When Vermont–based snowboarder Zeb Powell won gold at last year’s Winter X Games, he says the win came as a shock. “It was so crazy. I didn’t expect to win—so it was a complete surprise,” says Powell. “But it was full of joy—I was so stoked.”
The twenty-year-old goofy-footed snowboarder grew up in North Carolina, first learning how to snowboard at Cataloochee Ski Area when he was seven or eight. He moved to Vermont in 2013 to attend Stratton Mountain School, a private middle and high school focusing on college prep academics and competitive winter sports, and began pursuing snowboarding seriously.
Powell’s been snowboarding professionally for the past three years—since he was a senior in high school. He’s currently sponsored by Red Bull, Nitro Snowboards, Thirtytwo Apparel, and Recess Ride Shop, creating showstopping video content that he shares with his 117 thousand Instagram followers.
But Powell really made a name for himself at the 2019 X Games in Aspen—he’s the first Black X Games gold medalist, blazing onto the scene with his unique, streetstyle flips and pink heart-shaped sunglasses. “One of my biggest role models would be Rene Rinnekangas, because he always looks like he’s having the most fun on his snowboard,” says Powell. “He’s always smiling.” He also counts Nik Baden, Halldor Helgason, and Stale Sandbech among his other idols.
As a Black athlete in the historically white snowsports sphere, Powell wants to help open up the world of snowboarding to a wider, more diverse audience. “Winning X Games opened my eyes to how many Black people don’t think that there are Black snowboarders,” says Powell. “They’ve been inspired by me because they didn’t even know that we existed.”
The racial divide in the sport stems from lack of access to the mountain in the first place. That’s why Powell is starting to partner with organizations to help “make the mountains more colorful.”
He’s launched an initiative to introduce inner city kids to snowboarding by holding snowboarding clinics for children who might not otherwise be exposed to the snow sport, to get them inspired. “[I want to] show them that there’s people like me who do it, and just have a blast snowboarding with kids at the end of the day,” says Powell.
As far as Olympic aspirations go, Powell says he’s been considering training for the past year. “I’ve been teeter tottering about it,” he says, explaining that he’s never been seriously focused on it, but now that he’s older, he has the drive that it would take. “That’s a big step—that’s a huge commitment for my career right now,” he says. “It might happen in the next few years but also I could still go my same route. I think I’ll still be just as well off.”
Powell’s East Coast Skiing/Snowboarding Tips
Zeb’s favorite New England mountains, plus his top tips for skiing the East.
Powell considers Mount Snow his home mountain, and his favorite place to board. Specifically, you can find him at the Carinthia terrain park. “[That’s] basically where I grew up and developed my style,” he says. “That mountain got me to where I am now.” His other favorite park mountain is Killington.
If you’re not a freestyle snowboarder, Powell also recommends Loon for its many sprawling alpine trails and scenery, and Stratton for its village. “Stratton is a really nice mountain to go to if you’re just tryna cruise, and enjoy a weekend.”
His East Coast skiing advice includes always bringing a facemask and goggles to protect against windy conditions, and sharpening your edges to better navigate ice. But his number one tip? “Wear sweatpants or pajamas under your snow gear to keep you warmer.” You never know how frigid it’ll be up at the summit.