Summit snowboard legend Chad Otterstrom reflects on 2019-20 backcountry season
BRECKENRIDGE — Though snowboarding might seem like a young sport to some, there are veteran riders who have been in the game so long they can reflect nostalgically about their glory days from a quarter century ago.
Summit County legend Chad Otterstrom and his Aspen-based backcountry-slaying snowboard buddy Doran Laybourn are two of those guys. They’re the kind of friends who share with each other, and the Instagram snowboarding world, an old photo that harkens back to the start of it all: a results list from the United States of America Snowboard Association Nationals at Giants Ridge Recreation Area in Minnesota in 1995.
Otterstrom, then a Minnesota kid, won in the 17- to 18-year-old slopestyle division while the Colorado kid Laybourn won in the 13-14 division. Other names on the snowboard relic include future American Olympic snowboard star medalist Danny Kass winning the Menehune 11-12 division and Otterstrom’s fellow Minnesota native and future Breckenridge legend Steve Fisher finishing runner-up to Kass.
Oh, and scribbled in at the top is a kid named Shawn White — first-name misspelled — the runner-up in the youngest division, 10-and-under grommets. A decade later, he became the mainstream Olympic face of snowboarding globally.
“We didn’t even know each other then,” Otterstrom said of Laybourn and all the other future snowboard stars on the results list. “Then when I moved out here, I met (Laybourn), and we both went our separate ways as shredders. Now (we’ve come back together) that we are old and the only people out there doing freestyle snowboarding at kind of our age. I don’t know many 40-plus people who are riding the backcountry the way we are.”
This winter, Otterstrom, 43, and Laybourn, 40, devoted their time once again to fat-biking, hiking, skinning and snowboarding the most fun, natural terrain they could find for their free-flowing style of snowboarding where they bring their park roots to the backcountry. After achieving his ultimate goal of freestyle riding off the summit of the iconic 14,025-foot Pyramid Peak outside of Aspen last year, Otterstrom said this year was more about just chilling and having fun.
To Otterstrom, “just chilling and having fun” equates to riding new and familiar terrain that consists of linking turns through natural chokes, sending 540s off wind lips at the top of Rocky Mountain ridges and launching inverts off snow-draped rock cliffs.
He likes hiking and riding solo about half of the time for the cathartic, meditative experience that it provides. Then, when paired up with Laybourn, the duo continued their two-year process of finding video for Laybourn’s film edit coming out this fall.
“I did an NBD (never been done),” Otterstrom said about a trick he was especially excited about seeing in Laybourn’s edit. “For me, it’s an NBD — definitely an NBD for a 43-year-old.”
Otterstrom singled out the Vail Pass Winter Recreation Area — an old stomping ground of his where years ago he’d huck over the Lime Creek Road Gap — as a spot he enjoyed riding more freestyle on his splitboard this winter. Whether riding there or somewhere else, Otterstrom perfected the use of his new GoPro Max to shoot terrain and tricks in a fresh light.
“If you get the same trick on a different angle, it feels like a new trick,” Otterstrom said.
When out solo in Summit, Otterstrom would get creative to film himself by stabbing his trekking poles into snow in a way where he could affix the GoPro. Then, after playing with the camera’s settings, Otterstrom could drop in and launch off a jump the camera setup was next to, having it pan and capture his full run as if it were a human filming.
Around his new and old haunts in Summit County, that was especially useful for Otterstrom. These are remote locations he often accesses solo after spotting them from a distance. He then uses Google Earth to figure out if a spotted line is safe and how best to get there.
“You have to go through four hours of walking to get there,” Otterstrom said. “If you just tell someone that’s where it’s at, you are killing their fun. It’s cliché to say, but the fun is getting there, finding it.”
Also this winter, Otterstrom loved going up to build jumps at old spots by Loveland Pass where he filmed snowboard videos two decades ago. The nostalgic year also included riding menacing chokes near the Continental Divide where he can be seen coming to a dead stop and waiting for the cascading snow sluff above him to catch up and pass him before ripping through the choke and into the wide-open terrain below.
As for nostalgia, there was another dose of it during the week of Dew Tour at Copper Mountain Resort. During a year of going back to the glory days — including backcountry riding with Breckenridge legend Todd Franzen a couple of times — it also meant riding with old snowboard stars in the 3-foot Dew Tour pow. That day, he randomly ran into Breck legend Todd Richards and guys like freestyle rider Jeremy Jones, Chris Gunnarson and Chris Grenier. They found themselves in Woodward Copper’s powder-filled Peace Park, getting enough speed to launch off smaller jumps before tomahawking into bottomless fluff.
It felt like the good old days indeed.
“I think it was God’s way of telling people they shouldn’t be riding park so much,” Otterstrom said. “You should be riding more powder. It was cool.”
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