The National·The Interview

Ross Rebagliati's 'wild ride' from Olympic podium to pot merchant

Snowboard legend Ross Rebagliati is hoping to capitalize on both his Olympic drive and his connections with cannabis to strike gold again - this time through a new business venture.

Snowboard legend hopes new venture will capitalize on his Olympic drive, history with cannabis

At 46, former Olympic snowboard great Ross Rebagliati still looks fit enough to race down the slopes. But these days he's hoping it's his career as a budding entrepreneur that will pick up speed. (Greg Hobbs/CBC)

"It has been a wild ride."

Ross Rebagliati could have been describing his athletic adventure 20 years ago in Nagano.

His gold medal win in the first-ever Olympic snowboarding event came as such a surprise, even well-briefed sports broadcasters had no idea how to pronounce his name.

Rebagliati wins the first-ever Olympic Men's Giant Slalom snowboarding competition in Japan in 1998. (Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press)
That was just the beginning of an Olympic drama like none other.

Rebagliati was disqualified for having cannabis in his system, then reinstated after declaring he hadn't smoked dope for almost a year leading up to the games.

His explanation — that he had been to parties in Whistler, B.C., where people around him were using cannabis — went viral before that was a thing.

Rebagliati celebrates with his gold at the medal ceremony at the 1998 Winter Games. (Reuters)
Rebagliati wasn't just a guest on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. He prompted one of Leno's most memorable quips, comparing President Bill Clinton (who said he smoked marijuana but didn't inhale) to the snowboard gold medallist (who said he inhaled but didn't smoke).

But in a sit-down with CBC News earlier this month in Kelowna, the wild ride Rebagliati was referring to is what happened next.

Host Jay Leno, right, and Rebagliati gesture to the studio audience as they joke about marijuana use on NBC's Tonight Show on Feb. 16, 1998. (Susan Sterner/Associated Press)
He hit rock star highs, even smoking cannabis backstage with Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones. Then the crashing lows of living in poverty in a trailer, turning the "6" on his street sign upside down to trick the repo man who was trying to take back his truck.

His career crashed in part, he said, because of years of "corporate pushback" over his support of the cannabis lifestyle, difficulty in entering the United States and, he admits, over-extending himself financially when he was buying and flipping properties in Whistler.

Now 46, Rebagliati still looks fit enough to race down the slopes, but these days he's hoping it's his career as an entrepreneur that will pick up speed.

One of his front teeth sparkles with a gold crown, embossed with a logo. It's for his cannabis business, Ross' Gold — pun very much intended.

Rebagliati's gold front tooth carries an impression of his Ross' Gold company logo. (Jean-François Bisson/CBC)
Bold? Garish? It seems there have always been a wide variety of opinions about Rebagliati. But at least a couple of things have been consistent over the past two decades: He dreams big, and cannabis is a big part of that.

As soon as the federal government legalizes marijuana, he says the empty shelves of his Kelowna store will be stocked.

Right now, it's all gleaming glass shelves and polished wood. The concept, he explains, is the cannabis equivalent of a high-end wine store.

The goal is a chain of stores across the country and beyond.

"I feel like people are backing me," Rebagliati says. "I'm always surprised at the support for taking a stand."

Rebagliati, who has a medical licence for cannabis, says he feels a responsibility to tell people that pot is, 'family oriented, family friendly. It's a healthy part of people's lives.' (Greg Hobbs/CBC)
Today, that includes investors who he says are ready to turn Ross's Gold into a nationwide business.

In 1998, that stand was for what he calls the cannabis culture, refusing to criticize his friends. At a packed news conference after his gold medal was reinstated, he was asked if he would think twice about going to parties back home.

"I don't care what you think. My friends are real. I'll support them. I'll never deviate from that," he said. "I might have to wear a gas mask from now on, but … whatever."

Twenty years later, he has a medical licence for cannabis and, without prompting, says he used it before the interview to help "rev up" his day.

Rebagliati says he feels a responsibility to tell people cannabis is, "family oriented, family friendly. It's a healthy part of people's lives."

'My life is about setting goals. Lofty goals and following through,' Rebagliati says. (Jean-François Bisson/CBC)
He admits some are still uncomfortable about hearing that message.

"You can't win all the votes," he says, but he is nothing if not confident.

Rebagliati says the parallels between being part of the early generation of snowboarders, when many resorts didn't even want them there, and promoting a chain of cannabis stores are very obvious to him. He's used to following his own path.

Asked how he'd describe the peaks and valleys of his life, he says: "My life is about setting goals. Lofty goals and following through.

"Well, I've got a good idea. And I'm going to do it. And I think people respect that."

Ross Rebagliati doesn't snowboard much these days, but he still hits the slopes with his skis chasing thrills. Here he tears up the powder at Big White near Kelowna:

Ross Rebagliati skis powder

5 years ago
Duration 0:33
Olympian Ross Rebagliati doesn't snowboard these days, but he still breaks out his powder skis to chase thrills on the slopes. He shot this video for CBC in the trees at Big White near Kelowna, B.C.

Watch The National's feature on Ross Rebagliati's journey from Olympic podium to budding pot merchant:

Ross Rebagliati is chasing cannabis gold

5 years ago
Duration 11:52
Twenty years ago, Ross Rebagliati won gold in Nagano as a snowboarder. Now, he’s chasing gold again with his new cannabis company Ross’ Gold. Rebagliati reflects with Ian Hanomansing on his Olympic experience and using his “cannabis card."


Ian Hanomansing is the co-host of The National. Since 1986, he has had a wide variety of assignments for CBC as a reporter, anchor and interviewer. He also has a law degree from Dalhousie University in Halifax.