Outdoor Adventures: Filling the void
A few weeks ago, Shaun White and Kelly Clark won the Burton U.S. Open.
But it wasn’t at Stratton.
It was at the iconic event’s new home in Vail, Colo.
So what’s going to fill the void for dyed-in-the wool New England riders looking to compete with the upper echelon?
One possibility could be this weekend’s Vermont Open at Stratton, organized by one of the Green Mountain State’s pioneering snowboarders, Steve Hayes. The 40-something snowboarding dad from Londonderry is behind the riding and music event featuring a $20,000 prize purse.
Stratton’s a prime spot for a such a contest. The top-notch Stratton Mountain School is right there, an institution that’s produced stellar riders like Louie Vito, Ross Powers, Ellery Hollingsworth, Danny Davis and Lindsey Jacobellis. Talk about a local pipeline.
And Hayes says Powers is competing.
But there’s more.
Southern and central Vermont are also places where many riders have roots before leaping over the huge halfpipe walls like Clark and Hannah Teter.
Hayes’s vision is to return the Open to its basics where a kid from South Londonderry, South Burlington and South Boston or anywhere can come out of the woodwork and land on the podium.
“That’s really an important concept,” he said a few days before the event.
Hayes is a local hero, one of the fledging U.S. Open riders in the early 1980s. He was on Burton Snowboard’s first sponsored team. His rode professionally until 1995 and stopped after a nasty injury. Hayes owned a snowboard company.
He and his aging buddies also started a banked slalom race called the Washed Up Cup. When Burton took the Open west, Stratton approached Hayes to grow the Cup. That idea sprung into the Vermont Open, with a rail jam, 100-foot long mini-halfpipe with 12-foot walls, quarterpipe, big air and banked-slalom race reminiscent of the Washed Up Cup.
“There’s something for everyone,” he said. “Music and snowboarding go hand in hand. Everyone’s got an iPod and is rocking out while they ride.”
Last weekend Loon Mountain in Lincoln rolled out a press release announcing that its Last Call snowboarding competition – which will be held tomorrow –is the biggest snowboard event in the East and will fill the void left by the departure of the U.S. Open.
The jam-style event started 13 years ago and has been at Loon for 10 years. It’s got a low-key atmosphere with amateur and pro riders. This one has about $5,000 in prize money and gear, is held in a day and features rails, big air and a mystery session for riders.
“It’s basically a day for everybody to get together and celebrate the end of the season,” said Boyne Resorts terrain park development manager Jay Scambio. “Some people just come to hang out, snowboard, and meet up with friends they haven’t seen in a while, and other people come to get after it and ride the amazing setups.”
He says the U.S. Open or the X Games are very formatted, structured and have a lot of money behind them. Last Call has a grassroots vibe.
Last Saturday, 68 snowboarders turned out for Mount Snow’s debut Carinthia Open Mega Plaza (COMP) Snowboard Throwdown, with nearly five grand in prize money. Pro and amateur riders pulled tricks before a panel of judges with X Game and Olympic pedigrees.
Event manager Tim Dolan called the southern Vermont competition “world-class.”
Grassroots – growing from the bottom up – is synonymous with snowboarding. Those old-school warriors with their basic boards running slalom and giant slalom courses started it all. They threw in curved banks to make it interesting. Early halfpipes were dug by enthusiastic riders with shovels. They placed common items like barrels, picnic tables and even old vehicles to jib.
Over time the sport grew with multiple disciplines on display today by dedicated and celebrated athletes. Snowboarding’s influence crossed over to skis, with skiers competing in slopestyle, on rails and in halfpipes. And there’s a mark on gear, too.
There’s certainly room for many end-of-season snowboard events from the grassroots level to pros across northern New England. Resorts should continue to grow those competitions.
But here should also be a coveted gathering place for snowboarders to aspire, wanting to test themselves in the land of craft beer, cool cows and sweet maple syrup in the state where it all began.
(Marty Basch can be reached through onetankaway.com.)