By Drew Stevenson
It ends where it all started. Right here in Davos. In 1996 a quiet, shy, pimple pocked, braces wearing DJ, Skate, Snowboarder punk won his first major title only meters from where this piece is being penned. It was a Swiss Championships. And his name was Gian Simmen. To celebrate the man, and his last official contest here at the O’Neill Evolution, Gian has organized a ‘Legends Session’ – and legendary it will be.
Normally, I would be writing this as an O’Neill press release. But I couldn’t do it that way this time. Not considering who it is, and not considering why… Talking about Gian makes me smile. You see, I met Gian in the back of a bus as the Ballantines Urban Air event in Vallencia, Spain, back in 1996. Rarely had I ever met such a shy and introverted person, sitting alone with himself, massive earphones wrapping his head, where all attempts to motivate him were acknowledged by a shy, braces filled grimace that merely confirmed my belief he didn’t understand a single word I’d just spoken. Later I’d the chance to see him ride – not bad, but not exceptional. Only a couple of month’s later, Gian won the first Halfpipe Olympic gold medal in Nagano in 1998… and I couldn’t help but think, “Great. The kid doesn’t talk at all… What an outstanding spokesperson for snowboarding we’ve just created.” I’m not scared to say that many people in the know – thought exactly the same thing.
Whereas, being unceremoniously thrown into the unforgiving mainstream media spotlight, especially in snow sports crazy Switzerland, may have seen a lesser person melt under the pressure, it was not the case with Gian. Instead, he matured in a heartbeat, and has gone on to be one of the most amazing ambassadors the sport has ever produced. Hands down. Anyone who has had the chance to meet and speak with the man knows that Gian developed into a highly intelligent, respectful and dedicated protagonist for snowboarding – equally approachable by a young fan with pen and poster searching for a signature, or being interviewed live in a news studio. Gian has tirelessly worked for the benefit of snowboarding at it’s core, the Swiss scene if not the sport in general is better off because of his heart, energy and passion.
On Saturday afternoon here at the O’Neill Evolution in Davos, a location steeped in the history of the sport its self, Gian has called a ‘Legends Session’ inviting one of the craziest lists of the sport’s past to join him for his Testimonial fair well as he celebrates his last competitive outing. Some of the riders who have confirmed they will be showing up, and in most cases, dropping into the halfpipe session starting at 3pm are:
It’s a non-surprising congregation of Europe’s Snowboarding Royalty making the commitment to re-visit the resort of Davos, close to the heart of all of us who have been part of the fabric of this beautiful garment called snowboarding, in celebrating the man, the myth and the legend called Gian Simmen. While it has been quite an emotional ride to set up this session, true to who he is, I asked Gian if he wanted to communicate the ‘Legends Session’ as his swansong or his Testimonial. He and he replied simply as he always does, “It’s a session for all of the Legends, it has nothing to do with me.” Personally, I disagree…
As you will see by the photo’s associated with this article, swan song or not, Gian is not going out with a whimper. Not only has he been blasting the pipe all week in training, going almost a meter higher than any other rider, but there is more than an outside chance he could take the Men’s Halfpipe title on Thursday night. However, win, podium or lose… Gian will graciously leave the competitive side of the sport for good following his result, but one would hope not the sport in general.
If a Testimonial is a testament to a person’s worth, then, the ‘Legends Session’ is shaping up to be a fitting send off and thank you for everything that this true icon and gentleman of the sport has contributed to all of us over all these 23-years of his involvement…
…and where more fitting than here in Davos where it all started…
Thanks – for everything – Gian.