I first met SK through Russell Winfield. Russ connected us and said, “If you want to find the passionate guy who goes all out and spreads the right vibe, check out SK.” Soon enough we were in contact sharing stories about progression and his ways to give back and inspire the youth in the New Brunswick area. Knowing that Big Snow American Dream was beginning to blow up, he became the perfect addition to 686. Every rider and group that would roll through Big Snow gravitated to the infectious energy SK radiates and always reported back simply, “SK is the man.” He just brings his hype and energy to every encounter. “Keep inspiring people to get into the mountains though your instructions and flavor SK, we are hyped to have you as part of what we are doing bringing the energy."
– Patrick McCarthy, 686 Snow Segment Manager
Interview by: Patrick McCarthy
Patrick McCarthy: How we doing SK?
SK: We doing great Mr. Sarge.
OK here we go. What's your name? And where do you live at?
So, my name is Robert. All my friends call me SK and I am from New Brunswick, New Jersey.
Ok. Can you explain how you fell in love with snowboarding? It all like kind of stemmed from Big Snow American Dream, right?
Tell me a little bit about Big Snow and what's going on with that.
Okay, so Big Snow… A lot of people may not know what Big Snow is. Just like me, I didn't know what Big Snow was, but… Big Snow happens to be an indoor ski slope, and it happens to be the only one in North America and it's right here in New Jersey where I'm from. It's a… How can I say this? It's like a gym to me, you know.
I started back in December 2019 when they first opened. I was just on Instagram, and I saw a friend of mine and that was there at Big Snow. I looked at his videos and I thought, “That's pretty cool, I want to try it.” So, I got my brother and my little cousin all together and we went up there for the first time. When I walked into Big Snow, it was like a kid walking into a big candy store. I just lit up from ear to ear and I was just like amazed on how they have snow indoors ‘cuz where I'm from there is no snow indoors. We barely have snow out here, so walking into this place with snow indoor was very shocking to me.
I got there and I basically went to the bunny hill. I didn't know it was a bunny hill at the time, but I pulled up to the bunny hill and I went down for the first time – just a couple turns. But there was something telling me that you need to go to the top, you need to go to the top. So, I'm looking at the top from the bottom like, “Wow, that's pretty big. I’ve never snowboarded before… Let’s give it a try.” So, I go up to the top with my brother and my cousin. Of course, they wanted me to be the first one to go down. Once I strapped in and looked down the hill I said, “Let's do it.” I didn't know how to stop my board or anything, so I just fell on my behind. Once I went down the hill for the first time, that’s when I knew that I was meant to be a snowboarder.
And how long from that experience was it until you were instructing snowboarding up there?
I started snowboarding in 2019-ish, just a couple days after they opened up. I went every single day until I pretty much didn’t have any more money (SK Chuckles). I was talking to one of the workers there who goes by the name Doug (SK exclaims, “Shout out to Doug”). I asked him, “Are you guys hiring?” He's like, “Yeah sure, you know just go on the website and look for the position that you want.” I never got the chance to apply because Covid shut the world down in March 2019.
I was definitely disappointed. I had just started snowboarding, literally, and then I’m like, “Wow, now I can’t go anywhere to snowboard.” But come September, when everything was able to open back up, I found myself sending out an application and I became a snowboard instructor. In the beginning, I didn't know if I was good or not. I had just started snowboarding, but Doug was telling me like, “Don't worry about it. You got this. I’ve watched you snowboard for a while, you'll be able to do it.” I took on the job around, December and now I’m an instructor and It's a great feeling. It's a very great feeling.
Do you find it quite rewarding to teach kids and interact with the youth? I know that you're you are a father, so that gives you a little bit of an upper advantage - I understand that side of it. But do you find that teaching is part of your calling?
Absolutely. One hundred percent. I honestly wanted to go inside of Big Snow, just to be a janitor. Honestly. I just wanted to be a janitor so I could snowboard for free. It turned out even better than I thought it would be.
How important to you is progression? Watching you snowboard over the last year or two, it seems like you're constantly pushing yourself and learning new tricks and trying new tricks and trying to emulate what you see in the videos. How important is your personal progression to you?
It's very important because without any progression on my end, I wouldn't be able to teach the kids that are coming up after me. So, I go out there and I try everything that I can try to be able to bring it back to teach a kid or an adult.
Yeah, I see you taking time to give back a lot. Like sometimes, we’ll lace you up with some of our warranty product and you always find special ways to give back to people and help Inspire them too, right?
Absolutely. It's not one of those things where you just wake up and say, “Okay, today I'm going to give five outfits away.” It comes just from watching people and paying close attention to the new snowboarders that have found Big Snow as well. It's very rewarding to sit there and watch them give it all they got. And then I come along, I not only give them some tips, but I ride with them. I show them how to do certain things that I know that they want to do. And then the best part is sometimes if they need it, I give them a 686 hoodie or 686 pants and that just makes it even more amazing because they’re excited. They came to snowboard, but they didn't think that they would walk away with a mini-lesson and some new merch.
Love it, love it. And then also I've been watching you “pass the craft.” I've been noticing lately that you've been sharing your passion and your love for snowboarding with your daughter as well. Can tell me a little bit about that.
You know, she's a girl. She's also a dancer. So I just said to myself, “Well, if I can do it, let's see if she can try it.” I didn't want to force her to snowboard, I just brought it to her attention and I said, “Hey, would you like to go snowboarding?” She’s like, “Yeah. Sure.” From the moment she stepped on a board, it’s been an amazing father and daughter duo thing. Not only did we both start, you know, at the same place learning how to ride, but we both were blessed with 686. I don't know if people understand how it is, you know, coming up in the snowboard industry and not having much snowboard gear to really be able to snowboard, but it’s been a blessing for us to be able to get ahold of stuff.
What we've done over the last couple of months was practice at Big Snow, and we finally made it to our first mountain this past weekend. She blew my mind. She went from top to bottom with maybe three falls, for her first time. That right there just made my heart so happy because snowboarding at a mountain - I do that a lot by myself or with my friends, but to have my daughter with me, for the first time ever. She gets to share the same goals, the same views and the same snowboarding as I do.
Oh, that's so cool. I want to switch gears a little bit and ask you, one of the ways that I got in contact with you was through a mutual friend of ours, Russell Winfield, who's a big inspiration, you know. He’s the Jackie Robinson a snowboarding. He's absolute legend in the sport. I'd like to have you explain how you met Russ and what motivations and Inspirations you pull from Russell Winfield?
I was able to meet OG Russ… Well, I wasn't able to meet him, but I was able to get in contact with OG Russ…
I got a text message from a friend of mine, “Snowboarder Mag just hit me, and they would like to post our picture in their magazine,” and I'm like, “Whoa.” I couldn't believe it. So, I ended up hitting snowboard mag back and I gave them a couple of pictures and they told me that my picture would be featured in the magazine. So, once the magazine did drop, I was able to get my hands on it and I found Mr. Russ on the cover. Me being new to snowboarding, I wanted to do my homework. I really didn't know who everybody was in the snowboard industry. I did some homework on Russ and I found his Instagram page and I reached out to him and thanked him for being the leader of snowboarding in our culture and told him that I wanted to one day start a program for kids on on my end and in my city. It was from that moment of me speaking with him and him replying back to me that we built the bond, and then I was able to meet you Sarge.
I love Russ. He's given so much back to the sport. I also noticed as of recently that you've been donating some of your time and some of your energy to the program Hoods to Woods. Can you tell me a little bit about that and what that's all about?
Well, first and foremost, I want to shout out Hoods to Woods. I want to thank them for allowing me to work with them and amazing program that they have. Hoods to Woods was brought to my attention back when I was speaking to Russ. He was telling me about some programs that I should look into and reach out to and check on how they work their programs and see where I could go with things. I ended up speaking with Omar Diaz from Hoods to Woods. When things happened at Big Snow that led us to close, I didn't want to stop what I was doing even though we weren’t able to operate. I still wanted to keep going forward and I had a chance to help Hoods to Woods when they were relocating to Mountain Creek and then also being able to volunteer for the first Opening Day that they just had this past weekend.
That's amazing. And you know, before you found snowboarding, kind of what was what was life like, growing up for you?
Being from New Brunswick, life wasn’t... How can I say? My mom passed away when I was seven years old. So that led me to being raised by my father. I was a foster child at one point in my life and, and basically just grew up as a kid living with total strangers and being moved around from home to home. And I… I really didn't get to actually have a childhood. I grew up okay, but I didn't get to do things that other kids got to do. I couldn’t do those kinds of things.
So, you know, moving forward… I became a dad at the age of twenty years old. I was a full-time dad from then on. It was just me and my daughter. Twenty years old - that's your prime, when you want to just go into clubs and hang out and be with your friends. I wasn’t able to do that because I was a dad so young. So right when my daughter turned about seven or eight years old. I was able to get a little bit more free time and I was able to maneuver around and check things out in life.
Growing up in New Brunswick, you know, there's not a lot out here to do to be honest with you. I would just hang out with the boys. I was into cars. I would go to the racetrack with my guys every weekend and then there was that moment when I discovered Big Snow and that’s when things changed for me.
What kind of advice would you give to a young guy from New Brunswick about the importance of finding a passion like snowboarding?
How can I say this… I want every young man and young woman to know that there is something out there for you. Even though you may not find it until we're much older. Some people find it when they're much older like me. I just want you guys to understand to keep pushing in life. Never give up. No matter the situation things are going to be hard in life and things are going to get rough in life. But once you find something that you're passionate about, very passionate about, I promise you things in life will change for you for the better. Really.
Snowboarding... I would never have thought I would be a snowboarder to be honest with you. I never thought I would be a snowboarder. I watched it as a kid. I used to watch the X-Games. I used to always want to do it, but I didn't have the opportunity to do it. So, if you guys have the opportunity to do something that you really want to do, please go do it and don't let anyone stop you from chasing your dreams.
Awesome. One last question, just any anyone that you would like to think along the way that's been kind of helping you to formulate your dreams into reality?
Yes, I do. And hopefully I don't forget anyone. First and foremost, I want to just thank Big Snow American Dream. Without that without that place, I wouldn't be here today. I want to thank my team members from Big Snow. I want to thank 686 from the bottom of my heart. I want to thank Russell, and I want to thank Hoods to Woods. I'm not really used to doing interview, so if I forgot you, please, please, please, I'm sorry. If you played the part since day one with me, a lot of you guys know who you are, I really appreciate you guys from the bottom of my heart.