Finding Jack Hessler
Author: Otto Solberg
Published Date: 06/03/2022
Read Time: 5 minutes
New to Snowbird’s athlete team this season, Jack Hessler immediately impressed us with his skills and style on the mountain. Jack has no fear of hardpack, always seems to get the grab and has a deep level of stoke that is hard to come by. It wasn’t always that way for Jack though, and we sat down to talk with him about a time in his life where he lost his passion for snowboarding, and how he got it back.
Like many young talented snowboarders, Jack Hessler grew up trying to make a name for himself in the snowboard industry. He learned to ride with his family in Massachusetts, started competing and filming, and then moved west during high school with dreams of becoming a pro snowboarder. However, Jack was living two different realities and it was preventing him from reaching his full potential.
Jack had always known he was gay, but when his family moved west, Jack decided to pretend he was straight to fit in with his new community. At the time, snowboarding culture was overwhelmed with an exclusive cool guy attitude rooted in misogyny.
“I was trying so hard to get into the snowboard industry, and I had never quite gotten there. And that was me being the straight-acting person so far from my actual self. If the doors won't open to me as a pseudo-straight person, they're definitely not going to open to me as a gay person.”
Jack hoped pretending to be straight would be “less problematic, less emotionally draining,” but it turned out to be even harder to keep up the illusion of his fake story. In college, he again made the choice not to come out. “And it was just really feeling like I was letting myself down and I went into a pretty dark place. I was like, I can't even trust myself. I don't even know who I am.”
Trying to keep his identity a secret made it challenging for Jack to see a future for himself. What should he study in school? What career path was ahead of him? Did he still have the love and passion for snowboarding the way he always had? Was he doing everything he could to be the best snowboarder he could be? His internal battle was heavily impacting his life and his ability to snowboard the way he wanted to.
“When you're doing anything at a really high level, you need full mental clarity. Any excess thoughts become distractions that throw you out of the zone.”
Jack began to wonder what his end goal for staying in the closet was. He was putting other people’s comfort ahead of his own goals, happiness and survival. After years of feeling lost and confused, Jack realized he needed to be honest with his friends and family if he wanted to find a path for his future. He worried his truth could threaten the unconditional love he had been promised by so many and was convinced the snowboard industry would not welcome him.
“I think coming out is a very subjective experience that only people that are queer have to deal with, but everybody knows what it's like to have to tell someone something that’s hard for you to tell.”
Jack slowly began to tell friends and family and was quickly reassured that his fears were just that. Even the friends that were hardest to tell stood by his side and supported Jack as he shared his truth. Despite all the love and support, Jack was still hesitant for the snowboard industry to cast their judgment. “And it was this weird thing where all I want to do is snowboard, but I don’t even really want to be around these people because they don’t make me feel welcome.”
Jack had realized in 2016 how important representation was in sports when pro-skateboarder Brian Anderson came out as gay and changed the culture. In snowboarding, however, it wasn’t until 2020, when Torment Magazine released a series in their Pride issue where five snowboarders, including legend Jake Kuzyk, announced they were gay. Jack also found a queer snowboarding crew on Instagram called the “Pink Dollar Possy” and the representation was everything that he ever wanted to see.
“It really made me want to get back into snowboarding... and be more proud and show kids there are gay snowboarders.”
After years of losing passion for snowboarding and feeling his riding was stagnated, Jack began to feel comfortable being himself, re-found his joy in the mountains, and got a season pass to Snowbird. “It was the literal best feeling I ever had, that came back through snowboarding.” Suddenly Jack began progressing again. He started landing more tricks, seeing lines and cliffs differently, and doing things that he would have been too scared to prior. “I think it was really being able to trust myself.”
Jack now competes in the Freeride World Qualifiers, filmed at Holy Bowly with the Pink Dollar Possy and is on the Snowbird Athlete Team. He gets to ride more than he has in years and has found the same joy he felt when his parents taught him to link turns as a kid. He feels like when he shows up to Snowbird, it is a safe space with a “big squad across the whole mountain” he can ride with. “There is the whole spectrum of full-time professional skiers to fair weather skiers and weekend warriors, but they all just love the experience of doing it. It’s really amazing to have that community.”
Jack thinks the “snowboard industry is growing out of its exclusive phase.” At Holy Bowly this year with the Pink Dollar Possy, instead of getting the ‘cool guy’ treatment from other athletes, Jack said their queer snowboarding crew felt included and supported. They even had multiple other snowboarders come out to them. At one of the after-parties, they were approached by someone “fully in tears. ‘People say they support you guys, but you don’t understand how important this really is. This changed my life.’” Jack thinks skateboarding led this change for snowboarding, and society is at a point now where if a brand is homophobic, they’re not accepted.
This shift is coming with some hiccups as brands try to show their support for the LGBTQ+ community. Once at a Pride photoshoot, Jack asked if he could wear makeup, and was told he couldn’t. Jack felt he was being told “you can put on the rainbow flag, but you can’t have makeup because that’s too gay.” The director soon realized the implications of their decision and allowed him to wear the makeup he wanted. Despite these growing pains, Jack remains optimistic as more brands support the community year round and strive to create safe spaces.
“The world is changing and it's amazing what it's becoming and what it is. And for all the bad stuff that there is in the world, there's a lot of really amazing stuff. It’s mind-blowing and heart-exploding for me to see gay people in snowboarding.”
We’re so excited to see Jack’s stoke at Snowbird and can’t wait to continue collaborating with our LGBTQ+ athletes to better represent all of the important people that make up the Snowbird community.
About the Author:
Otto Solberg left Appalachia a few years ago to teach skiing in the Snowbird Mountain School. He began taking photos and videos of his friends enjoying the powder, which led to his current role as Content Coordinator in the Marketing Department. You can find him on the slopes during the winter or running and biking the trails during the summer.