White stays grounded amid growing X Games celebrity

Posted: Tuesday, February 01, 2005


  Skateboarder/snowboarder Shaun White catches air off the half pipe during snowboard superpipe practice at the Winter X Games in Aspen, Colo., Sunday, Jan. 30, 2005. AP Photo/Jack Dempsey

Skateboarder/snowboarder Shaun White catches air off the half pipe during snowboard superpipe practice at the Winter X Games in Aspen, Colo., Sunday, Jan. 30, 2005.

AP Photo/Jack Dempsey

ASPEN, Colo. — For this year's Winter X Games, snowboarder Shaun White is staying at a vast chateau that sits above this posh town, the walls covered with prints of him in action. There are slippers at the door for guests and jars filled with candy are everywhere.

Everything is red and white, from the couch to the linens to the mantel above the fireplace. A security guard stands outside, a massage therapist waits downstairs and there goes the Target dog, complete with the familiar red bulls-eye corporate logo and two handlers.

Don't confuse White with a spoiled athlete. Sure, he's a multimillionaire with three homes in California and garages full of cars, but White is grounded enough to know he's not living the life of a normal 18-year-old kid.

''I think the way I was raised — I don't want to say raised because I'm still raising — makes you appreciate that it hasn't always been the Target chalet and all that,'' White said. ''There was a time when we couldn't afford for everyone to have lift tickets and lodging, so we had this big white van and we'd all pile in — the five of us — and we'd just park at the hill, camp out and go ride.''

White has come a long way since sleeping along the road near Mount Hood.

A snowboarding prodigy since shortly after he learned to walk, White earned his first sponsorship at age 7 — Burton developed a smaller snowboard for him — and was appearing in snowboard magazines a few years later.

Nicknamed the ''Flying Tomato'' because of his red mop of hair, White turned pro at 13 and solidified his status as a phenom two years later when he burst onto the Winter X Games scene with two gold medals. He's won four more medals, including his second straight gold in slopestyle this year, and is the only athlete to compete in both the Summer (skateboarding) and Winter X Games in different sports.

It's not just that White wins. It's how he does it. While others force tricks, contorting their bodies in different directions to gain an edge, White flows from move to move with a grace and ease that makes it look as though he's not even trying.

It's made White the rock star of X, the one fans and athletes love to watch.

Not bad for a kid who once had his friends push him around on a skateboard because he was afraid to stand up.

''There's a huge respect for him at the X games, which is almost above rock star status,'' snowboarder Tara Dakides said. ''He's an absolutely amazing rider.''

And it's made him the biggest name in action sports since skateboarder Tony Hawk crossed over into the mainstream in the 1990s.

White has plenty of the usual sponsors — boards, clothes, video games — associated with action sports, but he's also appeared in commercials for Mountain Dew and Target, which set up the Aspen chalet. He has made numerous appearances on MTV, has been a guest on the kids network Nickelodeon and was featured on a 7-Eleven Slurpee cup.

White also has a DVD out called the ''White Album,'' which has been flying off the shelves, and even did an ollie — the equivalent to jumping on a skateboard — over host Kelly Ripa on the ''Regis & Kelly'' show.

''Tony is incredible when you talk about the crossover appeal and I think Shaun is already there in a large regard,'' X Games founder Ron Semiao said. ''I think he reaches beyond the snowboarding and skateboarding core to kids who are his peers in terms of age and may just have a casual interest in these sports or may just like to watch them.''

Of course, it all comes with a price.

White figures he gets recognized at least five times a day, getting congratulations and questions from kids on skateboards to men in suits riding first class on airplanes. His days are filled with one appearance or interview after the next, and hardly a meal goes by without someone interrupting for an autograph.

Somehow, White handles it all with the same kind of grace he displays on his board.

''At a certain level, I kind of respect the fact that somebody got the nerve up to come ask me for an autograph or something. I think that it's kind of humbling,'' White said. ''I just like the fact that I can inspire kids to do things and have parents say 'my kid's on the snow because of you.' That's awesome.''

Notes: Chris Devlin-Young, a member of the U.S. Disabled Ski Team, won the inaugural monoski X race, flying over the bumps and jumps of the course used by Winter X skiers and snowboarders over the weekend. ''They told us nine years ago that disabled skiers would never race on the courses and here we are!'' yelled Devlin-Young, who let out a whoop and raised his arms in the air. ... Finland's Antti Autti won his first Winter X gold in the superpipe by completing consecutive 1080s (three spins) on his final run for a 93.0.

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