WHITE DREAMS: Of Lines and Laptops - Snowboard Journalists

Interview with Matt Barr, Chris Moran and Ewan Wallace
Interview by
Sam Baldwin
Published May 2007

Matt Barr, Chris Moran and Ewan Wallace, the authors of Snowboarding The World, have laid lines on mountains that few people will ever lay eyes on. Iran, Lebanon, Greenland, Uzbekistan and Russia are just some of the far flung snowboard destinations they've sampled snow in. We hooked up with these three intrepid snowboard journalists to see if traveling the world to snowboard in exotic ski resorts and then writing about their experiences was officially the best job in the world.

Ewan Wallace sucking on a hookah in Iran

How did you get into snowboard journalism, and what was your first break?

Matt: Snowboard UK wanted to interview Chris when he was still a pro, and I ended up doing that.  They liked it and soon after Steve Bailey and Danny Wheeler asked if I'd write their White Lines interviews. At the time there didn't seem to be that many people doing it, so it was right place, right time for me. I started writing for White Lines full time about a year later.

Chris: I was a pro rider and I would travel to different resorts with a photographer and a bunch of riders, but never any other writers. So I would write copy and send it to magazines, which would get us in there. From then on it was simply a matter of writing about the trips we did, and as luck would have it, this all coincided with White Lines Magazine starting up, so I ended up writing full time for them along with my good friend Matt Barr.

Ewan: I badly hurt my shoulder riding at the Snowboard UK board test in Tignes in 2003, meaning I wasn't going to be able to do the job I had, putting up marquees for at least 2 months. The editor of SUK suggested that I come and help him out for a bit as he needed an extra pair of hands - he knew already that I could write as I'd done a couple of articles for him a year or two back. So it just developed into a full time thing from there. I was the assistant editor of Snowboard UK for a couple of years.

You get to travel to some of the most amazing snow destinations on the planet. Where is the most incredible place you've visited?

Matt: They're all good in their own way. Lebanon stood out for the incredible hospitality we were shown, and for the hunger of the people there to show us the reality of their lives. Iran was also eye-opening in that way. And we lucked out on the riding when we were there with superb powder conditions. 

Chris: Greenland in 2002. Without a shadow of a doubt. It was a press trip organised by Right Guard Deodorant, and we were lucky enough to have a helicopter for ten days, with perfect powder and empty, never-been-ridden-before mountains. It doesn't get any better.

Ewan: Iran. Admittedly we were pretty lucky with the snow, but the place was just amazing. The people were incredibly hospitable and welcoming too.

A lot of people would say you've got a dream job as you get to visit some of the most amazing snow destinations in the world, but are there any downsides to that lifestyle?

Matt: Seems a little churlish to complain about any aspect of it really, but it can get a bit much living two completely separate lifestyles. A couple of relationships have suffered and you need an understanding partner and family. I'm experiencing one right now in that I'm in Uzbekistan and can't ride because I've got a broken collarbone. The others are all out snowboarding and I'm confined to base. But hey, I'm still in Uzbekistan so I can't complain!

Chris: Travel is always fun, but there's the downside of being away for long periods of time away from your friends and home comforts, and living out of a bag can get a little tedious. Hotels are generally nice places to stay, but they're never as comfy as your own home. That said, you'd have to be a real dick to complain too much about it. The upsides vastly outweigh the bad.

Ewan: I find that too much travel gets to me after a while. I often wish I could just stay in one place and get settled for a few weeks. Living out of a bag can be pretty tiresome.

Chris Moran in Chamonix, France

You've visited a lot of exotic ski resort "frontiers". Where do you think the next big destination for Western skiers and snowboarders will be?

Matt: We were talking about this last night actually. I think places like the Russian Caucasus have quite a way to go in terms of infrastructure. Then places like Iran are just too far outside the comfort zone for most people. The industry seems to be heading to Japan. I also heard Kazakhstan could be worth a look, so we're going to go and check it out next year.

Chris: Japan seems to be really opening up to the West and with good reason. If I only had one trip to take per year I'd go to Japan each and every winter. Then there are a the outer fringe places like Iran, India, Turkey and the emerging ex Soviet Union states which have huge mountains and few people. If you want to ride untracked areas there are plenty around the world, it just depends on how much hardship you want to endure in getting to them, and how adventurous you are.

Ewan: I'm thinking Japan, probably Niseko. It's a great resort with just enough cultural exoticness to make people go those extra few hours on a long-haul flight to get there. Some of the bigger tour operators are already doing package holidays there and I think the trend will continue.
Are you worried about the effects of global warming on the ski industry, and have you noticed a change in snow fall since you started snowboarding?
Matt: I'm not sure snowfall in ski resorts is the best way of measuring global warming. I mean, it hardly snowed in Whistler two years ago, and this season they're having their best season in years so how do you factor that in? I can't really say if I've noticed a change in snowfall levels either - I did six seasons in France and there was no way of predicting if it would be good or not. I'm not saying I don't believe in it, just that I don't really know enough about it to give any kind of expert view, and I don't think using something as notoriously unpredictable as ski resort snowfall is the best way of gauging it.

Chris: Definitely. However, it's hard to preach because the very essence of travel means we are all adding to the problem, and ultimately, snowboarding is a frivolous pursuit. I've written plenty of articles on the subject but really, I'm well aware of how much my own actions must have contributed to the problem. I'd much prefer it if we could keep travelling as we do now, and reduce emissions at home, through renewable energy sources. And I'm also aware that that attitude isn't really that helpful either.

Ewan: When you do a job like this it's difficult to talk about global warming without sounding like a hypocrite, but yes - from what I've seen in 12 winters in France the seasons are shifting. Snowfall seems to be getting scarcer in December and heavier in April and May. That may well be just a natural weather cycle and nothing sinister, but it's hard not to think the worst.
Your pictures and articles have brought inspiration to thousands of snowboarders. What advice would you give to others who are trying to get into ski journalism?

Matt: It's hard to make a living from it unless you get really lucky and score one of the few jobs in the industry that does pay. Or you can try and carve a niche for yourself, like we've tried to. The way to get commissioned is to offer them something they can't do themselves, and to make their job as easy as possible. A story on Chamonix or Morzine is unlikely to be taken up, so think hard and try to be original.

Chris: Don't do it if you want to make money! To be honest, you'd be better off getting a good job and paying for trips a couple of times a year.
Ewan: Make sure you work with a photographer. The amount of decent articles we have turned down at SUK because there were no shots to support them…
If you could pick only one country to snowboard in for the rest of your life, where would it be?

Matt: Good question. You're really talking about 'best days' here I think. We had a day in Iran that was amazing but that was because we got lucky. Any other day I reckon it could have been bad shocking. Some of the best days I ever had were doing seasons in Meribel when I was completely clueless. Having said that, if I could have the conditions that Chris got in Greenland (perfect powder and a helicopter on standby) I'd take that. 

Chris: Japan. If not, then France.

Ewan: Japan. I could happily live there I think.

Matt Barr in Buenos Aries, Argentina

What do you do when you're not travelling the world, searching out new powder lines in exotic mountains?
Matt: Hang out in the UK, drink too much, work, play music, try and fit in some surf trips, and plan for the following winter.

Chris: Write for magazines and newspapers on a variety of subjects.

Ewan: I do a lot of music stuff. Matt and myself have a band called Super U, so we spend a lot of time writing music, recording, playing gigs etc. I also play guitar in the Bonobo live band so I'm off on tour quite a bit with them. And I do a lot of running, swimming and surfing to keep fit for snowboarding.
Your book Snowboarding the World was recently published (Autumn 2006). Where did the idea for that come from, and how hard was it putting it together?
Matt: The publishers, Footprint, had put out a guidebook to surfing in Europe that was really good, so we asked them if they were interested in doing a snowboarding one. It was a lot of work, but really good fun having an outlet for the useless information we'd been amassing for the previous ten years.

Chris: The idea was that we'd collate all the info we've spent the last 15 years or so accidentally compiling. And ridiculously enough, Footprint Books thought our proposal was good enough to print!

Ewan: We were inspired by Surfing Europe, another of Footprint's titles. They'd just taken the idea of the surf guide book and made it all much better, presented the information in a much nicer way. We knew we could do the same with snowboarding since all the other books on the market left a lot to be desired. Actually doing it was about 10 times more work than any of us realised though. 
What countries have:
The best powder?

Matt: It's good wherever you go.
Chris: Japan.
Ewan: Japan.

The best parks?

Matt: The States. And the best lift systems.
Chris: The States, particularly California.
Ewan: The US.

The craziest culture?
Matt: Iran was definitely the most fun for experiencing a different culture. Uzbekistan was also brilliant.
Chris: Japan again!
Ewan: It's got to be Japan again.
Are you living the dream?

Matt: Well, we're definitely living a dream - although it was nothing that was ever particularly planned. I have plenty of other dreams I'd like to fulfill though. 

Chris:  I suppose so. Not as much as a friend of ours who has spent the last 10 years doing six month journeys around the world each year. His email address is This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it , which says it all really…

Ewan: Hmmmm…not sure about that one.

You can read more of Matt's Chirs' and Ewan's writing in their excellent book Snowboarding the World, as well as in White Lines, Snowboard UK, and many other magazines and national newspapers.


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