MICHIGAN TEEN BRIAN RICE HAS PLANS TO BE THE FIRST-EVER BLACK SNOWBOARDER TO COMPETE AT THE WINTER OLYMPICS.
Brian Rice is determined to change the face of snowboarding. PHOTO BY CHIP PROULX/COURTESY OF BURTON SNOWBOARDS
KAT RICE WAS LYING ON A GURNEY waiting for an MRI to assess her second brain tumor. Whatever happened, she wasn’t going to let it affect her kids’ path. She tapped into her phone: “How do you get a Black snowboarder sponsored to go to the Olympics?” Google answered: “The National Brotherhood of Skiers (NBS).”
Her son Brian has a dream to be the world’s first Black snowboarder to compete at the Olympic Games. His dream happens to dovetail with the mission of the Chicagobased NBS, now one of Brian’s main sponsors. The NBS folks couldn’t quite believe they had an Olympic hopeful right in their own Midwestern backyard. “Sending Brian to the Olympics will enable the NBS to help awaken the American and global snowsports communities to the unfathomable possibilities of inclusion,” says NBS President Henri Rivers. “It will open the conduits for athletes of color to train and succeed in winter sports.”
“Flyin’ Brian,” as he’s known, says his athleticism is partly inherited. Kat is a retired professional boxer, and Brian’s dad (“the OG Brian”) wasn’t exposed to winter sports as a kid but was known to throw backflips out of abandoned buildings in Detroit, landing on mattresses.
Growing up in the Motor City, Brian was in constant motion, twisting and spinning and jumping. “I’d take the wheels off my BMX bike, put duct tape and old T-shirts around the forks, and do flips on the trampoline,” he says. When Brian was 4, Kat got him a small plastic snowboard, and he started sliding around in the ditch at the front of their house.
Now a junior in high school taking online classes, Brian is focusing on slopestyle and big air. At a preseason camp in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, he dialed in his triple back cork 1440 (four rotations and three off-axis flips) and, on his first try, stomped a triple back cork 1620. In the earbuds at all times? Eminem, Dr. Dre and Polo G. “One of the things I love about snowboarding is the freedom of creativity,” Brian says. “You can do any trick that you can imagine.”
Since he was 13, Brian has been training with Ski & Snowboard Club Vail out of Copper Mountain. Kat, who is both mom and manager (aka “momager”), bought a condo at the base of Copper last season. “It’s 508 luxurious square feet, and we’re sharing a king bed with pillows down the middle,” she says.
In the 2019-20 season, Brian won the Colorado World Rookie Tour Fest at Winter Park, earning a ticket to the finals in Hintertux, Austria. With the pandemic, the goal posts continue to move, but this season, he’ll compete on the Noram circuit, where he’ll have the opportunity to qualify for World Cup events, which, in turn, are qualifiers for a coveted spot on the Olympic squad. The U.S. Snowboard Team is keeping an eye on the young rider, who was also recently named to the Pro U.S. Burton Team. “Is it a long shot? Yes,” Kat says. “But, hey, I say let’s go for the long shot.”
Brian is one of precious few elite BIPOC snowboarders, and he feels the responsibility of someday being on the world stage. “One of these days, I’m going to be in the Olympics, and I want people to be inspired, to see that wintertime for people of color isn’t just a time to sit indoors by the fireplace,” Brian says. “It can be so much more than that.”
Woodward at Copper Mountain is the ideal training ground for slopestyle.
“One of these days, I’m going to be in the Olympics, and I want people to be inspired, to see that wintertime for people of color isn’t just a time to sit indoors by the fireplace.” –Brian Rice, snowboarder