If you’ve watched ESPN’s X Games in the last year (or tuned into US Open webcasts), then you know Jack Mitrani. The former pro snowboarder has become the face of the X Games as its full-time host during network broadcasts. But Mitrani didn’t set out to be action sport’s next Sal Masekela. With some good luck—and good karma—he slid into the position and has run with it. And despite hitting the big time, Mitrani has kept it real: he still lives in Vermont, near where he grew up. He bought a place in Burlington, mostly because of the people. “Vermont is full of humble people,” says Mitrani, who still works for Burton Snowboards which is headquartered nearby. “It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing. It’s a simple place and the quality of life is high.” We caught up with Mitrani to talk broadcasting, the health of the X Games and one of his favorite subjects, music.
So it sounds like you’re on the mend a bit?
Yeah, a year and a half ago I broke my leg and had a plate and a screw put in. I just had the screws taken out. I can’t wait to snowboard this year again.
First thing that comes to mind is that it had to be a bad landing after jumping something huge on a snowboard or some such? But that’s not the case, eh? It was a gap, though.
Basically, it was Scotty Lago’s bachelor party in Miami. You know, I’m a snowboarder, I like to jump and flip everything (sarcasm). I took a running jump over this fountain and I landed with my leg straight. I had to go to the hospital. I was on an IV, hopped up on drugs. The guys from the bachelor party came and visited me. I felt bad. I was the best man and it was the first night of the bachelor party I’d set up. It was a 12-foot gap and I ran as fast as I could, cleared it, but my leg paid the price.
Makes for a good story, though. So how did you get into the broadcast thing? You’ve basically become the voice of X Games. It’s fun to watch you.
During my pro snowboarding career, I was always filming and editing video and shooting skits (for Burton). Once my snowboarding career sort of wound down I had a lot of experience on both ends of the camera. I did the Burton European Open webcast. We were chatting and they were like, ‘hey do you want to try and do this for a living, take it seriously?’ I did the US Open webcast and started to gain traction. ESPN wanted to do a late night show at X Games. I was super-nervous about the whole thing but it was a bit of a success and I had a lot of fun. I did the late night show for three years and then last year they were like, ‘you want to take what you’ve been doing and be the main host?’ I was completely blown away, humbled, honored, all of the above. I just did the summer games in Minneapolis and they didn’t hate it too much, so we’re going to keep doing it.
The X Games is one of the longest-running events in action sports. But the media landscape has changed so much, especially cable television. Do you think the X Games, as an event, is safe?
I would say absolutely. They’re learning and adapting and growing with the times. Kids are so much more digital today. Television isn’t the only thing to watch the X Games on: I’d say it’s a reflection of TV in general, across the board for mainstream sports, too. Everyone is really trying to figure out how to capture sports the best way these days. It’s all a question of how do you package up the X Games in 2017 and beyond that will keep people watching? There’s so much technology to use. Take virtual reality as an example: one of these days kids will be wearing goggles, watching Scotty James’ winning run while standing on the halfpipe without having to be there. The Games are safe. There’s just a lot to figure out and I’m excited to see where it goes.
Favorite X Games moment so far?
Just recently at X Games Minneapolis, Bob Burnquist announced his retirement. Interviewing Bob about that definitely gave me goose bumps. I was just trying to keep cool while highlights from his career were showing. It’s pretty awesome: growing up, you had Bob Burnquist in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. I’m pretty grateful to have come full circle watching and competing in X Games and now hosting.
So this whole thing has kind of fallen in your lap?
I got into television by just following opportunities one step at a time. With ESPN, looking at it long term, I’d love to be able to be what Sal was for the X Games. It’s funny, I never went to school for any of this. I never thought, ‘this is where I would be.’ The X Games kinda’ just threw me in the fire, learn as you go. They put that trust in me to go on live TV. You live life on the edge and it’s pretty fun.
What about the tech aspect of television? Wasn’t that freakin’ scary?
Life is scary enough as it is, right? I never knew how to get in and out of commercials. You pick up a promo card and they’re like, ‘read this.’ Then you have to transition and talk about Wimbledon highlights coming up later on Sports Center. You’re totally learning on the fly and you’re like ‘holy shit.’ That’s why I was so grateful I was an athlete. You were nervous before comps and it was the exact same thing. You start talking and it eases your nerves, just like when you start moving in a competition. Nerves are the fire that fuels you. You get a little older and wiser and understand that.
In a lot of these sports, especially snowboarding, you know the athletes so well. Do you find yourself rooting for people in the booth?
I’m pretty honest. I kinda’ think that’s why I was given the job. I try to stay unbiased for sure. I know a lot more about certain guys and I hope they do awesome. But I’m able to keep an ear to the ground and find out what’s actually happening and not pick sides. Just call it the way I see it.
You organize the Frendly Gathering with Danny Davis. How important is music for you?
Music is my favorite thing in the world. It’s one thing that I love that’s not work. Snowboarding, filming, editing, I love, but it’s work. Music is the one thing that I love and there’s no pressure. I have a little recording studio at my house where I can write music without any pressure. I have a library of songs I can use when I do edit so I don’t have to use that corporate BS (stock music). I’ll be driving home, or traveling home from anywhere in the world, really, and all I’m dreaming of is sitting in the studio, making music.