Having an underused powder board in your video call background when interviewing Jeremy Sladen feels like hanging up the guitar you played in your school grunge band before Google-Meeting Rick Ruben. Or lining your bookshelf with 35 copies of your self-published lockdown fantasy novel before chatting with JRR Tolkien via video Ouija board.
No matter how boringly practical the reasons are for it being there, it’s enough to hide it behind your office door before you meet Jeremy digitally face-to-face, just to dampen your raging imposter syndrome. Even more so when the calibre of his Zoom background is Hollywood grade.
“It’s an old Sims Snowboards poster from the first year I worked with the brand,” he says, when we ask about the A2 picture of the toothpick-like neon board Blu-Tacked to his wall. “It’s a double-sided poster, actually – on this side is the old Sims catalogue from ’87, and the other side is a full picture of Tom Sims riding in the opening credits of A View To A Kill, where James Bond is being chased down hill by skiers. No matter how many times I’ve moved offices, it’s always been on my wall.”
Jeremy Sladen has been there from the beginning. Back in the late 80s, when the UK snowboard industry was lucky to flog 50 boards in a year, he was a part of the micro-scene’s pioneers heading up to Scotland for long boozy dirtbag trips to Aviemore, or risking skin on the beloved/brutal dryslopes of England. He was the “clown” at the expo passionately peddling a snow product that nobody wanted, sleeping in his car on trips to sell hardware for brands no UK snow sports consumer had ever heard of.
Four decades later, and things ain’t what they used to be.
This year marks a double-headed landmark for Jeremy – a forever-pumped but somewhat elusive UK hero who has shaped our snowboarding culture from the metaphorical and literal back seat with his undeniable drive for sharing his passion. Not only is he celebrating a big anniversary with snowboarding personally – “Tomorrow is my fortieth anniversary with snowboarding,” Jeremy says. “It’s forty years to the day since I strapped in for the first time.” – but The Snowboard Asylum hits 35, too. And as top dog of our culture’s most important retail influence, we thought it a pretty good time for a big and brilliant chat about his journey to becoming one of the most respected behind-the-curtain faces in the UK scene, the secret formula to TSA’s long-standing success, giant FUCK YOUs to the doubters, and how Beck fits into the picture.
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Being involved with TSA since day one feels quite… disturbing. Thirty-five years? That’s scary.
There was always free rein on who put what on the store playlist. I definitely put my share of Beck on.
I tend to play around on YouTube when I’m bored. Last night I came across an old Sims Snowboards film from 1987 called This Is Snowboarding. It was one of the main reasons I walked away from earning decent money selling cars to chase a job in snowboarding. Yeah it’s cheesy, yeah it’s really old, but I still get the same feeling watching it all these years later.
I blagged my way into the industry. Back then, I did have a snowboard, but it was a bit shitty and I’d decided I wanted a good one – a Sims one. My girlfriend at the time came from a family that was big into skiing. For her final project at art college, she created a skiwear collection. So I found a company that distributed Sims in the UK, and pretended that we had a skiwear company and wanted to use a board for a photo shoot. The guy was keen! But he also said that he needed to find someone to actually sell the boards, and how did I fancy doing that. So we drove up to Scotland – my first trip – and I got the job.
Every sponsored rider in Britain has worked at TSA. I always felt it was important for riders to meet, see, and talk with the people that were basically paying for their free kit. As a consumer, you’re getting sold snowboards by the people you’re reading about in magazines. As a rider, it makes you more balanced and less of a dick.
That’s my guiding principle. To bring all the elements together within a store environment, and into one big melting pot of snowboarding so it can find its own level.
Selling stuff is not the number one job in what we do. It’s always been more of a “If you build it, they will come” scenario. The business comes from everyone just being stoked in that environment. People come in, and it’s something special. It’s a ceremony.
I’d been trying to convince Ellis Brigham to get into snowboarding for about a year or so. I had a good relationship with the store’s family, and they really got where snowboarding was coming from. This was back at a time when there was maybe only 50 snowboards sold a year in England. It’s probably why, when they gave me a bit of space at their London Ski Show stand in 1989 to sell boards, everyone there thought I was a clown. It was pretty much ten days of people muttering “fuck off, you’re ruining the slope” at me. Sold seven or eight boards, though. And that was enough to light the spark that inspired them to help set up TSA.
I’m starting to realise that everything I’m talking about seems to be around ’89-’90. That was the transition year. The year everything started. The time the scene started to build.
TSA exists to make every snowboarder have an amazing time. You can’t have an amazing time if you’re riding kit that’s too high-end or too advanced. We sell people the right kit for them, and that’s going to enhance their experience of snowboarding. It’s the experience of snowboarding that matters above anything else.
The reality is, if it was all about money, I wouldn’t be selling snowboards. From day one it’s been about community and doing things right.
The dryslope was everything. I don’t think I ever came across a dryslope that wasn’t filled with people who were unbelievably stoked to be there. It’s where you would meet everyone. It’s where we would try and sell boards, do demos, and get people into the sport. Everything in the UK snowboard scene was developed on dryslopes. It’s the bed rock for everything we’ve got today. Riding that matting is a rite of passage.
In terms of climate change? I get the sense that brands are aware of what’s coming, and are trying to do things to cater for it. What that is, I have no idea. It’s hard being a snowboard brand and coming up with an idea that mitigates the destruction of your core business. Yeah, we’re trying to do it by increasing our summer business, for example. But it’s a hell of a hard one for any brand with its business in snowboarding.
Jenny [Jones]’s medal changed it all. I don’t like the phrase “entering the mainstream”, but I’m trying to think of a way to describe what it achieved. It almost… it justified everything we’d done up until that point. All the hard work and belief we’d put into snowboarding. I guess that’s a selfish way to look at it. But after years of being told “what the hell are you doing, you left a good job to do this?!” and being a part of a team that helped bring home an Olympic medal, it justified it. It all made sense. It was a fuck you to all those “why are you doing this?” people from over the years.
You’ve got to remember that snowboarding at The Winter Olympics is the most-watched discipline there. But look at the end of a snowboard run, and how stoked everyone is for their fellow competitors. Everyone’s having a brilliant time. You’ve never seen anything like it at the highest level of competition. Now, I think that sense of congratulating each other’s successes is filtering into other elite sports. That shared experience for the good of snowboarding is something I think everyone can get stoked on.
Making sure snowboarding is controlled by snowboarders was one of the main drives behind buying The Reason magazine. To keep that voice in UK snowboarding out there.
I love watching the Helgasons. They’re so clearly riding with the same enthusiasm and passion that we had back in the 80s and 90s. They’re just a lot fucking better than we were.
I’m retiring in five years. I’ve been doing this a long time now. And I’m still doing it, because I want to give people the same experiences and feelings that I had, and that made me change the entire direction of my life.
Jeremy Sladen: A Résumé
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