A Q&A with Madison Blackley, a snowboarder who embraces cannabis
Snowboarding was born from the counterculture. The early pioneers of the sport were rebels against the establishment. They were banned from ski resorts, outlaws on the mountain.
And they smoked weed. Or, at least, people assumed they did. Snowboarding and cannabis have always been linked, in part due to stereotypes about the athletes, but also out of some truth. When snowboarding debuted on the Olympic stage in 1998, it was rocked with controversy when the first gold medalist in the sport, Ross Rebagliati, tested positive for cannabis. He did get to keep his gold medal, however, because cannabis was not on the IOC’s list of banned substances.
Fast forward to 2018: Today the “outlaw on the mountain” image is more or less gone. The sport has gone mainstream. Grandfathers are carving on the mountain. This year, when 17-year-old Chloe Kim won the gold medal at Pyeongchang, more than 22.3 million people watched her do it.
Likewise, laws about THC and CBD, as well as public perception about cannabis, are changing rapidly. Stigmas are eroding. Weed, and snowboarders, don’t seem like quite the menaces they used to be.
Weed and snowboarding are both squarely in the mainstream now, and the connection between the athletes and the drug is being shaped by grown-up concerns like sponsorships, drug testing, and gender stereotypes.
SB Nation reached out to Madison Blackley, a professional rider for Bataleon Snowboards, to talk about her thoughts on cannabis, whether she feels it’s affected her career, and why she feels men are able to get away with cannabis use in a way that women are not. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
How is cannabis viewed in snowboarding?
Madison Blackley: I think marijuana and CBD use is actually viewed as pretty widely accepted, but on an underground level, almost. Like, we all know people use it, but we don’t really talk about it unless it’s in a joking way.
Do you feel like being open about your cannabis use has hindered your career at all?
MB: In my own career personally I believe it has hindered me, although maybe not substantially. I have throughout my career always been outspoken about weed and CBD because I personally don’t see the issue with it, and it is part of what I like to do. Plus there are medical benefits that help me as an athlete.
Do you think that it would have hindered your career if you were a guy?
MB: I know many men who are almost praised for it by their sponsors, and their sponsors have embraced it about them, and almost used it to benefit their image. I honestly can’t say whether it would be the same if I were a guy because just being a female in general hinders a snowboarder’s career.
I also think a lot of the stigma has to do with where you live. Colorado and Oregon have way different mentalities than the state that I live in, Utah, which is probably the biggest factor.
Would you say weed is part of snowboard and action sports culture?
MB: Weed is ingrained in snowboarding just for the fact the we spend most of our time with few people in the mountains for long periods of time. CDB is a fairly new thing that if it isn’t already a part of the culture, it will be from here on out. As far as action sports as a whole I can’t speak for that, like I’m not sure how many motocross people are stoned during competition, but I know plenty of skateboarders, snowboarders, and skiers who are.
Are other snowboarders cool with it?
MB: Yeah, snowboarders are cool with it even if they don’t do it.
Do you feel like weed helps you perform better?
MB: Even though I’m a complete advocate for weed and CBD, I personally don’t ride high on THC. CBD is different, but I don’t feel like it makes me a better snowboarder. In fact it makes me so less stressed out that I just get lazy about my riding standards. I prefer to use it as a celebratory relaxation method after a high-intensity day of snowboarding.
Does it make you more creative? Or is that just a stereotype?
MB: That is the cool thing about marijuana and CBD, there are so many different kinds that work so differently for so many people. While I enjoy indica [indica strains of cannabis are believed to be relaxing or sedating], many people enjoy sativa [sativas are said to provide a more invigorating response] which may make them more creative. But “weed makes you more creative” is 100 percent a stereotype. Sometimes it makes people hungry, sometimes it makes people more energetic, sometimes just sleepy. You can use it for whatever reason you want, and that’s why it’s cool.
Would you say it helps you look at your surroundings in a different light? And help you find different unique spots that you would otherwise overlook?
MB: This could be different than being creative, because I do agree that sometimes it can make me see things differently. Not in the way like “damn that seemed like a good idea when I was high” kind of idea, but it does open up some ways to approach things had I been thinking about it the night before when I was high. So I guess for me I would use weed as a planning tool beforehand rather than thinking creatively at the time of.
How do you see that culture evolving? Since snowboarding is now mainstream, and weed and CBD are on their way to becoming mainstream, do you notice the culture shifting and becoming more accepting? Less accepting? And why do you think that is?
MB: CBD is such an amazing thing that I’ve seen grow rapidly in just a few years, especially with recovery from injuries that come with sports. That alone is making it more accepted. With more states giving residents opportunity to legally learn and try different forms or THC and CBD people are making their own decisions on what their opinion is based on personal experience.
I mean there will always be those people that think snowboarders are just pot-smoking bums, but there are also plenty of successful athletes who don’t use at all, but they probably still go drink and party.
Top photos by Tristan Sadler, Jacqueline Lammert and Ted Borland.