very dangerous and there’s next to no margin for error. The walls are 22 feet [6.7m] high, it’s 200 metres long, it’s sheet ice. If you come off, it’s not a nice feeling.

I went skydiving once and when I was going up in the plane I turned to the instructor and asked, ‘Are you still scared?’ And he goes, ‘Yeah. And if I wasn’t scared, I would stop skydiving’. Because when you’re scared, as long as you can channel it in a positive direction and use it, you’re very rarely going to make mistakes. You’re just so switched on all the time. You are aware of everything.

That’s where confidence and ego come in. You have to have an ego. You have to have this oozing self-confidence, because if you don’t then it’s hard to believe in what you’re trying to achieve.

Within the walls of the half-pipe, I take on a different personality. People say it’s your alter ego, and while I don’t have a name for my alter ego, I’m much more cutthroat. I park the Aussie bloke that I am, because I want to win. I’m there to achieve something and you have to put yourself in that mindset where you want to compete against people. It’s quite cool.

I travel with my brother full time, so if my head got too big, he would check me. I’m very fortunate. I have a super-close relationship with my family and that’s been really important. My mum and dad have instilled in all of us that regardless of what happens in life – whether it’s good or bad, success or fame – you don’t lose touch with who you are and where you’ve come from.

That’s been a huge reason why I’ve been able to channel that success positively. I haven’t let it define me. That attitude has helped me stay grounded and kept me focused on what I’m trying to achieve in snowboarding and in life. 

And you know what? I admire that. I always want to keep a level head about things.”

“Within the walls of the half-pipe, I take on a different personality. I’m cutthroat. I want to win” 

The best is still to come as James hits his physical and mental peak. PHOTOGRAPHY BY LEO FRANCIS.

MOUNTING PRESSURE

“In terms of a standout career high, it’s hard to look past being a flag-bearer [in PyeongChang]. As an athlete, going to the Olympic Games is the pinnacle. To walk your team members, a nation, into an Olympics is an incredible feeling. And at that point in time I was only 23. 

You have to fit the mould of being a flag-bearer. For me it didn’t come through anything other than hard work, dedication and making sure that I was presenting myself in the best way possible by being a hard-working Aussie and being honest. And obviously having a bit of a laugh here and there as well.

Someone said to me at the time, ‘Oh, because you’re the flag-bearer, now you have to medal, otherwise it’s a huge letdown’. I was like, ‘Thanks – I was already feeling the pressure, you just added to it’.

That pressure doesn’t change. With experience, you know what to expect. It’s mostly external pressure and the hype that surrounds the Olympic Games. I guess in Beijing, it being my fourth one, I understood how to emotionally control all those things.

When you go to your first Olympics, it’s overwhelming. You
go from not much media attention at all to a lot and that can
be really overwhelming for anyone. I’ve been able to learn to manage all of it a lot better. When you go your first time, you get all this attention and you feel good about yourself and that can make you emotionally skyrocket. 

There are so many different things that come into play
in an Olympic Games versus another competition. But in terms of what I wanted to achieve when I was on the half-pipe, I didn’t feel any more pressure than in the X Games the week before. I always have the same expectation of myself, which is pretty high. I’ve already prepared myself, just through competing for the past decade. I’ve always put a lot of pressure on myself to perform. So, in that way, I’m used to it.

I was feeling great heading into Beijing this year – physically strong, mentally healthy and just really excited. It was a big season overall for me, with our usual world tour, as well as the X Games. The only difference was the elephant in the room. The Olympics is the only event I’ve yet to win. It’s not necessarily a pressure I feel from other people; it’s more from me. I’d love to achieve that and if I continue to work hard I will accomplish that one day. 

Having said that, I can definitely appreciate winning silver in Beijing for what it is. I have a lot of respect for a result like that. It’s pretty exciting and very special. If someone had said to me 10 years ago that I’d be a seven-time X-Games medallist with four golds, two Olympic medals,
a three-time world champion, I would’ve told them that there’s absolutely no chance. But I surrounded myself with incredible people and a great team.   

I like a bit of adversity, which I feel like I’ve dealt with throughout my career, simply by being an Australian in winter sports. So, I’m very proud of every result and getting another Olympic medal is definitely really special. I’m proud. It could have been a little bit bittersweet, but I’m pretty conscious of being aware of the bigger picture.”  

“There was an elephant in the room going into Beijing. The Olympics is the only event that I’ve yet to win. I will accomplish that one day” 

Scotty James

THIN ICE

“When I’m on my rocking chair one day and reflecting on my career, one of the things highest on my list of reflections would be, did I influence someone to pick up a snowboard or pursue snowboarding as a career? And now, what am I doing to make that possible?

I would love to see Australian snowboarding prosper. I’m trying to think of ways that I can help the younger eneration and make it easier for them. They can learn from my mistakes. Small things, like working on trying to get a half-pipe built in Australia one day. We’ve never had a training facility or an Olympic-sized half-pipe here. 

I also always want to feel that I’m using my platform positively in terms of minimising global warming. It’s been an important issue since I first started snowboarding. Snowboarders have always been extremely in touch with the environment. We train on glaciers, so we need to make sure we’re respecting the areas we’re going into and being mindful of the products we’re taking on the mountain, because it all has an impact. A lot of our competitions and our world tours have put rules in place now, like certain brands we can’t use for wax [on the board]. So, everyone’s becoming extremely aware of the environment.

And it’s scary. We’ve been going to the same glacier now for the past five years and you can see it slowly disappearing. I think every year the glacier is another 50 metres shorter than the year before, just because snow is slowly, slowly, slowly melting down. And even when we’re there, they have crevasse cracks through the half-pipe. From when we arrive to the end, you can see how the snow has moved, up to half a foot, on the glacier.”

NO SLOWING DOWN

“The key to my longevity lies in getting up, getting the work done and consistently grinding away. But I think it’s also being able to have a good balance and I’m starting to understand that. You can have that obsessive mentality about work, but at some point you end up hitting a dead-end, especially in a sport that continues to evolve, making it more and more dangerous every year.

In terms of training, we’re always on. I always complete an extensive strength and conditioning block every August and September. I’m training throughout the year, but we kind of ramp it up just before I get back on snow. Then we move onto the slopes, so last year I was training in Switzerland in October, Austria in November and then back in Switzerland for December.

“I know exactly what I want to do, how I’m going to do it and what it will take. I’m ready to rock and roll” 

We try not to put too much emphasis on the Olympics. I know it’s only every four years, but we kind of just attack an Olympic year like any other year. So, we finish X Games, head off to Switzerland and we just do some training for a week and we work as we would any other year on things we feel need attention. And then we go into the Games and we have a pretty good strategy in mind to target our goals.

I spend most of our Australian winter in summer camp in the US because that’s where the half-pipes are and I’ve got to follow those. They get enough snow throughout the winter to maintain snow into the summer and they’re quite high, so we’re able to ride all year long.

I’m 27, so I’m still pretty young. I’ll definitely take on Italy in 2026. Every single day I wake up and I ask ‘What am I doing to live my dream for as long as possible?’ And that comes down to training. It comes down to what I’m eating. It comes down to all these factors, because I want to be competing at the highest level for as long as possible, but also be able to enjoy it. I don’t think it’s a big shout for me to compete for the next six, seven, eight years. It depends on how much I keep my love for the sport.

The second I got back from China, Chloe was there to celebrate and congratulate me, but also to say, ‘Hey, let’s get into the wedding planning’, so while I’ll be training, we’re going to be doing a little bit of that this year – or I should say a lot of it – and then we’re planning to get married next year.

I’ve already written out my five-year plan. I know exactly what I want to do, how I’m going to do it and what it will take to execute that vision physically and mentally. I’ve always been committed to this journey and I’m ready to rock and roll.”

scotty james

By Scott Henderson

Scott is the Editor of Men's Health Australia, where he oversees all editorial content of the country's largest men’s magazine. As a fitness addict, adventure sport lover, and passionate story-teller, Henderson is committed to living the Men’s Health brand.

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