With just one run left on the men’s marquee snowboarding halfpipe event at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and down by one seemingly insurmountable point to Japan’s Ayumu Hirano, Shaun White says he was ready.

“You have to wait in between runs, so I’m waiting for the last guy and I’m amped up,” a jet-lagged yet ebullient White told Pollstar, just home after the long but jubilant flight from the Far East. “I said, I know I got it. I felt it, I believed it, I just had to do it,” White recalled of the moments leading up to his final run, saying it felt like an eternity.

No longer the lanky, teenaged “Flying Tomato” with the flowing red locks but with a sleeker look and revamped determination, White, with a perfect score in qualifying rounds leading up to the Games, was on a mission to win his third Gold medal in the men’s halfpipe event after a disappointing fourth-place finish at the Sochi Games in 2014.

He freely admits it is a bit of a “redemption story” and that the pressure was intense.  It also came just months after a devastating fall during practice in New Zealand in October that required 62 stitches to his face and led to days in the ICU after his lungs filled with blood.

“I’m waiting and waiting, standing at the top, just one run to go!” Time seemed to stop as the flags along the pipe showed absolutely zero wind and the crowd provided only “dead silence.” After “snapping out of the daydream” of the surreal moment and finishing his gravity-defying run, he erupted, knowing in his heart he had pulled it off – including landing two impossible and flawless 1440s (four revolutions, twice) a routine that hadn’t been seen by the judges or even White’s team.

With a score of 97.75 the endless practices, time and effort was rewarded and the pressure and build-up relieved. “I was just beside myself, my whole family was there, my girlfriend Sarah [Barthel, of the band Phantogram], the Air + Style team was there, and it was such a special moment,” White said, trying to put into words what the whole world saw live: a man clearly moved who in triumph threw his board into the air, dropped to his knees and wept in absolute catharsis.


Photo: Sam Mellish / In Pictures via Getty Images

Shaun White - Shaun White embraces friend Shaun Murdock after winning his third Gold for the United States in the men’s Halfpipe snowboarding event.

The 31-year-old, at an age that otherwise may be considered somewhat over the hill for a snowboarder, was atop the world despite a grueling schedule, nonstop and sometimes aggressive media, long flights and – yes – he also has a music festival to oversee. 

White’s homecoming continues with his Air + Style Festival, which combines his twin passions for music and sports March 3-4 at Exposition Park outside the Memorial Coliseum in downtown Los Angeles.

The event, which began in 1993 as a European snowboarding competition – and which White won twice in the early 2000s –  allows him to essentially throw a big snow jam (“what a fun job, right?”) and provides what he called “proud dad” moments when he sees thousands of fans and his favorite musicians enjoying themselves. 

But it’s work. White is fully on-duty during the event, handling early morning press calls, meet and greets during the fest and solving crises such as “Oh no, Miley Cyrus needs somewhere to park her party bus!”

Music has been a part of White’s DNA since he was a Led Zeppelin fanatic growing up in San Diego. Today, music is with him everywhere all the time: He carries a Gibson acoustic travel guitar, and is always listening to his Beats Studio 3 wireless headphones. His tastes run the gamut.

 In an appearance last year on “Echo Chamber,” Mike D’s Beats 1 Radio show, White went toe-to-toe with the Beastie Boy playing eclectic and deep cuts by newer acts like Cults (“Always and Forever”), Big Grams, Phantogram and Big Boi’s collaboration, (“Fell In the Sun”) and Flume and Vince Staples (“Smoke and Retribution”); as well as classic tracks like Redbone’s “Come And Get Your Love,”  The Stone Poneys’ (featuring Linda Ronstadt) “Different Drum” and ELO’s “Showdown.”

While Air + Style is clearly a labor of love, “Financially it’s probably the biggest risk I’ve taken in a long time,” White says, having purchased a majority stake in the event in 2014 for an undisclosed sum. “It’s such a huge thing to have my name associated with the event. I really put my own money behind it, and festivals are not cheap.”

He’s involved in everything from the lineup to logistics, with an emphasis on the fan-friendly elements that can make or break the experience like parking, bathrooms and concessions. As a fan, White says he was inspired while attending Coachella and simply thought, “Why don’t I do that? My own version of it at least,” he said, joking that the epiphany wasn’t quite an “enlightenment” but got the ball rolling. 


Photo: Timothy Norris / Getty Images

Air + Style - Last year’s Air + Style festival, also at Exposition Park in Los Angeles, featured Major Lazer, Flume, Atmosphere, Vince Staples and others Feb. 18-19.

White also has his mittens in many other pots: This includes fashion lines (for major retailers like Macy’s and Target); investments (in businesses such as Sweetgreen, Beyond Meat, Casper mattresses, Califia Farms and Dirty Lemon), endorsement deals with Beats by Dre and Burton among others; and until recently a stake in Mammoth Mountain Resorts (which was sold). White’s also had a number of high-profile advertisements including being featured in a wild NBC Super Bowl spot to the tune of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man.” (White is repped by UTA partner and head of talent Chris Hart).

But when you throw in a little ordeal known as the Olympics just weeks before the festival into the mix, one understands why the snowboarder-entrepreneur this year relied heavily on his team for Air + Style. This includes his day-to-day, multi-hat-wearing manager Molly Scott, strategic marketing and communications pro Shelby Meade, and the Black Widow Group which handled production and layout.

“It was so great to not have to stress about it,” White said. “The team is seasoned, everybody knows their roles, and can push the buttons and make it happen. Every time it just gets better and better.”

Scott, whose experience includes 12 years with the X-Games (where White became a household name), rose from independent contractor on the first U.S. event to now managing White full-time and overseeing Air + Style.

“For me, when I got involved, hearing from him and understanding his vision is what got me excited about the project,” Scott said. White’s goal was to enhance the music and other lifestyle elements and bring it to the U.S. “It was really bringing all that to the city – the mountains, the snow, the skate – and having more of a music, art and lifestyle presence at the festival.”

Some of this year’s attractions include a street-style competition with an urban terrain designed by Big Bear Mountain resort, which is also presenting a “Learn To Ride” activation for festivalgoers.  Also new, a skateboarding competition with some of the top athletes (including Nora Vasconcellos, Greyson Fletcher, Lizzie Armanto and Tom Schaar) in the field, and a whole dynamic food program with LA dining staples (including LocoL, Beyond Burgers, Chego, Pizzanista).

While the idea of a festival combining music with extreme sports is not new, Air + Style appears to be a different flavor, with the star power of an Olympic Gold medalist and a fresh take on the format.

“There does seem to be a passing of the torch,” noted Andrew Hampp, VP-brand strategist at music sponsorship and experiential agency MAC Presents. “The action sports market seemed to peak in the aughts with properties like the Dew Tour, the ESPN X-Games, Red Bull Pro Nationals, Converse’s partnership with Thrasher and the Vans Warped Tour. But many of those events have posted declining attendance in recent years or have folded altogether, including the Warped Tour later this year – this seems like an opportunity to reinvigorate the format.”

Meanwhile, Air + Style continues to grow, with plans to expand to other countries. “We’re exploring opportunities in Asia, Europe and other markets that find the integration of sports and music really appealing,” Scott says, adding that in August Air + Style will launch in the heart of Sydney.

Another possible expansion market, Japan, will premiere skateboarding as Olympic events for the first time in 2020, which he says he is considering competing in. However, he has refrained from competing at Air + Style.  “What if I win my own event?” he says, laughing, later adding, “Wait a minute, what if I lose my own event? Maybe that’s even worse!”

A Gold medal win for Air + Style in LA, White says, would be to crush last year’s attendance, which Scott says was more than 40,000 over two days ($149 for a two-day pass would generate roughly $3 million gross revenue). “Just being able to continue doing this is a huge win for us,” White says, proud of putting on a successful independent event in a tough market.


Photo: Gabe L’Heureux

Shaun White - Teamwork: Key members of White’s current projects include communications strategist Shelby Meade (pictured), along with manager Molly Scott, Air + Style manager Franki Teevan, festival director Emily Ockenden with Black Widow Group and Saskia Schnorrenberger, global operations. 

This year’s eclectic music lineup is topped by Phoenix, Zedd and Gucci Mane, with the bill filled out by others including Cashmere Cat, Cut Copy, Phantogram, DRAM, and GRiZ.

Coalition Entertainment’s Pete Gross, talent buyer for this year’s music lineup, said he’s “super stoked” by the lineup but booking for LA on the cusp of festival season is tricky.

“It’s one of the most competitive if not the most competitive buying market in the U.S.,” Gross said. “Outside of the traditional things you have like Coachella, which is a month out and with its huge radius clauses, and the other Goldenvoice festival FYF, there’s also a ton of hip-hop events.”

White also noted the difficulty of being in LA, especially in between Grammy and Oscars season. He mentioned being particularly excited to see Gucci Mane, and gave a shout-out to his girlfriend’s band, Phantogram.

Black Widow Group, led by CEO Leo Nitzberg who spent time at Goldenvoice and which produces events including Cal Jam 2017, says it’s a privilege to handle Air + Style, which “is deeply rooted in the snow community but offers so much more than typical action sports events.” 

“Shaun and Molly’s passion for music, snow and skate culture, the arts, education and community permeates Air + Style,” Nitzberg said. “Through their vision, we’ve been able to sculpt an experience that transcends generation.  We offer a ‘learn to ride’ experience where kids can learn to snowboard in the middle of LA. Molly emphasizes the importance of art, education and discovery to our brand partners so that companies like Hansen’s have offered us the ability to highlight world-renowned artists and also give patrons the ability to create a piece of art they can take with them.”

But the combination of sports and music isn’t just for fans. “A lot of our artists skate and snowboard and it inspires them and leads to amazing experiences,” Scott said. She noted that Shaun and rapper YG snowboarded together last year. Snowboard enthusiast and electronic music star Steve Aoki has also had moments at Air + Style. And even Portugal. The Man, which played the first LA iteration of the festival, are snowboarders and Shaun fans. 

Meade, now with her own marketing and communications strategies firm Hello Shelby and extensive music and lifestyle experience including as head of communications at C3 Presents and founding Fresh & Clean Media, noted that White himself is always ready for the unexpected and never shies away from the big moment, which filters through to the rest of the team.

“We’re doing a lot of stuff at a high level, but we’re having fun and creating experiences that are different from your average festival,” she said. “And this will continue to evolve with someone like Shaun who is always up for the challenge.”