Unless you are a close follower of the FIS Big Air circuit, you probably haven't heard of Mari Fukada. The Japanese rider came out of nowhere in 2022, making a huge splash by winning the FIS World Cup Big Air her first time entering. Since then, she's been at the forefront of the Women's Big Air scene, racking up numerous podium spots. At just 16 years old, she balances pushing the progression while maintaining textbook style, making her the perfect addition to the Burton Team.
Interview translated from the original post by Burton Japan.
To jump in, how did you get your start in snowboarding?
I’m one of four kids, and originally my older brother and sister were into snowboarding, so it was natural for me to pick it up, too. I first got on a board when I was 7 years old, and from then on, I’ve been riding at Okumino Ski Resort, Takasu Snow Park, and the Hirugano Highlands Ski Resort near my hometown. At first, I was just having fun snowboarding and didn't do any terrain parks at all, but my brother was doing slopestyle, so naturally, I started getting into jumps and jibs.
When did you start doing slopestyle seriously?
In elementary school, around 6th grade. My brother has a pro certification from the JSBA, and we’ve been going to Yamazen Aichi Quest together since we were kids, practicing with coaches. I guess it was from that point that I started going to more and more meets.
It seems like your older brother had a big impact on you. Do you still snowboard together?
During the season, I’m outside of the country, so we haven’t been boarding together at all recently. When I’m in Japan, we sometimes go boarding together at Okumino if our schedules sync up. Although we may not have too many chances to snowboard together, I live with my brother in Saitama these days because I moved there to snowboard at Saitama Quest when he was going to college in Tokyo. My brother works part-time at Saitama Quest on weekends, so he supports me by picking me up and dropping me off.
Is there any particular thing that has been a catalyst for your own personal growth?
I will never forget something my coach, Yasuhiro Sato (he goes by “Yassan”), told me during a practice session at the Appi Kogen Ski Area the winter when I was 14. Conditions were poor that day, and the other riders knocked off practice and came off the mountain. When I was thinking of getting off the lopes along with everyone else, Yassan said something that really got my attention: “You won’t improve if you don’t give your all at times like this.” I had ambitious goals, and there was no way I was going to practice any less than the others, so my way of thinking changed a lot from that point on.
I can see that Coach Yassan has had a major impact on you. How did you meet him?
He happened to come to the YAMAZEN AICHI QUEST when I was riding. At the time, people told me, “That guy is coaching Takeru Otsuka and others,” so I asked him to watch me jump for about an hour. He only shared about an hour's worth of advice with me, but from that point on, I saw a big difference in my straight jumps. In that instant, I knew that if I wanted to keep on snowboarding, I had no choice but to work with him. From then on, Yassan became my actual coach. I would take advantage of the long vacations when I was in junior high school to go to Saitama, where Yassan was, and then come back to Aichi to return to school.
What is your motivation to continue slopestyle?
It’s the people who board with me who really motivate me. I often snowboard with Burton Team members like Reira Iwabuchi and Su Yiming, and it is very inspiring to board with people who are better than me and see them do tricks that I can't do myself. There are people close to me who have achieved results in big tournaments. I look at these people and see that I have more work to do.
Are you a stoic by nature?
It's not so much that I’m stoical as that I am competitive. It’s like when I’m training, I don’t want to end up practicing before the others. But it isn’t so much what people around me are doing. It’s more that I’m focusing on myself and trying to maximize what I can do.
What is the most memorable tournament you’ve had up till now?
It was the World Cup Big Air held last year at Copper Mountain. It was my first World Cup, and I really wanted to enjoy it. The competition itself had some pretty big events, but I had flown similarly-sized jumps before that in New Zealand in September and October, so I was not too worried about the tricks. I told myself not to get too stressed out for the main event, and I challenged myself to do the tricks with a smile on my face. There were all kinds of people cheering for me, and ultimately I was super happy that I was able to win.
Naturally, they’re cool, but beyond that there are boarders who are going to have a real impact.
Tell us how you first connected with Burton and what your impression of the Burton Team is?
The first snowboard I rode was a Burton board. I think it was probably a yellow After School Special. I think it was a kid’s board. Even though I’ve ridden other brands of boards, I’ve always only used Burton bindings and boots. Burton is the one I trust the most in terms of responsiveness. Once I started competing more seriously, I ultimately returned to Burton for my boards. For the past few seasons, I’ve also worn Burton clothing.
And my impression of the Burton team is that it is a really diverse group of riders. Some riders focus mainly on the terrain park in competitions, while there are others who are more active in video for their post-competition careers. But I think that the one thing that ties them together is that each rider is able to ride their snowboards the way they want to. That communicates a lot of appeal and fun. So, naturally, there are a lot of cool-looking boarders, but there are also a lot of riders who have a big impact on the scene. That’s the kind of snowboarder I would like to become.
What are your goals for this season?
Up until last season, my main tricks were front and backside. But from this season, I want to improve the make-up rate of my weakest tricks, such as cab and switchback, and to be able to make the 1080 without fail. I’d also like to be able to turn the 1260 in all directions. I would also like to achieve results in high-profile competitions such as the X Games.
Finally, could you talk about the ideal kind of snowboarder you want to become in the future?
I’m interested in the world of filmmaking, but I have to admit, I don’t know much about it yet. Right now, my focus is on getting the best results I can in big competitions. One boarder I admire is Burton's Zoi Sadowski Synnott. I really like her style of snowboarding and her personality. There are many great people around me, like Zoi, Reira, and Takeru Otsuka. What I want to do is to keep on improving myself to get results in my own unique style.