"Enthusiasm is the energy and force that builds literal momentum of the human soul and mind."
- Bryan McGill
It's not like he didn't like skiing. It's just, well, it's just that there was too much going on for him to handle all the stimuli with his impaired vision.
"I was always a little scared of skiing," admits Underground Tuning's Yohann Sheetz. "Because of my eyes, you know, I didn't always feel in full control." He laughs. "I'm not the most coordinated person..." A long pause. He laughs again. "And ski boots...man, they really turned me off."
But skiing was the only way to snowplay in the early 1980s. So the young Quebecois just kept at it. "I suffer from ocular albinism," he explains. "It's like being an albino — but in the eyes not the skin. I grew up like a normal child and everything, it's just that my eyes are extremely sensitive to light — they have a really slow shutter speed." He sighs. Shrugs. "Which means I have a lot of trouble adjusting to sudden changes in brightness... stuff like that."
For some reason, though, snowboarding was different. "I got my first snowboard on Christmas Day 1984," he says proudly. "And I felt way more comfortable on that board than I ever had on skis." Unfortunately, snowboarding wasn't legal on the local hills yet. No matter — the young enthusiast had a solution for that too. "I rode my board behind my grandfather's Skidoo. That was very cool." He stops. Laughs again. "You see? I was backcountry snowboarding before the sport was even invented!"
The seven-year-old was obviously hooked. "Snowboarding was a WAY safer sport for me," he says. "It was easier — simpler. So when [Quebec City's] Stoneham finally allowed riders on their lifts in 1989 — that's where I went with my friends..."
The snow-surf boom hit hard in Eastern Quebec. And Yohann's buddies were soon all competing for local fame and fortune. "I tried the comp route too," he says. Laughs again. "But my eyes just weren't good enough. I quickly realized it was better for me to work around the event rather than trying to compete at it." Inspired by Mont Ste Anne's early World Cup events — where the zany après-snow parties were often bigger than the races — the young entrepreneur-wannabe started organizing his own ride-and-music extravaganzas. "I was into punk rock in those days," he tells me. "And we put on some serious parties in and around Quebec City during those years. We had a lot of fun..."
But things were changing fast. Many of his riding pals were turning pro.... And one by one they were all moving to Whistler. Yohann knew why. "My parents broke up when I was young," he explains. "And my mom remarried and moved to Chilliwack. So in 1992, I moved to B.C. for the summer." His reaction? "I was blown away," he admits. 'Wow,' I said to myself, 'I'm moving here as soon as I'm on my own!'"