Boarders without Boundaries
Story by Sarah Gordon // Photos courtesy of Rhsy Logan
A group of seven men hop out of the truck and a nearby car filled with snowboarding gear and a large shovel. One of the men starts unloading the truck bed and shovels the white powder onto the grassy hill to create a man-made slope for doing tricks. Two long wooden frames topped by a flat surface are placed in a line toward the bottom of the hill, followed by more snow shoveled at the base.
Once the creation is complete, a man in black jeans and a green shirt quickly fastens his snowboard bindings and hobbles over to the top of the slope. He hesitates a moment, jumps into the air while rotating his board and descends down the hill. Another boarder follows his lead, this time spinning his board in mid-air after jumping off the rail.
After each run on the roughly 20 to 30 foot man-made slope, the men hop around on their boards to steady themselves enough to unfasten their bindings. Once unbuckled, they walk up the grassy hill to attempt another run.
For Western junior Rhys Logan, building home-made jumps with shaved ice in local parks was a typical weekend activity until Mount Baker ski area opened mid-December. Before the season started, he posted a video on a Transworld Snowboarding Web site, which shows the snowboarders practicing tricks off their creation as local residents and families watch in awe.
Logan is one of many Bellingham snowboarders using this new method - building jumps beyond Mount Baker due to lack of snow.
The late winter this year pushed opening day at Mount Baker back by more than two weeks from its usual late November opening. What's more, season passes are now almost $700 - even with a college student discount. That's nearly a $130 increase since the 2006-2007 season.
Still, the delayed season and high prices have not prevented passionate snowboarders from doing what they love. Rather, season delays have spawned the popularity of a new way to practice tricks and technique, creating a unique Bellingham subculture in the past couple years.
To keep the activity alive before and after snowboarding season, boarders are building terrains in their own backyards and local parks with household objects such as PVC pipe, wood planks and whiteboards, which the boarders cover with shaved ice from local skating rinks. This set up enables the boarders to do front-side and back-side boardslides, 270's, tail presses and more.
Logan and his friends are doing whatever it takes to keep snowboarding year-round despite the lack of winter weather in Bellingham.
"It's great to see people take that extra step to board," Logan says. "It lets you see people who are really into snowboarding."
The group of year-round snowboarders started meeting at the end of last September as a pre-season activity open to anyone, Logan says. About six to eight boarders would participate every weekend for around five hours.
Western junior Bart Patitucci, a friend of Logan's, started the group.
"It was just trying to get back on our boards before the season," Patitucci says. "A lot of people in Bellingham will just go to Baker to ride the mountain and don't really care about man-made stuff. I like to do all types of snowboarding, so I don't limit myself to just riding in one place."
Patitucci and others in the group have built their own jumps and rails downtown and in their backyards over the past couple seasons. This was the first year they tried it in a local park, however.
Before each session, Logan, Patitucci and fellow snowboarders pick up "snow" from the Bellingham Sportsplex. After scraping ice off the rink with the Zamboni, a truck-like vehicle used to smooth the ice rink, the driver dumps the leftover shaved ice in a bin outside the building. Sportsplex employees will often transfer some of the snow into the back of a truck for the boarders.
Aside from the strange glances locals give them, Logan and his friends do not receive any negative responses to their snowboarding activities in the park.
"I was surprised with how people embraced it," Logan says. "We'd get some funny looks sometimes because it would be the end of September, and we'd be driving through town with a truck load of snow in the sunny weather. I'm from Wenatchee and if we did that down there, people would get all pissed off with us tearing up the park."
The boarders often leave a yellowish-brown path in the grass where they hold their sessions in the park, but neighborhood residents have shown an encouraging attitude. One resident opened her garage and offered a power outlet to the group during night sessions, Logan says.
Other than the occasional bumps and bruises, no one has received serious injuries during the park sessions - they've just gotten a little muddy.
"You get really dirty, and it's pretty funny sometimes," Logan says. "The snow melts, and there are leaves sticking to you. It's great for those who are new because if you fall, it's not that big [of a deal]. You just get mud and leaves all over you."
WWU Snowboarding Club president and Western senior Casey Desmond says riding around the city and building custom jumps and rails have always been a growing part of the snowboarding culture.
Whenever it snows, Desmond, who has been snowboarding for 11 years, will ride terrain, or man-made jumps and set ups. Desmond also enjoys building jumps in the backcountry because it provides an experience that boarders can not find in any terrain park.
"It's a lot more rewarding at the end of the day," Desmond says. "Creating your own jump could take an hour or a day to build and you feel more self accomplishment. There's a lot more elements to terrain when you are building them, and that's more fun than just going to a park."
After discovering how easy it is to get shaved ice from the Sportsplex, Logan expects that the group will start meeting up again in the spring.
The snowboarders also carpool to Baker despite how expensive season passes have become. Last year, the group went to Baker from November to June, and then to Mount Hood in August, Patitucci says.
"The chairlifts usually stop running in April, but I try to snowboard until all the snow is gone," Patitucci says.
In the beginning, Logan says snowboarding can be tough. He keeps himself motivated by watching professional snowboarding videos, which inspire him. In the end, he says it all comes down to having fun with the activity rather than worrying about getting better right away.
"If you're having a great time even while you're falling, you can only get better," Logan says. "Snowboarding is a means to travel, and it's a means to meet new people and enjoy life. It will shake things up."
The Transworld Snowboarding video Logan posted continues with various snowboarders in the group practicing their tricks on their man-made set up. As one boarder attempts what appears to be a back-side 270, he plummets to the ground while dismounting the rail for his 90 degree rotation. His board hits the ground first, sending him into the air, then back down, head first into the mud. He rolls over with a grin on his face and gets back on his board.