THUNDER BAY – Patrice Poulin crafted his first snowboard from a piece of cardboard.
The four-year-old was eager to conquer the slopes with different jumps and tricks. But first he had to master a small piece of cardboard found in Lappe Ski Centre.
While visiting the ski resort with his parents, he spotted kids snowboarding on a hill. Fastening his feet to the makeshift board with silver duct tape bindings, he unknowingly took his first step toward competitive snowboarding.
No one who saw the four-year-old with his cardboard snowboard would have known they were witnessing the first chapter of a provincial champion’s biography.
Poulin won a silver medal in slopestyle at the 2018 Ontario Provincial Championships in March at Mount St. Louis Moonstone, near Barrie, Ont.
“I was the last person to drop and everybody at the bottom was watching,” Poulin said recalling the event at the Outback Terrain Park where he faced three jumps between 38 to 55 feet, multiple rails and boxes.
“It was a really movie-esque type moment,” he said. “I stomped my run and all my friends at the bottom were super happy and crowding me and jumping over me.”
Poulin looks back on that year as being one of the toughest, citing a considerable improvement in his competitor’s level of riding.
Despite those challenges, the run remains Poulin’s biggest achievement.
From the moment he taped himself to a piece of cardboard up until he stepped onto the St. Louis Moonstone St. Louis podium his parent’s support was always with him.
Poulin’s father, Maurice, said his son was a full-blown snowboarder by the time he was five. Even at that age Maurice remembers meeting instructors who were not confident they could assist.
“He is a bit disruptive,” Maurice remembers an instructor telling him, “all he does is go off jumps and he’s not going with the flow.”
The young snowboarder sometimes appeared the instructor. Maurice remembers once seeing his son riding with two instructors, showing them his technique.
“So that was it,” Maurice said. “There was just no pulling him back.”
Being the parent of a competitive athlete taught Maurice sport came with high and low moments.
“We celebrate the highs and support him through the lows and we are just thrilled that he is accomplishing his dream.”
Poulin’s passion grew and so too did his hours practicing.
“Freestyle was a lot more interesting, so that’s what kept me hooked finding the next little jump or finding the next little tree log or rail.”
Fearless and certain, Poulin used any object in his path as a chance to try something new.
Now, 18 years old, his competitive drive for freestyle snowboarding continues to gain momentum. A major catalyst to this being his first serious competition at Horseshoe Resort in 2015, three years before his recent podium appearance.
“It was really cool seeing people a lot better than me that I could look up too and I just kind of thought to myself, ‘OK, there’s definitely room for improvement.’”
Today, Poulin happily competes next to some of Canada’s best at provincial championships.
Poulin will move south this fall in the pursuit of gaining more skill and knowledge to progress competitively.
“I am going to try and snowboard until I can’t walk anymore.”
Poulin hopes to be a role model for young snowboarders, just as his parents were to him.
“I want to give back to the sport as soon as I can and to the kids here.”
“We have a really big need in Thunder Bay for snowboarding and freestyle skiing. There’s tonnes of kids I could see being the next Shaun White and there’s so much talent here I would really like to see where it goes.”
Somewhere on a hill in Thunder Bay, whether at a ski resort or mound of snow in a backyard, a future pupil of Poulin might be hitting a jump for their very first time. The casual observer might not be able to see the competitive potential in such a moment, because most people don't know that podiums can be built with cardboard and duct tape.