Clever, original, inventive. Those words define the word “ingenuity” as well as professional snowboarder, entrepreneur, and artist, Rob Kingwill.
Rob grew up in Jackson and took up snowboarding as a kid when the sport was still in its infancy. He was already a skier, and his home near Snow King Mountain Resort meant that he and his friends could walk to the base and spend their winter evenings racing down the slopes under the lights. They loved the independence they found on their skis, but Rob couldn’t help but feel curious when he first saw a snowboard in 1987. He rented one and was immediately hooked. Why? Because on a snowboard, he could experiment, invent tricks, be creative, and, perhaps most importantly, it didn’t come off when he fell.
“I don’t know if my parents didn’t understand DIN or what,” Rob says. “But I was always blowing out of my ski bindings. With a snowboard, I could go fast, fall, get up, and keep going.”
For a creative thinker like Rob, the early days of snowboarding were the perfect creative outlet. The sport was changing constantly, so Rob would perfect his tricks on the 8-foot half pipe one season and the next year, the pipe walls would have been raised to 12 feet, forcing Rob and the other riders to learn everything all over again.
The newness of the sport attracted freethinkers and individuals. In some places, snowboarders earned a bad reputation for their rebellious ways and irreverent attitudes, but they also pushed everyone — skiers included — to new levels in terms of what was possible for someone sliding over snow.
“Snowboarding is intrinsically a very creative sport,” Rob says. “It’s a great way for self-expression. I love pushing what is possible as a human being. I find a different way to interact with the world on my board.” He goes on to explain that “Humans were designed to swing from trees and run at most 15 mph. Everything changes when you slide on a piece of plastic down a mountain at 40 mph and flip through the air. Our brains have to learn to keep up, to reinterpret the world. Speed, air time, your body in space are all amplified. When you snowboard, you are interacting with the world on a bigger scale and in a different dimension.
The rise of the internet coincided with the growing popularity of snowboarding, and Rob believes that it contributed to the sport’s speedy evolution. The minute someone did a new, formerly impossible trick it became a meme on social media, and suddenly lots of people were doing it. Rob equates the phenomenon to when the first runner broke the 4-minute mile. It took years for that record to fall, he says, but just months after it did, 10 others had run as fast.
Rob rode snowboarding’s wave to the top quickly. He was on the first snowboard team for Jackson Hole Ski & Snowboard Club and the second U.S. Snowboard Team. He’s won countless titles over the years and has been featured in 10 Warren Miller films. But even with that success, Rob has always had to hustle.
“Pro snowboarders have to be entrepreneurs, have to learn to negotiate contracts, get sponsors, and find ways to make money to survive and follow their dreams,” he says.
To fulfill that need, Rob started AVALON7, a lifestyle brand best known for neck gaiters that feature both his and other artists’ work. The company has grown steadily since its inception in 2005 and now features the original work of the AVALON7 Collective’s 12 artists on everything from hoodies to beanies and backpacks.
The pandemic pushed Rob’s business to an entirely new level and instigated a new product — the AVALON7 FitMask face mask.
“Here it is, my creative moment to come out with a product that is designed to be comfortable, as safe as possible, and beautiful. We are making masks that people want to wear. It’s exciting to find a creative solution. Masks say something. They bring people together. They say we are all humans with a common enemy, and I hope we can inspire and support each other to overcome this moment and move on to a brighter future.”