Off The Hill: The good, bad and ugly of Dew Tour
Off The Hille
When it comes to competitive snowboarding and the Dew Tour, I have a love/hate relationship with both.
I fell hard for snowboarding when I was about 13 years old and went to the Burton U.S. Open at Stratton, Vermont with my friend. I remember that day vividly: the drive there, the sponsor village, the people, the view from the side of the halfpipe that day.
I was one of those little groms with a poster that I made everyone sign. I remember that it was my birthday, and I also remember that Ross Powers won, even though Abe Teter, the eldest of the Teter family (including Olympic gold medalist Hanna), was the fan favorite. Teter was going berserk, and the hometown crowd was behind him on every hit.
Ross is also from Vermont and got plenty of love, but he was the boss in those days, and people were getting behind the underdog Teter. I think here I aligned myself with those Teter fans. Competitive snowboarding is about representing: representing your mountain, your state or hometown, your sponsors or friends or family on the big stage.
It’s tough to judge someone’s level of passion, dedication and skill with snowboarding because it has so many facets and paths. But, in competition, you need to have a way of ranking people, so they make a format and a points system and call it the standard and let ‘em loose.
No Shawn, no Shaun
I have watched the evolution of snowboard competition over the years — from the very first contest at Cooper to the return of Shaun White at Dew. It is a part of snowboarding. Wherever there is a sport/activity/action, there will be a competition surrounding it. It is the nature of the beast, the human beast in all of us that competes with others. I think it stems from our survival instinct.
I can tell you this: One person was the first to be the wonder kid, the natural, the prodigy. He ruled every contest, invented tricks and seemed to easily best his competitors for a long time. He could flat-out snowboard better than everyone and shut down most contests.
He’s a Shawn, but not the one you may be thinking of. His name was Shawn Palmer, and he was the apprentice to the stylemaster Terry Kidwell in the early Tahoe days. He was brash, he had attitude and he was hated by as many as adored him. He had the skills to back it up and showcased his abilities in realms other than snowboarding. There is no Shaun White without Shawn Palmer. He was superhuman.
At Dew Tour, the name of the game is getting the shot of the action — the photo, the video, the interview or the autograph. It’s to say you saw these real-life action heroes do their thing.
It is truly inspirational to see someone with that much skill excel at any sport. As a kid, I played competitive tennis, and my father took us to a pro event held in Connecticut one year. I was a little guy — so excited to see the pros — and since I was an aspiring tennis player, I felt like I was included, involved, invested even.
When we saw the first set of pros warming up — warming up, I remind you, they were hitting it so hard it looked like the fuzz would come off the ball: Boom … boom … boom … slice … boom … boom — right there I said to myself, “Wow, this is a high realm reserved for the best. This is not easy, and they deserve every bit of fanfare, prize money and fan adoration.”
But snowboarding is not tennis. In fact, it is the beautiful alternative to organized sports I found as a kid that sent me on the adventure of my life. It is road trips with your friends and being in the woods all alone on an immaculate run. Sometimes, the best parts of boarding are not captured on film or even seen by anyone. They are just for you. Snowboarding is beautifully selfish in that way.
Shaun at the Tour
So, there is everybody trying to cover every angle of Dew and get the story — the shot. I was scrambling, trying to get anywhere for a location close enough or a way to see the right pro for a shout out.
Then it snowed on Friday night, and Saturday was a pow morning. We ripped all around in the cold, light fluff that morning, hooting and hollering with my buds and seeing the faces I always run into on a pow morning, the pow-hound community of friends I have here in our town.
I eventually made it over to Dew and was going to shoot the big screen and crowds at the base of Dew Village. We are hanging there for a second, watching the results of women’s halfpipe. I scan to my right and who do I see but the masked man himself … the golden goose,Mr. Shaun White.
Here’s the crazy thing: I know Shaun White. Well, sorta. Back in the days of the 18-foot halfpipe, we used to hike it each year early in the season. I’ve also followed his entire career, so I feel like I know the guy.
Shaun is walking through the crowd unnoticed — no entourage, no media blitz. I stick out my hand:
“Good to see you here Shaun,” I say.
“Good to see you, too,” he replies.
“You going up there to get ‘em?”
“Yeah, man, good to see you.”
The snow was blowing all around, and the pipe was going to be a battle, but he was walking in like the gladiator he is. On a good day, Shaun is hard to beat. On a snowy, low-visibility, windy, bad day, he is almost impossible to beat. He is a master of transition, the snap of the lip, pressure. I know how hard his runs must be, and he still pulls them off.
I was thinking how Shaun, Jamie Anderson and a few other mega-pros have had more victory runs than your average competitor has had wins. This must be the moment of Zen, the feeling of accomplishment that keeps the drive alive: to know you have locked up the competition, to know you won the whole thing.
I’ve found that people who don’t like competitions haven’t been in too many. Or maybe they have, like myself, and just feel a little jaded about the whole thing, with people passing out $20,000 and cars to those chosen few superhumans while we struggle with doubles (shifts or inverts).
All I can say is this: I blew my shot of Dew Tour, the candid interview with Shaun as he heads up to defend his very reputation on this hallowed ground he helped to build called Dew, called competitive snowboarding. It just would not have been right for me to pull out the camera and clip him up right then. He was tuned in. He was game face. Calm. Composed. Deadly.
It was amazing to see. It was like a boxer just before he walks into the ring smashing his taped hands together and breathing out. I just shook his hand and said, “Get em’ Shaun.” You don’t bother the boxer or the slugger on the way to the batting box. He went up and handled business like he does, making it clear to everyone that he will have his eyes on PyeongChang.
On his game, Shaun has PyeongChang. On his game, Shaun is one side to the soul of snowboarding. The pressure player. The undeniable force. The palm in his own way.
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