Ross Rebagliati's 'wild ride' from Olympic podium to pot merchant
Snowboard legend hopes new venture will capitalize on his Olympic drive, history with cannabis
"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 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.
But in a sit-down with CBC News earlier this month in Kelowna, the wild ride Rebagliati was referring to is what happened next.
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.
- WATCH: The National's feature on Ross Rebagliati's journey from Olympic podium to budding pot merchant
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.
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."
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."
"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:
Watch The National's feature on Ross Rebagliati's journey from Olympic podium to budding pot merchant: