Shaun White starting halfpipe league with over $1.5M in prizes

Shaun White is starting a season-long halfpipe league that will offer more than $1.5 million in prizes in hopes of pulling together what has long been a spread-out, confusing action sports calendar.

The 37-year-old, three-time Olympic gold medalist, who retired in 2022 after the Beijing Games, is calling the new enterprise The Snow League. The first season will start next March and run past the 2026 Winter Olympics. There will be five events, all of which will include snowboarding, with plans to include freeskiing at mid-season.

"In the end, we really want to be that premier thing, where it's amazing to go to the Olympics and win a medal, but this is like winning Wimbledon or the NBA finals. It's almost more prestigious," White said.

Though snowboarders capture the public's imagination at certain times -- notably, the Olympics -- keeping track of the sport's biggest stars -- Chloe Kim, Scotty James and Ayumu Hirano -- has always been a chore because most halfpipe contests are standalone events with inconsistent TV and streaming schedules: Winter X Games, Dew Tour and a series of grand prix stops that aren't always interconnected.

Meanwhile, White remembers competing for a $50,000 grand prize at contests in Japan when he was a kid. Those sort of prizes are more rare these days, and his league plans to bring those back, along with a bonus for riders who win the season-long standings.

"It feels very much needed right now," said Ian Warda, a former executive at Burton Snowboards who will serve as the league's chief operating officer. "The sport is in an interesting, transitionary phase, sort of at a critical point, where do we go from here? I couldn't be more thankful that Shaun is taking responsibility on this, and sees it as something that's important to him to foster the next generation and build a better platform."

White made clear he is not trying to crowd out the X Games or any other event or tour -- only to give the sport a more reliable calendar with more lucrative cash prizes. He's also looking to make the league part of a complex Olympic qualifying process.

All of this fits in well with what White has done over his one-of-a-kind career. Starting as a teenager, he essentially created the game being played today on halfpipes around the world. For decades, snowboarders struggled with the concept of competing for big money and even Olympic medals. White made that the norm, and now that he has left the competitive side, he's hoping to give his fellow riders a bigger canvas on which to perform.

"If I can leave this sport in a better place than I found it, it would be amazing," White said.

The league is still locking down deals with resorts and looking for the best-possible media distribution model. The leader of US Ski & Snowboard, Sophie Goldschmidt, backs the concept. Kim, the two-time Olympic gold medalist, is among the riders White has approached who is supportive of the new league.

"It'll be great to have competitions that focus more on the athletes, giving us more opportunities to shine and do what we do best: snowboard," she said. "I'm grateful to Shaun for giving back to the sport and his unwavering mission to uplift it."

Snowboarders aren't unlike many pro athletes, in that endorsements usually make up a bigger part of their income than prize money. Still, White would like to see them holding bigger checks at the end of events they fly around the world to be part of.

"A lot of athletes are, like, 'Man, I just don't want to fly to New Zealand and participate in a competition that's going to make me $5,000 when the flight down there and the hotel costs more than that,'" White said. "And who is going to see it? I can post it on my social page, but that's about it."

The Snow League plans on bringing 20 men and 16 women to contests, which will be decided by a bracketed "championship day," featuring quarterfinal, semifinal and final rounds.