The Outsider: Is legitimacy good for snowboarding?
February 5, 2016
There's a difference between snowboard competitions and contests.
On Friday, more than 75 filmers, photographers and spectators trekked through powdery snow to the Barney Flow trail above Carter Park in Breckenridge. There, they set up camp for a few hours to watch about 30 local and visiting snowboarders duke it out at Bull of the Woods, a rider-built contest held on more than a dozen handmade features, all made using only logs, snow, nails and boards. It's the definition of a grassroots contest, and without pissing off too many people, it's my definition of grassroots Colorado riding: creativity in a natural setting. But like all things natural, observation changes the outcome (to paraphrase a science mantra) and bringing more eyes to an underground event like BOTW means it will never be the same.
It's already happening. In its first two years, this was a semi-secret jam session, an end-of-season party for invited riders and anyone else lucky enough to know where and when it was happening. This year, for the first time ever, founders from Trilogy Enterprises (Ronnie Barr and crew) partnered with the town of Breck to give BOTW the "legitimacy" treatment. Z Griff, our On The Hill correspondent, even found time during three weeks of shoveling to produce several videos about Friday's contest and Running of the Bulls, a public banked slalom course on the Carter Park switchbacks.
The Trinity guys put on an impressive show, and the riders (some as young as 9 years old it looked like) thanked them by slaying every intense feature. I saw Miller flips over an 8-foot wallride reading, "Amateurs in a world of professionals," and then a ton of combos on the up log to butter pad to down log feature. (Yep, they built a butter pad out there.) Nightmare's Sean Murphy had a 50-50 to 360 to front noseslide there. Most of the contest riders I interviewed think this new visibility is smart — "It gives the event more publicity and makes it easier for more people to come watch," 2014 BOTW champ Matt Coughlin said — while a handful see it as the death of an underground event built for an underground style of riding. (I personally think it's a good move, especially after seeing the Never Summer Log Masters series die due to bureaucracy.)
Still, the argument is as old as snowboarding. Since the beginning this has been an underground sport: It was banned at most U.S. resorts for decades, and even now snowboarders aren't allowed at places like Alta and Deer Valley in Utah. But, similar to BOTW, observation eventually led to popularity, and that inevitably led to change. Each of those factors led to the real tipping point — cash money — and these days it's a multi-billion dollar industry.
Which brings me back to competition vs. contest. The way I see it, snowboard competitions are high-level events like Dew Tour, X Games, the Burton U.S. Open and even youth comps, things like Revolution Tour. They have entry fees and cash purses, not to mention rules, regulations and confusing qualification requirements. They have marketing budgets and play nicely on television. I enjoy watching them — it's still snowboarding — but I usually come away knowing I'll never do half of the s*** I just saw.
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Snowboard contests are just different enough to feel… natural. They're usually small and laid-back, with improvised rules and a sense of playful anarchy. They tend to attract a small collection of riders interested in nothing more than the untried and untested. They want to do s*** no one has seen before. If a camera happens to be nearby, that's even better.
BOTW was promoted and presented as a contest, not a competition. When I hiked down from the course to get back to real life, all I could think about was building logs. It made me stoked to ride, and not just ride, but also ride in the woods, away from the groomers on natural features, where half the fun is figuring out exactly how to approach something you've never seen in your life. It's where I've ripped more snowboard pants and broken more boards than anything else, and the risk is almost always worth the reward. (It's even worth it when you spend two hours sewing your inseam back into place.)
That's the biggest difference between competitions and contests: one inspires awe, the other inspires action. Both of them belong in snowboarding, and it's because this community is deep and complex. You have park rats, log riders, powder chasers, Eurocarvers — it's endless, and it always will be.
Here's hoping BOTW comes back next year, with a big thanks to Z Griff and Barr's crew at Trilogy. Instead of wondering if legitimacy would affect the event's reputation, they dove headfirst into a contest Breck can now call its own. Look for a visual recap from photographer Chip Proulx in Monday's paper.
Beacon Bowl at the Basin
It's that time of year again, when there's enough snow on the slopes to start thinking about serious backcountry trips. And, if you haven't already, it's that time of year again to brush up on your avalanche basics. Today, Arapahoe Basin hosts to the 14th annual Beacon Bowl, a celebration of all things related to avy safety. There's a beacon competition, avy dog demonstrations, a base area demo village and more. Entry for the competition is $20, with divisions for adults, youth and industry professionals. The prize? Bragging rights, plus the peace of mind that comes with knowing your stuff. For more info, see the story on page 2.
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