Words by Sam Haddad
Snowboarding has always had a youth fetish. This made sense in the 1980s when it grew from its rebel roots as a super-rad alternative to skiing, yet almost 40 years later board graphics and the broader scene still seem intent on targeting teenage boys, or at the very least celebrating notional ones.
This youth-obsession has been amplified in recent years with the rise of the super grom, often showcased in viral video edits of ever-younger kids slaying their local park or snow dome. Don’t get me wrong, these clips are almost always impressive, but the most inspiring snowboarder I’ve encountered in a long time wasn’t a 17-month old ripper but a 70-something pensioner called Donald Whishaw.
Whishaw had his first lesson last year aged 73 with Tammy Esten from the popular snowboard school Mint in Morzine. I ask what made him want to start snowboarding while in his 70s? He says: “My older son started kiteboarding and it raised my interest. I thought: ‘I wonder if I could do that on snow’. So about eight years ago I bought a snowboard and some boots on eBay. We tend to drive [when we go] skiing so we can take the extra kit, but I didn’t use it much for six years.”
Perhaps due to what had happened the one time he did go out, with his wife skiing beside him. He says: “I’d gone down about 200 yards with my legs burning and leant against a fence, which I thought would support me but it didn’t. I went underneath it and fell about the height of a house, but luckily I wasn’t hurt at all. [Though] it took me about an hour and a half to get out.”
Was his wife worried? He laughs: “No she was looking down from the top, rather bored.”