Joe Schwartz Interview
How do you follow up life as a pro athlete? When your first act is so sweet the idea of a 9 to 5 is pretty tough to swallow. It appears that Joe Schwartz has it figured out.
You don’t know Joe Schwartz? Let me get you up to speed. Joe competed in Red Bull Rampage three times (and judged last year), rode in NWD 1-5, as well as Drop In and on Ride Guide and he’s still seen on magazine covers worldwide. Joe is legit.
Joe and I did this interview last year and then it got hung up. Fortunately what we talked about still applies. Joe has become a big city boy after being born and raised in Nelson B.C. Having him in town was a great excuse to get out for a ride and take some photos. Last year at this time we couldn’t get up high on the mountain so we did some low elevation laps. This year all the trails are wide open and the winter riding has been epic.
What can Joe teach you? He’s carved out a life that involves getting paid to ride and ski for most of the year. He’s a guide for Big Mountain Adventures as well as a coach at Summer Gravity Camps in Whistler and at his own camp in Calgary in the summer. Come winter he’s leading paying customers at heli and cat ski operations around B.C. – but not this winter. He’s paying some dues and doing some learning – as you’ll see.
February in Vancouver? Let’s ride!
nsmb – How did you manage to become a sponsored freerider back in the days when there were very few sponsored riders who weren’t racers?
Joe Schwartz – I was lucky enough to be there in the beginning of the “freeride movement”. Companies were looking to pick up riders, and there were film makers documenting the movement. A classic case of right time, right place. I impressed the right people, I suppose.
nsmb – How long did you ride for Kona Joe?
Well, I still ride for Kona, going on 8 years now. I was a Clump Team rider for 4 years.
The Dempsey climb is nasty – but Joe has skills on the way up as well.
nsmb – Were you sponsored before Kona as well?
Joe – No bike sponsor, but I was supported by NRG Enterprises, who remain a loyal sponsor to this day.
Those of us who aren’t sponsored imagine it’s all free bikes and great trips. What sort of things do you remember about being a pro? Both the highs and the lows?
Joe – The free bikes and great trips are pretty sweet! Haha. Basically the chance to explore amazing countries and cultures with my friends and my bicycle, that was the highlight for sure. Injuries and pressure to produce film segments were sometimes hard to deal with though. All in all, the years I rode professionally were some of the best ever. Pretty carefree times.
I’m not sure I know of anyone who has the outdoor life more dialled than Schwartzy.
You have certainly landed on your feet now. How was the transition from being a sponsored rider to becoming a regular – er – Joe?
It was definitely hard to turn away from all those film trips and quasi rockstar lifestyle. But I am a pretty laidback, mellow person, so my life these days suits me better. I found as soon as the contracts stopped, I became way more motivated to make things happen, to create a niche for myself. I feel so much more productive now than I did when I was a Factory rider.
How do you make a living these days? (maybe this is where you could give me a sort of calendar year snapshot of what you might be doing and where over the course of a year)
I am looking down the barrel of a packed winter schedule right now, as I am a certified backcountry ski guide. I will be working all over BC for different snowcat, heli, and ski touring lodges. I am still very involved in the mountain bike industry. I coach bike camps all over (look for me this season with Endless Biking and Summer Gravity camps). I am also a senior guide with Big Mountain Bike Adventures. I guide DH trips in Switzerland every summer, as well as trips in the Kootenays. I am very involved with my sponsors, doing R&D work, consulting, and general promotions.
Skinnies may be out of fashion but I appreciate a rider with old school skills.
You are still riding Konas. What bikes have you the most stoked right now?
That depends on my mood. I am a bit of a bike slut, so I love them all. I put the beat down to my CoilAir with the Magic Link this summer, putting 300,000 vertical feet of descending on that bike in 33 days in Switzerland, and many, many singletrack adventures here in BC. So I am most impressed with that bike right now, as it is still going strong. I am the most stoked on adding a sweet city cruiser to my quiver right now, hopefully this spring!
Do you still have a role with Kona?
Interesting you should ask. I am in the middle of working out a new deal with Kona. I am not going to let it all out of the bag, but it will involve big mountains, wild adventures and a piece of the dream every true mountain biker is chasing.
Getting set up for a deceptively tricky move on Lower Digger.
You’ve been hanging out on the North Shore lately. How have you been enjoying fall riding and living in the city?
I am loving it here. Loving it. I live in Strathcona (East Van represent), it’s so perfect. Close to the heart of the city, but easy to escape to the mountains. It is all a slightly different pace from the Kootenays, but oddly, I feel right at home.
Any trails or mountains that have really lit your fire?
Cypress shuttles have been fun, our Thursday industry meetings/rides are great too. The best has been following Wade on our numerous adventure rides all fall. He has pretty much made my fall the best riding season ever. Thanks buddy! Oh, I can’t tell you what we rode, I have been sworn to secrecy.
Joe making it look easy.
How long have you been coaching Summer Gravity Camps? How do you like that experience?
I have been with Summer Gravity Camps for 5 years now. I love the camps. Hanging in Whistler, shredding every day, spending time with uber-stoked campers, and super solid coaches. I have had the chance to see some of my campers grow up and become very talented riders, some of whom coach with us now. Makes me feel slightly old.
You’ve ridden all over the world with Big Mountain. If you had to pick one ride as a favourite where would it be – and tell us a little about why that’s your first choice. What bike you’d ride, – maybe even who you’d like to have along.
Oh man, there are so many all time rides I have done with Big Mountain. My favourite would be one of the many DH epics in Switzerland, with my brothers Pete and Evan. I would ride my CoilAir, with fresh rubber and new grips, and we would end the day with a BBQ and beers at La Vallee hotel in Lourtier. Also, fresh pain au chocolates would be crucial mid-descent.
There are some corners here on the North Shore but don’t tell anybody.
How has your experience of riding changed now that you aren’t being filmed and photographed as much?
It definitely has. Filming pushed my riding to levels that I don’t aspire to these days, and I miss the rush of stomping something really large and scary. These days I am more in it for the experience. I take the time to appreciate everything associated with the ride. The people you are spending time with, the views, all the other things you may overlook when getting rad is the main objective.
I don’t know many current or former pros who are also readers. What are you reading these days?
My favourite book recently is Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. I just finished Fast Food Nation, which was pretty eye-opening, and I am starting Blink, by Malcom Gladwell. I am not ashamed to admit I am a total bookworm.
This coaster on Lower Crippler is currently being rebuilt – but it was still functional this time last year.
Obviously the industry has changed a lot since you got into the game. Do you think we’re going in the right direction?
I think the industry is getting pulled in a lot of random directions right now, which kind of dilutes our overall product of mountain cycling. That said, any hype in the industry is great, especially if it gets outsiders interested and involved with our amazing sport. I am excited to be involved with the industry these days, a lot of good things are happening.
Do you think the pre-occupation with slope style and dirt jumping is good for mountain biking?
In the end, any publicity is good publicity. We have to keep the mountain in mountain biking though.
Taking it home at speed.
You are a Kootenay boy. I haven’t ridden much up there for some time. How is the scene and how are the trails these days?
Uhhhh, nothing going on there. Don’t bother, really. There’s just logging roads to ride on.
Haha, no, the scene is alive and well there, so many new trails getting built and fun people to ride them with. The Nelson Cycling Club is doing a great job in Nelson, and there are so many great micro-scenes all through the Kootenays.
Now that 2010 has rolled around do you have any updates?
Had a great summer, highlights were photo trips to Bolivia and Iceland, as well as my regular coaching and guiding.
Experiencing some Swiss Bliss. Joe guides in Switzerland for Big Mountain in the summers.
Carried the torch in Nelson on Jan 23rd, the first Canadian to do so on a freeride mtn bike. It was an amazing experience. I am currently in the Marketing Management program at the BCIT School of Business, which is full on, but I am learning a lot. Guiding on my breaks. This Olympic break I am going back to the Kootenays to get my powder fix in. Plans for the summer: working with Kona promoting the Magic Link bikes, planning a big adventure trip in June, and then a lot of coaching (Summer Gravity and the Joe Schwartz Freeride Camp July 5-9 in Calgary). Going back to Switzerland to guide two dh trips for Big Mountain.
For Joe carrying the Olympic torch on January 23rd was ‘an amazing experience.’
Any last words or shout outs?
Big ups to my faithful sponsors: Kona, Smith, Sombrio, NRG Enterprises, Chromag and Bell. Also to my new big city friends for showing me around. And especially Rachel.
Anyone want to trade lives with Joe? Got any ideas for him to make things even sweeter? Want to check out a video of Joe riding in Bolivia? Mail it in here…