This shot is from the desk at Stratton Mountain where prizes were handed out for the 1997 US Open. I won the event and took home $5000.
Before talking about one of the biggest days in my snowboard career let me take you back and give you a little (probably a lot by the time I’m done writing) of my US Open history. Although I took part in the US Open in 1994, it was 1995 that was the big year. 1995 was my second season riding for Burton. When I was at the Open I heard they were about to run an event called the “Big Air” and though it was unfamiliar to me at the time it would become my snowboarding comfort zone.
The interesting part about the Big Air was that the registration staff was essentially allowing riders to campaign to be in the contest. I was told that riders could write an essay petitioning the registration panel to allow the rider entry to the contest. I was a small timer that had no real results beyond USASA contests but I would not be denied. I lit up and geeked out, channeling Jim Carrey, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance?”
It was a scene straight out of “A Christmas Story” as I put pen to paper and composed my masterpiece. Point after point, tearing at the heart strings, drowning in logic, compelling and riveting, outlining my clearly undeniable destiny. A+++++++++++++. Ok so it might not have pulitzer worthy but I did pour my little snowboard heart out. I told them about how I was from the west coast and this was a rare chance for me to impress my east coast sponsor (Burton), how I was better at jumps so I had a better chance to make an impact on Burton, and a bunch of other scribblings that took up half a page. Somewhere along the line I put the correct words in and found myself cleared for entering the line up of the first ever US Open Big Air.
The way I remember it, the jump was barely two mounds of snow pushed up, a take off and a landing, and anything but big. To me it seemed about 20 feet but I believe it was approximately 42ft of gap. The take off was no more than a few feet high and the landing was about the same. It was a glorified boardercross jump in all honesty. As bas as all that sounds I couldn’t wait to hit it. Not a damn person in the world knew who I was there and I would keep it that way for two more years. Haha.
At that point Big Air was just a concept, an idea understood about as much as Alta understands snowboarding. Regardless of that we hit the jump a few times, drew a crowd, Kale Stephens flew off the side and tried to shrink the crowd by a few, and we started the ball rolling for a whole new area of competitive snowboarding. Jim Rippey got first, I got second, and Michelle Taggert got third. That’s right, a woman competed with the men, held her own, and got a podium spot.
The response was good enough that big air got a foot hold and stayed at the US Open. In 1996 the jump was huge (about 65ft cheese wedge) for it’s time. I believe I threw down something along the lines of a backside 540 but not much else and I didn’t place. I did catch the eye of Mike McIntyre, of Mack Dawg Productions, who asked me if I wanted to film with him when I got back to Tahoe (Mack Dawg Productions was the gold standard for freestyle snowboarding movies. I wore out movie after movie their productions in the VHS years.). That’s another story for another day but the point to see here is that this was just another dream coming true due to being part of the US Open.
1997! Finally the story about the picture above. Big air was a full fledged, fully respected event at this point. All the heavy hitters from the freestyle world were present. I felt like the bat boy getting to play in a real major league game. I was walking amongst giants while trying not to scrape my jaw as it was dragging on the ground. How did some kid from Eagle River, Alaska get to this point?
I was still an unknown and the thing I have found about anonymity is that its a freeroll; I couldn’t lose. If I go all out and fall then nobody knows me anyway so no big deal. There are no expectations on the unknown. Failure just maintains anonymity. But….but if I go all out and do well then there is a real story: Unknown wows crowd. If I go all out and stick everything then I will really make a splash. Well a splash was made. I WON!!!!!! Amongst the giants Peter Line and Jamie Lynn I WON!!!!!!!!!! Trick after trick was thrown, some landed, many crashed, as I did a backside 720 tail grab and a backflip 180 with a frontside grab and I WON!!!!!!!
I know, chill on the winning stuff already. I’m just trying to let you know how it felt. I really saw myself as just a kid that tried to snowboard as much as I could. This was all a dream to me, an honor to be a part of it and to ride with my heroes.
When the awards were held they lined us up on the top of the jump as people littered the flat between the take off and the landing and all down the landing. They handed us champagne and we did the spraying thing that people do on the podium. After that something happened that impacted me a great deal and really drove home how much people pay attention to athletes or public figures and what they do (and I wasn’t even a big deal like ball players or nascar drivers lol).
Those that know me well know that I don’t drink. I’ve never had a drink in my life. So as the bottles were sprayed and the foam cleared I poured out what was left in my bottle. After that I started doing interviews with media people on the edge of the landing. After about 15 minutes things died down and I was wrapping up. I noticed two kids making their way up the landing and they came over to me. They waited until they got a chance and said hi. As I said hi back the older of the two (maybe 17 or so) said he just wanted to tell me that he and his brother didn’t drink and they thought it was cool that I poured out the rest of the bottle rather than drinking it. They noticed that from the bottom of the jump and felt compelled to make their way up to tell me. That hit me hard and has always been a really amazing life moment for me.
Ok so I was freaking out about winning. I got other competitors to sign my bib and told them what an honor it was to ride with them. That’s when Jamie Lynn said “You earned it” and that’s when I had to change my underwear. I got props from Jamie twice in my life and for those that don’t understand what that meant to me it would be like Jordan telling you that you had a good jump shot. I’ll hold onto those moments like they are trophies. They’ll take center space on the mantle in my mind.
As I went to collect my prize I couldn’t believe it was cash and not a check. The cashier counted out 50 Benjamin’s and handed them over. I was officially baller. So I went out and did what any baller would do; I went to dinner, a celebration dinner. I drove down to McDonald’s and damned if I didn’t supersize that meal without even thinking about it twice. Then I went back to my room and just reveled in the moment. I counted the money a bunch of times. I am pretty sure I made it rain and in 1997 only dancing Indians made it rain not Lil Wayne. Then I arranged the bills all in the same direction and by face size. Then I did this
HAHAHA. I know, i’m a dork. I couldn’t help it. I had hours alone in my room before my flight early the next morning and I couldn’t get over what had just happened. It was my way of not letting the moment go. Another funny note was that I had to fly home with 5K in my pocket. I was sure everyone could tell I had it and was scheming to steal it. I kept my hand on it at all times to make sure I wasn’t pick pocketed and to ensure it didn’t fall out of my pocket. The most enjoyable anxiety I’ve ever had.
In 1999 I broke a rib overshooting the landing of the big air and in 2000 I got second in the event. More US Open stories another day. I’ve had an amazing unbelieveable experience with the event and will be forever grateful to have been a part of it.
This week’s photo was taken at Alpenglow during the winter of 1991. This jump would form as you headed down the cornice line, from the top of the T-bar, in the flat area just before the top of chair 1.
The reason I like this photo so much is because its about heroes. Not the tv show and not the sandwich. I’m talking about the kind that seem to be non existent today. I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong. Do kids have heroes in snowboarding today? I’m sure they do to some extent but it seams that with the endless barrage of exposure that the attention span of the average fan is fried by the time they hit their third year of riding. Another facet of the current media state is that if a rider that is killing it gets hurt then he or she is basically tossed aside, in the minds of the kids, because there will be 497 other riders dropping web edits the next month. There is no build up or anticipation in waiting for the big movie part to drop because we will see another tomorrow. Its a tough world to be a pro in now. I guess its all relative but tough none the less.
There were magazines (you know, the thing that you look at on your iPad and flip the pages by swiping your finger) which we would study as though we were taking a med school entrance exam based on them. I would often read a Transworld snowboard magazine cover to cover in one sitting and then deal with the remorse over my actions, knowing that I would have to wait 30 long days to get anymore shots of Jeff Brushie poking out a trick in the half pipe.
And there were a handful of movies that came out each season. Basically the Mack Dawg and Standard films movies along with a few others; few enough that between friends someone would have every movie.
This meant there were a small number of sick riders and the majority of the media attention was focused on them. These were our heroes. They were worshiped, rightfully so, not for slaying beasts or rescuing damsels from the clutches of evil but rather for delivering a fatal blow to the styleless. We worshiped them for their perfection of the turn, the direction they tweaked, or whether their arm was on the inside or outside of their back knee when they did a frontside grab.
The sport was new enough that every nuance was studied and followed by attempted emulation. I wanted to push my mutes out like Jamie Lynn, before that I wanted to arch my back like Damion Sanders, and I wanted to look as “skatey” as Noah Salasnek and Chris Roach. In my early years there was no bigger hero than Craig Kelly. For those of you that dont know him, well theres not much I can do for you, but let me try to help you understand. Craig was kinda like the Terje Haakonson of the early days of snowboarding. Dont know who Terje is? Hmmm, well you really might be doomed. Let me try to help you understand. Terje was kinda like my generation’s Shaun White.
I can hear the grumbling now. The OG’s and purists will say that comparing Craig to Terje is one thing but its blasphemy to compare either of them to Shaun White. Hold your horses and let me straighten this mess out. You see I’m trying to explain a generational snowboard icon to the present day masses (by masses i mean the 12 people that read this blog). Shaun is the best half pipe rider there is. He has been among the best slopestyle riders as well. Just because some kid with 4 tall T’s on things (thinks) that Shaun doesnt have style doesnt mean its true. Maybe they are just mad because Shaun goes higher in the pipe than most of the rails are long that the gangsta shreds front board all day long. But style arguement aside, Shaun is the biggest name in our sport at the moment (even if it really should be Travis Rice). Before Shaun there was Terje. He dominated the pipe for years, had amazing style, was also accused of being robotic at times, and was the super star of my time. Before that was Craig. There was no “before Craig”, and again I know i might catch some guff for that comment but really with all respect due to the talent of the other riders of the time, nobody was as powerful yet flowed like water. Nobody had dominated contests the way he did. Nobody took the sport from flailing hucking spins to the smooth stylish beauty of a master executing his craft the way Craig did. He wasn’t the only one to ride like that but he was the first to excel at it all. He was the first star of snowboarding. Arguably Shaun Palmer was the first rock star of snowboarding but Im going to go ahead and give the crown to Craig.
Now hopefully you unknowing punks will be intrigued enough to find some old footage of Craig Kelly (Board with the world http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o8IbUBtIEGE ) and try to see through the lack of corks to recognize the finesse he brought to the sport.
The point of all this is that the picture above is one I love dearly because I feel like I came close to looking like my hero in it. Just like a little kid wants to drive the lane like Kobe, I wanted to do a method like Craig Kelly. Well for one moment in time the make a wish foundation helped me out and this picture captured it. Thanks to Craig and all the other snowboarders that have and still do inspire me and influence the style of the sport.