The Limelight: Reigning Bull of the Woods champ Matt Coughlin
February 22, 2016
About 48 hours ago, Matt Coughlin boarded an Amtrak train from Salt Lake City to Glenwood Springs for a ride on the fabled California Zephyr. The nine-hour trip ended with a two-hour drive from Glenwood to Breckenridge (luckily there was a lull in the snow), where Coughlin headed to the woods above Carter Park to preview the course for Bull of the Woods, an underground, grassroots log-rail jam held not at a resort, but on man-made features in the pines.
Rail to logs and back again — it doesn't get more modest than that.
"I'm excited to get out and see everyone," Caughlin told me over the phone after he finally passed through the dead zone between Wolcott and Edwards. "I just haven't seen anyone (in Colorado) in a few months now. Hopefully I'll also do some powder riding, hike around in the woods and whatnot."
This isn't Coughlin's first trip to BOTW. He was there at the first event in 2014, back when it was little more than a semi-secret party for friends of Ronnie Barr and his Trilogy Enterprises team, held on late-spring slush. Coughlin took third that year, then returned in 2015 — the first "official" event — with his sights set solidly on the win. He wasn't so modest that time around.
"I went to the contest last year pretty much knowing I could win," Coughlin said. "That was the thought I put in my head. I even had a dream last year that I won."
Coughlin had the chops to make it happen, and so he did. There wasn't a particular trick or line that set him apart from the rest, but his combination of speed, style and creativity on the wood was enough for the title. He even pulled a signature method to backside boardslide on one of the nastiest features: a trailer gap to an enormous down log.
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"You just don't think of it as being wood," said Coughlin, who spent a few weeks early this season at Bone Zone, a log-only park at Brighton Resort in Utah. "You just think of it as anything else: go fast. That one (trailer gap) was cool. It was scary — big consequences — but it looked cool."
Coughlin is a Maine native who first settled in Vail after moving to Colorado. He said "the terrain park kind of sucked" over the pass (he then quickly wondered if that was the best thing to say in Colorado), and so he headed into the woods. Soon after, he met with Barr and earned an invite to BOTW. Last winter, he moved to Salt Lake full time but spent plenty of time on the train to Glenwood because the snow was nowhere to be found and he was busy filming a video part.
Coughlin rides for Nightmare Development, and like most of the Summit County team he's a jibber at heart, with a crisp and fluid style influenced as much by skateboarding as is it by snowboarding. BOTW is the best of both worlds for riders like him: snow and logs and natural hits, mixed with the occasional road or trailer gap. The entire thing is judged by local riders, which means a win is on par with getting the nod of approval from that old, grizzled dude you've idolized for years. There is no prize purse, no lucrative contract — just the title.
"There really is nothing to this," he said and paused for a beat. "And I like that. You're just doing it for the title, just going out there to be the Bull of the Woods, to get your name on a trophy."
Now that his name is on the trophy, it's time to put effort into filming. He's not sure how hard he'll charge the course this year — he thought he broke his ankle right before finals in 2015 — but he can't say no to wood.
"If you can, fit something about Summit County's most eligible bachelor in there," he told me with a laugh near the end of the interview.
So, eligible bachelorettes: If you're looking for the yin to your yang, head to Carter Park today and keep an eye out for Coughlin. He'll be the modest guy taking it easy. Maybe.
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