The Soul of Snow Interviews: Michael Jager, JDK Design
Michael Jager is the Creative Director and President of JDK Design, based in Burlington, Vermont. For over 20 years his design studio has had a profound influence on snowboarding. Michael shares a few thoughts and recollections.
When did you start skiing?
When I was 4 or 5 years old, I was like, “I need to ski.” So my parents went to Ames department store and got me these horrible cable-binding, sketchy things. I would just do it over and over, trying to figure it out. All through high school, I was constantly thinking about it. And in my sketchbooks, I was constantly drawing skis, ski boots, graphics, designs, shapes. I was imagining ski boots with knees and hinges. So when I realized I was going to get into design and art, I was like, “Man, I’d love to do ski graphics someday. Album covers and ski graphics.”
Did you start snowboarding because of your involvement with Burton?
Snowboarding was something I got inside of through skateboarding. Once I was out of design school, I had a skate ramp in the woods behind my house. A young kid named Brian Reed came and asked if he could skate the ramp, which was cool, as skating is about friends and community. He was the person who brought up snowboarding, so we started riding together at Bolton every day and night that we could. It was interesting – as an extension of skating, snowboarding made the mountain totally new for me again. Snowboarding got me dreaming about mountains again. About a year later, we met Jake and his crew and the snowboarding world evolved for us from there.
Do you think the cultural difference between skiers and snowboarders is still relevant?
I do think there’s a fundamental cultural divide, but it’s just not as electric now. The sparks are gone. But there is a difference at the core; I call it “sideways culture.” Surf, snow and skate – it’s this sideways, against-the-grain-of-culture kind of thing. It’s very individualist. And once upon a time, skiing represented that. I saw that. I mean Stein Eriksen was a punk, really. He was a rebel character, very maverick. So is there a difference? Yes. But there are skiers and riders doing amazing things on mountains that people couldn’t even imagine ten years ago.
Has snowboarding impacted your work as a designer?
Absolutely. Very early on, we realized the importance of diversity and cross-fertilization. Design has to be built upon an understanding of the fabric of life. If you’re trying to attract someone to a snowboard, you have to realize that probably two months ago, they might have been in the Apple Store buying a new iPhone. Snowboarding itself has definitely had an impact on our work and a lot of areas beyond it. Snowboarding’s creative freedom was the threshold that opened minds to what was possible, graphically, on so many things – bikes, motorcycles, helmets, trucks, etc.
What role does riding play in your life now?
It’s huge. I have three kids and they all snowboard. It’s certainly transitioned to a place of being in nature; being on the mountains with the people you love is pretty damn cool. It’s different from the speed, the progression, the desire, which was the fuel for me for a long time. I like to ride fast and smooth and confident, and try to teach the kids good etiquette, but it’s mostly about celebrating being outside and hanging out. The connect and flow – I feel like I’ve imparted that to my kids. My oldest son, Eli – I can just rage with him anywhere and I know that I’ve embedded the ability in him to just pick a line and understand the relationship to a mountain. A lot of people get to experience riding or skiing, but very few get to do it enough to actually get connected to the mountain. It’s just like magic when you hit it. And to know that you’ve passed that on to a son or daughter, it’s a real accomplishment. You really connect to nature somehow. And unless you’ve ever gotten confident enough to connect with the equipment and the mountain, the weightlessness of snapping out of a turn – once you get it, you’ll never forget it. It’s so beautifully addictive. You’ve got to seize every moment of it that you can get.
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