Danny Davis is many things: professional snowboarder, Olympian, two-time X Games gold medalist, co-founder of the annual Peace Park event, co-founder of The Frendly Gathering music festival, proud ambassador for both Protect Our Winters and Martin Guitar … the list goes on and on. Beyond all that though, he’s just a solid human being and has been universally hailed in recent years as not only one of the most influential riders in the sport, but as one of the best dudes in the industry, too.
At the tender age of 19, Davis who was born in Highland, Michigan—packed up his belongings and headed out west, eventually settling down in the Tahoe area (Truckee, to be exact), where he has called home for the last decade.
Now, on the verge of turning 30, Davis is attempting to make it to his second Winter Olympic Games as part of the USA men’s halfpipe team that will travel to Pyeongchang, South Korea, where competition starts on Feb. 9. As of press time, Davis had not yet secured his slot on the extremely hard to make four-man team, but with a couple of qualifying events still to happen, he was in a pretty good position.
In 2014 at the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, Davis finished 10th overall, and was the second best placing American halfpipe rider (poster child Shaun White finished fourth overall). And while competing in the Olympics is not what Davis calls the “be all end all” of snowboarding, he’s got a level-headed, humble outlook on the games.
“For me, I think what the Olympics is about is making the people who have supported me for so long proud,” Davis recently told Submerge during an interview. “That is where this effort all comes from—making my parents proud. They’ve really gone out of their way to make this career possible for me. Burton has really gone out of their way to make this thing possible for me. I think it’s really making those people proud and making them stoked.
“Because if I had it my way and nothing mattered,” Davis joked, “I’d probably just ride powder all season.”
In the following interview, Davis talks Olympics, music festivals and why he’s just trying to emulate surfing when he straps into his snowboard.
It looks like you had some pretty good runs at Copper Mountain a few weeks back, placing fifth, and the Dew Tour’s Breckenridge stop was just last weekend and you placed sixth there. How are you feeling gearing back up for these major competitions and Olympic qualifiers?
I feel pretty good. I still haven’t gotten a chance to really land the run that I feel would get me on some podiums. I’ve kind of been playing that game of landing a run, getting a run down, and then going from there. It’s been working. It’s been getting me in that fifth, sixth position at these contests. I don’t exactly know how the points work out for the Olympic team, but I know that I’m in an OK place. I need some good finishes in Aspen and in Mammoth, which are the last two qualifiers. I did take a good fall at the Copper contest. I bruised my tailbone really good. I got in good enough shape to ride in Breckenridge at the Dew Tour, and ended up OK there. But I’m looking forward to these next two. Then, really man, the contest’s that I love, you know, I love Dew Tour, I love X Games, I love the U.S. Open, so I’m really looking forward to those events as well. It’s gonna be a fun season, no matter what.
The competition to get on the U.S. men’s halfpipe team seems really stiff. Everyone’s gunning for it. Regardless if you end up in Pyeongchang or not, you’ve already competed in an Olympic Games before. What’s it like to be called an Olympian? Is that a trip?
It’s kind of a trip. You look at our sport, and it’s snowboarding, you know? At least from my side of things, I don’t spend a ton of time in the gym. I’m not like crazy about being as strong as possible. I do most of my training on the snow. I’m out splitboarding, I’m out riding, I’m out learning tricks, I’m out having fun. The fact that we can call ourselves Olympians, or have the opportunity to, is pretty cool. What’s really fun about it, at least in my world, is my family gets such a kick out of it. So it’s really fun, but I’m super thankful that snowboarding is what it is, in that the Olympics is not exactly the pinnacle of our sport.
How much importance do you place on making it to Pyeongchang versus, say, filming video parts with your friends or riding powder and doing some soul shredding? Is it really important to you?
I’ve been spending a lot of time in the halfpipe this fall and this past summer. For the effort put in, it would be great, it would feel like hard work paid off. Last year I did OK at contests. I wasn’t the guy to beat necessarily; I wasn’t landing on podiums. So to work my way back there, it’s been hard work. Doing well at contests in general is kind of the way that I see it, and if you do well at contests, you’re going to make that Olympic team. So it would be like hard work paid off, but, nothing compares to the days in the backcountry when you’re in chest-deep pow with your friends getting clips. That’s the stuff that we all dreamed about when we were 10 years old watching all the videos. It’s so hard to even compare the two, because the feeling is just so different. The last time around at the Olympics, what a great experience it was going to the opening ceremonies and meeting all the other athletes. Being a part of the whole thing was very cool. The snowboard competition side of it, was, you know, not the greatest competition we’ve ever had.
Yeah, the halfpipe in Sochi in 2014 looked so shitty. How much do you know about South Korea and the conditions out there? Do you think the riders are in for better conditions?
I think we are in for a better pipe. They’re going to take some more precautions and some more steps to make sure that pipe is good. That was definitely one bummer to Russia was just that everyone worked so hard to get there and to have a B-grade halfpipe was just sort of a bummer. But what’s cool about the Olympics is that it’s fun, man. You really feel like an American. You’re a part of an American team with other American riders. You know, I like to think of myself as a citizen of the world. I love the United States. I don’t know that there’s anywhere else I’d rather live. I think we have so much that we’re lucky for and so much that this country has to offer, from ocean, to desert, to mountains and lakes. It’s a very cool country just in the terrain that we have to offer. But there’s so many cool places in the world, man. Korea is definitely not the snowiest place on earth; it’s not somewhere that we go to shred. Japan is one of those Holy Grails of snowboarding, Switzerland is one of those Holy Grails of snowboarding, Austria, Canada, the United States. So it’s definitely always a little bit weird to see where they end up wanting to do the Olympics for the winter. I do know that last year at the test event [in South Korea] the pipe was very good. I think we’re in for a little bit better contest this time around.
Switching gears a bit, tell me a little more about Frendly Gathering, a multi-day grassroots music festival that you’re involved with.
Just like snowboarding did, it started as something that was fun. We started, like, a camping trip for our friends. We invited friends, family and fans to just come camp and jam out for a weekend. There was probably a little over 100 people the first time we did it. It was just mostly homies. The whole point was to get everyone together. It was a crazy season. It was the year that Kevin Pearce hit his head really hard and had a really bad injury. So, we hadn’t seen Kevin in a long time, Scotty Lago went to the Olympics and won bronze, Luke and Jack [Mitrani] were doing their thing. I had broken my back. So it was just kind of an event to get everyone back together for a camping trip and just to high five and jam out and spend a couple days together, because we hadn’t seen each other in a while and everyone got spread out for a little bit. So we had the Frends Crew there, and that was really the beginning.
The next year, we took it a little bit further; we did a snowboard event at Mammoth and invited, again, friends, family and fans to come not only compete in the event, but come and camp with us. From there we were like, “Dude, let’s bring some music in.” So we brought like a Led Zeppelin cover band, we brought one of our friends who played music at the time to perform. That was the beginning. There were two bands at that second one. That summer, a friend of ours called us and he was like, “Hey man, you guys should do one of your Frendly Gathering’s at my dad’s property.” His dad owns this old ski resort that’s probably 50, 60, maybe 100 acres. So we got 12 bands together and invited everyone to come again and just camp and jam out and listen to music. Just see each other, you know? All our friends from the East Coast, we wanted to see all of them and we were doing these first two on the West Coast. It was like, “Alright let’s do one on the East Coast now and try and make this something great.”
Do you think the festival will ever make its way back out west?
Heck yeah. The plan was always to do an East Coast and a West Coast, then hopefully expand from there, going around the world and doing more music festivals and stuff like that. I think all of our ambitions were bigger than the possibilities. We’ve done it in Vermont now for six or seven years and now it’s grown to like 4,000 to or 5,000 people, and it’s 30-something bands over a weekend. It’s a lot of work.
To wrap things up, just briefly, what’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about snowboarding?
Oh, turns man! Surfing, you know, what we’re doing is we’re surfing on the snow. Every time I go snowboarding, a lot of times, especially when the snow is deep and killer, I’m just trying to imitate what I would do on a surfboard. I would love to be a good surfer. That’s where all this stems from, where skateboarding stems from, where snowboarding stems from. I think that’s what I picture most when I’m doing deep pow turns.
That’s funny because here I am talking to an Olympian who can do all these crazy flips and tricks that most people can’t even wrap their head around, but at the end of the day, even for you, it’s just all about the art of carving, just turning a snowboard.
Snowboarding is one of those things that is like the endless pursuit of perfection. You’ll never be the best snowboarder there ever is, because there is always something to explore more in snowboarding. There’s always new places to go, new mountains to ride, new things to learn. You’ve never learned every trick, you’ve never perfected everything. It’s just about waking up and getting stoked on learning something new and doing some good ol’ turns, man.
Follow along as Danny Davis tries to make it to his second Olympic Games over the coming weeks. Find him online at Facebook.com/officialdannydavis, Twitter.com/theddeadshow, Instagram.com/travelindan or Dannydavis.com. You can also catch Davis competing in the upcoming X Games, happening Jan. 25–28, 2018 in Aspen. Visit Xgames.espn.com for more info on when and where to watch.
**This interview first appeared in print on pages 28 – 29 of issue #257 (Jan. 15 – 29, 2018)**