The most famous Canadian snowboarder of all-time is also one of the country’s best advocates for cannabis legalization, making 49-year-old Ross Rebagliati, 1998 snowboarding gold medalist, a hero to many of us across the country and across the world.
“I knew cannabis was good and I knew legalization would come to pass if we stayed true to the plant, but I also knew that the end of prohibition would take forever and even the most entrenched activists in the late 80’s didn’t think recreational legalization would happen in our lifetime,” says Rebagliati, today a father of three and still shredding, a regular on the slopes of his adopted hometown of Kelowna, BC. “Weed turns the mundane into adventure and anger into compassion and introduces you to yourself. I truly believe knowing who you are is a valuable asset across the life spectrum.”
Back in the early 90’s, Rebagliati cut his teeth on the junior ski circuit, but soon came to identify with the outlaw nature—the unbridled freedom—of snowboarding. Being 15-years-old and rebellious, Rebagliati strapped on his board and describes learning to fly.
“I wanted to break free,” he says, and talks about wearing his clothes baggy and playing Nirvana on his walkman, loudly, and beginning to see the world in a new light, as a confident young man with an edge. “With skiing, I was really being groomed by coaches and parents and snowboarding just felt so differently—this was something just for me. Our riding styles became expressions of ourselves, our personalities. Floating through powder snow in a way skiers could only dream of (in those days) was and is an incredible experience.”
As Rebagliati advanced as a professional snowboarder, he also was introduced to cannabis. He says it was the extreme endurance athletes on the mountains who first exposed him to pot, and it made sense to him on a personal level as he found the plant less volatile than alcohol.
“No one knew much about weed back then except that it was illegal, but I found it more fun and less punishing than booze,” says Rebagliati, adding that his friends would go on 2-day treks in the backcountry of Whistler and ride in the trees on the weekend, when the tourists would come to their slopes. He was amazed at their creativity. And their humanity. He was home.
“I learned you could use cannabis and do high-intensity sport and maintain a level of sharpness,” he says. “Weed made me feel humble and helped me to connect better with my environment outdoors.”
The apex of Ross connecting with his environment outdoors occurred in Nagano, Japan, in 1988 at the Winter Olympics. Calling upon all of his powers, when the lights shined most, the snowboarder answered the call. He became the number one snowboarder in the world.
“It was epic, no-holds-barred—every turn a disaster waiting to happen,” says Rebagliati, awe still in his voice. “I couldn’t have gone any faster; it was exhilarating, unreal—I had been waiting for this moment my whole life.”
Now the stigma and stereotype is peeling away from cannabis, I’d like to think in the last 22 years I’ve done my share of work to be part of a healthy cannabis lifestyle.
Rebagliati says he had no intention of becoming a global cannabis superstar after his snowboarding 1988 Olympic gold medal. All through his training, he quit smoking weed even though cannabis wasn’t on the list of banned substances from the World Doping Agency. Ross wanted to compete for his country and show the world what he could do. Instead, he ended up becoming the most famous stoner in history. He tested positive for trace amounts of THC in his system. His medal was taken away the morning after his win.
“There was a moment at my hotel when I was by myself where I seriously considered pushing a hole in the ceiling, stashing my medal and escaping from Tokyo to Costa Rica, hiding in the jungle and surfing for the rest of my life,” says Rebagliati, who was 26 at the time and facing a huge media scandal on the opening day of the Olympic Games. Unprepared and scared, 24 hours after the highest highs, Rebagliati was facing a nervous breakdown. “I ended up losing my sponsors and becoming a stereotype and victim of stigma,” he says. “Even people I knew back in Whistler, suddenly didn’t know me anymore overnight.”
Ross did the best he could with the media attention, and even appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, while also having the International Olympic Committee overturn their judgment and give him back his gold medal win. He’s the first and only athlete in Olympic history ever to be reinstated for losing a medal in his sport. Still, the proceedings had been painful and today he acknowledges suffering from PTSD from the entire episode. After 9/11, he was on a no-fly list to the United States. There were many false starts into the cannabis industry. The years weren’t easy. Only now, as the CEO of his own cannabis company, Ross’s Gold, and becoming immersed in his newfound passion as a grower, is the snowboarding king acclimated to his role.
“Now the stigma and stereotype is peeling away from cannabis, I’d like to think in the last 22 years I’ve done my share of work to be part of a healthy cannabis lifestyle,” he says, and mentions he’s working on his line of Ross’s Gold gel caps, topicals, craft cannabis, edibles and the beloved horticulture of his own homegrown plants. “Weed connects you to the earth and all living things. It’s a plant and it grows out of the ground. I’m proud of the journey I’ve been on and the work I’ve done. The cannabis properties are even more beneficial to our health then we ever could've imagined.”