Originally posted on SnowboarderGuide.com
The drive from Boulder, CO to Breckenridge is only a couple of hours including traffic, but the anxiety makes it seem longer. Snowboarderguide was in the mountains for the Breckenridge Grand Prix, the final qualifying event for the 2002 Olympics. The main event was the halfpipe competition, but there was also a nighttime big air and the video premier of 411 Snow #3.
After working our way through media registration, we still had time to make a couple runs on the mountain before finding our hotel. It was a nice room, cozy and close to the mountain. We later found out that Ross Powers had the room a couple doors down from us. We still had plenty of energy so we decided to hit the town and get some food.
Breckenridge is an awesome town, small, but with plenty going on at all hours. After moseying through the streets we decided on a small oriental restaurant that smelled amazing. We walk inside, and the first thing I noticed was the very recognizable 16 year old redhead sitting with his family at one of the tables. I expected Shaun White to be kind of snooty and spoiled, but he has kept a pretty level head even with all of his fame. We chatted with him about snowboarding in general, riding with Terje at the Arctic Challenge, and how he was going to do in the pipe the next day. Oh, and the food was pretty good, too.
8 AM, the alarm was going off, and I opened my eyes to a completely unexpected 10 inches of fresh! My first thoughts were for the unlucky pipe groomers, but they instantly turned to my good fortune. Un-forecasted snow at Breck means no crowds from Denver. We threw on our gear and caught breakfast at Daylight Donuts, a great little hole-in-the-wall where all of the locals eat. One of the workers was even haggling with his boss, trying to skip work to go ride. We drove up to Peak 8 where all the contests were held, and as I started to pull into a parking spot I thought â€œThat sure looks like Todd Richards getting his gear out of the back of that VW.â€ I shifted my booted foot from the gas to the break, but in the crammed Subaru foot-space, the corner of my boot caught the gas. The car jolted forward, and as we zeroed in, I realized that it really was Todd Richards. Luckily, my right hand reacted quickly and grabbed the e-brake, preventing Todd from an intimate encounter with the Subaru grill. It was a good time to introduce myself, although most of my introduction was apologies.
We made a few runs in the fresh, reveling in the feeling of the soft, dry snow under our boards. We just happened to be cutting across one of the runs that lead in to the terrain park, when I noticed a Ski-patrol walking towards the closed entrance gates. I took a second look at the park: 6 or 7 tabletops ranging from 30-60 feet, a couple easy rails, a couple of insanely pro rails, and a huge rainbow, a few hips, after that 2 more smaller hits, and at the bottom, and the crowd of pros waiting at the contest pipe. The terrain park features were all blanketed in 10â€³ of fresh; except for the takeoffs which the patroller had just finished raking. I couldnâ€™t believe my eyes; it was like a huge back-country bowl that just happened to have perfectly shaped hits in it. The patroller opened the gate, giving me a look that said he thought I was crazy to be in the park on a snow day, but I just pointed it at the first table. After almost 10 years of riding, I consider myself to be pretty experienced, but nothing had prepared me for this. I was riding a 158 Option Sansalone, which was just long enough to keep me afloat while straight-lining for the lip. The runway was soft, but once you got to the lip the snow was packed and solid. I could keep just enough speed to clear the tables and put my board down in the powdered landing. I went with one of my all-time favorite straight-grabs off the first hit, just a big tweaked out nose-grab, into a tweaked indy from the second hit. While I was in the air I realized that the pros stuck down below at the pipe were all watching, I tried to forget that I had noticed. The third jump was probably around 40 feet, but I had picked up enough speed, so I hucked and stomped a big frontside 540 stalefish, not bad for my second day of the season. A backside 360 Indy cleared me over the fourth kicker, and left me facing the rainbow; 50-50 up with a slight backside slide on the way down. I cut back to the right to try to clear the 60â€² table-monster. I couldnâ€™t quite keep enough speed for that one, but the powder cushioned the blow. My legs were starting to burn, so I skipped the hips, and just took the last two tables. A frontside 360 nosegrab, and a tweaked out method cleared those. Exhausted I spun around and looked up at the run, and instantly wished I had my camera. There was only the one track, disappearing over the tops of the tables, and leading to the next. Just then a whole pack of riders arrived, and as quickly as a shaken etch-a-sketch, my track disappeared under the bombardment of the other boarders.
After my legs had regained a little strength, we made a couple more runs until the competition was scheduled to start. We arrived and proceeded to get starstruck. Names like Tommy Chzeschin, Todd Richards, Keir Dillon, Ross Powers, Barrett Christy, Shaun White, Shannon Dunn, Danny Kass, and tons of others, were launching out of the 15â€² Superpipe. This was the first event Snowboarderguide covered, and I was stoked to be able to hike the pipe with all the riders and other photographers. One of the highlights came when Bjorn decided to set the record for height off the first hit, where I was taking pictures, but misjudged the reentry and smacked the pipe deck, only a foot and a half from where I was shooting. The sound was deafening, and one of the other photographers and I exchanged a glance that said â€œThat was too damn close!â€ All of the riders were throwing down amazing tricks. Todd was putting on a great show, but couldnâ€™t finish his runs. Keir was throwing the huge McTwists that everyone saw in the Mack Dawg videos. The whole Grenade Gloves crew was there to support Danny, and they even brought their team manager, a blowup doll. The doll was taped to a big stick which held up and over the edge of the pipe whenever Danny made runs. It was a well done competition, and in the end Tommy walked away the winner. Keir Dillon and JJ Thomas came in second and third respectively. In the womens division, Kelly Clark took gold, Gretchen Bleiler took silver, and Cara-Beth Burnside walked away with the bronze.
Later that night we headed to the post-competition party and the 411 Snow #4 premier. On the way in I ran into the Nidecker rep and Tommy Chzeschin. After congratulating Tommy, I went in to the premier. It was a pretty decent video, with a few great parts. The best part of the night was bumping into Todd at the bar while getting a beer. I ended up talking with him for a little while, an experience I will never forget. I was definitely a bit nervous, but then I have grown up reading about and watching Todd, and I never expected to be at a bar, hanging out, just chilling with him. Todd is a super cool, down to earth guy, a true feat in the midst of the snowboard industry.
The next night, the Breckenridge Yahoo Big Air competition was an amazing event to witness. The smooth, sculpted, monolith of a jump was close to 10 feet tall at the lip, with a super gradual tranny from the run-in, and a 50 foot distance to the landing. The landing was steep, wide, and long; all of the elements necessary for a safe event. Huge balloon-like lights hung 15-20 feet in the air, and lit the event for all to see. The riders were performing at their peaks, and there was a lot of camaraderie between them. There were a lot of locals, but several of the pros turned out too. Unfortunately, we donâ€™t have many pictures from the event because it was held at night. Travis Rice won 1st, Shaun White took 2nd, and James Beach brought up the rear. Danny Kass launched the kicker trailing the team manager behind him, Bjorn was throwing amazing tricks, but had a hard time keeping his board down in the landing, and Nicolo Drogo stomped some amazing stuff and came in 4th. There was a huge crowd cheering on the competitors, making for a really great atmosphere, and I think that everyone involved had a great time.
We left Breck a couple days later, tired, sore, and utterly amazed by all that we had seen. This may have been the first event Snowboarderguide covered, but it wonâ€™t be the last.