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The Far Out Ones: Sean Jordan

Story by Sam Morse

Sean Jordan didn’t grow up seeking the limelight — it just had a way of finding him. A competitive gymnast until the age of 10, Jordan’s ski career officially started at his family dinner table when the then-precocious tween explained to his parents that he wanted to quit regular sports and start skiing, full-time. They grudgingly accepted his wishes. He tagged along with his older brother to the local hill, taking the air awareness he’d learned at the gym and translating it onto skis. Having talent and a strong work ethic, the young buck entered comps and slowly started gaining the attention of sponsors. Opportunity begat more opportunity, and by the age of 14, he was flying to Europe and taking part in guerrilla film shoots. Fast forward to today, and the young urban savant combines a less-is-more attitude with a forward-thinking awareness that makes him one of the most innovative — and thoughtful — freestyle skiers in the game. He has skied with TGR before, featuring segments in last year's Rogue Elements and a role in the deep dive into urban skiing that was For Lack of Better. This year was no different. To get peek at what happens when you combine raw talent with some of the best natural terrain in the West, at Crested Butte, be sure to check out Sean’s groundbreaking segment in TGR’s upcoming film Far Out, presented by REI.

Tell us about your childhood in Pennsylvania and how you got into skiing?

I grew up outside of Scranton, Pennsylvania, and I had three siblings. Most of the family was really into sports — each sibling was playing two or three different sports a year, so I pretty much followed in the footsteps of that, playing soccer and basketball. I actually had to sit down and ask my dad at the dinner table if I could quit sports to start skiing more, and that was definitely a pretty serious conversation.

But to be honest, it all started when my parents put me in gymnastics when I was really young. I did gymnastics for probably three or four years and I got really serious to the point where I was traveling and training at the gym almost every day. I didn’t want to be doing such a serious sport at such a young age, so I kinda peeled off of that.

At that time, my older brother and his buddies were all skiing at the local hill and I decided that’s what I wanted to do next. My brother’s friend’s mom is the one who actually taught me to ski, and that was when I was 11, so that was pretty late in my life. A lot of people grow up on skis, but I actually had no interest until then.

Since growing up in Pennsylvania, Sean Jordan's career has taken him places far outside that, whether it be Crested Butte, Duluth, or beyond.

Gymnastics seems to be a consistent theme in the early life of pro skiers. What did that discipline do for your skiing, especially at such a young age?

Well, it kinda stems from a desire for being extreme. When I saw what I was going to be able to do there, I was super into it! Gymnastics was going to teach me how to flip and spin and jump off of stuff — everything my parents would yell at me for — so that attracted me immediately.

A lot of people ask me, “How do you feel in the air? How do you control yourself?” And it’s not even something I can totally explain, because I was so exposed to it as a little kid.

Obviously, the air awareness gets directly transferred over to action sports in general. I hate to say it, but gymnastics is exactly what I’m doing on my skis. 

When you started out, was there a specific moment or particular feature that called out to you that made you realize you wanted to be a freestyle skier?

When I first got into skiing, I had no intentions of freestyle or jumps or tricks — I just wanted to go fast. I grew up skiing at a place called Montage Mountain, and they had a little park, but coming from rollerblading and skateboarding, I understood what you could do with these types of features.

I figured, “I already know how to flip and spin — If I can learn how to hit these jumps and grind these rails, I’d probably be pretty good at it.”

But there wasn’t one super-defining moment where I knew I’d be a freestyle skier, but as I got more exposed to the sport, I realized it was something I wanted to do. I’d already competed in gymnastics with gyms full of people, so going to rail jams — having tons of people watching — it wasn’t really stressful or concerning.

And again, becoming an urban skier was never the goal, it’s just cheaper and more accessible. You can get away with having a really cheap travel budget and still making something of it by just staying in shitty motels or your car in the city compared to getting into snowcats or helicopters and heading way out into the woods.

I could turn a $5,000 travel budget into a whole year of skiing in the streets.

This year's Crested Butte shoot for Far Out put Jordan right in his element, creative skiing in an unorthodox environment.

Tell us about the overall trajectory of your career? Zoom out to 30,000’ and give us the play-by-play.

It’s funny, in my fifth-grade year book, for dream job, I put, “Professional freestyle skier.” So it’s been pretty cool to see that come to fruition. But skiing wasn’t my entire life growing up, just something I enjoyed to do.

So, one thing led to another. I’d win the rail jam, then I’d win this and get flown here, and then someone else would approach me, and it all just started falling into place.

Eventually, things just started snowballing, from casually entering rail jams, to competing in as many events as possible. It was just baby steps. I was like, “Maybe I can get a free pair of skis, or maybe a discount on a jacket.” And then it was like, “Maybe I can get an invite to this private park shoot or make some money from this.”

But I never felt the pressure to be a top-tier pro skier, I just kept realizing that this was working for me and I was doing well. Plus, I was enjoying myself! I was chasing opportunities and riding the wave, and the wave worked out pretty well.

What’s been the high point and the low point?

I’m more of a film skier than I am a competitive skier, so I’d say the high point, the glory days, were when I was filming with the Stept boys. We had a really solid group of people — some seriously influential skiers — and we were doing exactly what we wanted to do.

In terms of low point, I’ve been pretty fortunate in terms of not getting injured. But just seeing some of the guys who have been around forever getting dropped. I know there has to come a time when that happens, but it’s still scary to see. You’re on the chopping block — more than you know — so it’s important to keep creating content and staying healthy.

But personally, I’m very grateful to my sponsors. I’ve been super lucky to have sponsors who’ve helped me achieve everything I’ve done in my life.

Tell us about filming with TGR in Crested Butte this winter. The segment looks wild! What went into it?

I got word from my buddy Clayton Vila that TGR was looking to do a mountain segment at Crested Butte, and at that particular time I had a pretty open schedule, so I told him I was interested. I eventually got the green light.

I’m normally filming with a whole group of people, and there’s always someone to get after and find the next feature to hit. So this was different for me in that I was the only skier — it’s the only time that’s ever really happened in my career, so it was a lot more pressure than your typical trip where you have a group to spread the action around.

Sean Jordan showed us all a fresh take on skiing the big-mountain Mecca that is Crested Butte.

We went up to Crested Butte with an entire team — more people than I’ve ever worked with for one skier — and I actually went up four or five days early and sat in with the cat driver. We built a bunch of features all over the mountain, scattering jumps and jibs everywhere, eventually doing pretty much one shot per day.

Our focus was to make the shots super cinematic and beautiful, and in the process we hit some really cool features. Deep down, I was excited to have that pressure put on me and find out what I was capable of — it’s going to be a very unique segment.

Speaking of the Crested Butte segment, the Far Out trailer features a shot of you jibbing a lift-line cable. When you’re approaching a shot/feature like that, what considerations are you making?

So, for that shot, we basically showed up and the area around that particular cable was already kinda perfect. It had a hill going up to it, so we saw that we’d be able to get the shot done in a reasonable amount of time with the amount of snow that we had. That’s always important — because of the low-tide year, we couldn’t just build any jump we wanted anywhere on the mountain.

The area enabled us to get good shots of the feature and allowed for me to get on-and-off the cable in a pretty safe manner. What I like to do is look at the worst-case scenario. What happens if I totally botch this and everything goes wrong? Where will I end up after that?

There were some sketchy parts to that shot: If I came off the inside I would’ve hit the lift tower and bounced down from there. But that was the worst-case scenario, and I didn’t think it would actually happen. But if it did, I’d be able to survive that. That’s usually the first check mark. I like to consider myself a calculated skier — I’m not going to just throw myself off of anything.

Sure, it was risky, but that’s every feature. Every shot has that “what could happen?” component built into it. You just have to ask yourself if the action is going to be worth the potential consequences.

There's a new Sheriff in Town.

What’s been the hardest thing to recover from?

Some of the hardest things to get up from now are just the thoughts about the rest of my life.

When I was 15, 16, I had this fearless mentality that I’ll just do whatever I need to do to move forward. Now, I think a lot about what the rest of my life is going to be like. How are the decisions I’m making now going to impact me down the road? I definitely want to be able to walk for the rest of my life, and as I get older, I realize that every time I go out on my skis I could drastically hurt myself — for sure.

Like I said, I’ve lived a fortunate life. I haven’t had one of these tragic, drastic events that would set me back in skiing. But I’m realizing it’s not a forever sport and I want to make it last as long as I can. 

It’s riding that fine line of producing great content, getting cool and rad shit done, but also doing it in a smart way.  When I was at Crested Butte, I took a bad fall while shooting the road gap. We jumped over a road — had a helicopter flying — it was epic. But I took a tumble where I hyperextended my left leg. The entire leg was totally numb.

That was one of the first times in my life where I was like, “I finally did it.” I fucked up my entire leg. I’m not going to be able to walk. Full-blown panic. I’ve never freaked out like that in my life.

That was super scary, because I’ve never had one of those mega-injuries. It ended up being okay … but to this day, it does not feel the same. That episode really put some things into perspective. Right after it happened, I didn’t even think about skiing, I was thinking, “How am I going to walk?” It wasn’t like, “Oh no, my sponsors — my financial well-being,” it was, “Yo, can I walk on my own two feet?”

It was a crazy realization that there’s a lot riding on the decisions you make in life.