It seems like every 4 years there’s a pretty good swing in attitude around here, enough of a change to notice a difference in things. It takes us 4 years to get sick of our leaders, and it takes about 4 years for real noticeable changes to take place in sports, music, fashion and general public attitude towards things. You can speculate that change is taking place within those 4 years, but you can’t define it completely until 4 years of transition is over, and then you’re behind the swing of change again.
Snowboarding is no different, and from 1986 to 2002, every four years you could witness real change happening in the sport, the riders, the attitude, style and progression. You sensed the change happening all along, but the transitions were reborn about every four years. It was if you went snowboarding once in 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998 and 2002, you would barely recognize the sport you thought you knew. Since 2002, that cycle of change has significantly slowed, I think. I will not hypothesize why here on Vinceland. Buy me a beer some time.
From 1986 to 2002, Snowboarding pretty much defined my life, made me who I am, got me where I got to be. I grew up riding on the east coast, riding purely Burton, so this is a purely an east coast, Burton-centric perspective. I have no idea what went on out west, in Colorado, Utah, California and the Northwest. But lately, I’ve been thinking about riding more and more, and maybe it’s the onset of winter that’s pushing me to document my memories of riding with friends. Maybe people will check this out and understand a little more, have a deeper perspective, experience a sweeter day on the slopes.
A day on the slopes as a snowboarder in Vermont in 1986 started and ended like this: (Feel free to add your thoughts…)
- Wake up on a cold morning after driving 4 hours from New Jersey in a cramped, stinky Toyota Tercel with louvre’d windows and no heat. Snowboards, gear, clothing and food were all jammed around you, in addition to 4 of your friends and brothers. The car had 4 gears, bald tires, a racing steering wheel and Burton stickers on all the windows and hood.
- Immediately stick “Winter Waves” in the VCR and play it loud. After 20 minutes, everyone else is awake and getting real stoked. Put “One Track Mind” in the VCR and eat your Wheaties. Begin to unpack your gear in the living room and sort it out. Old, Leather Sorel Boots with ski boot liners and duct tape (I’ve never had better and that’s not a lie.) Mis-matched red ski jacket and Woolrich woolies in green, with your dad’s ski hat, hooded sweatshirt and the gloves from the bottom of the bag.
- Pull your board in from the porch, the one your brother rode last year, the one you hot-waxed last night til 1am. Check the binding screws, they need 2.5-3 turns each since last weekend’s thrashing. NEVER use lock-tite. Add a new Burton sticker to the top of the board, probably up near the nose, make sure it’s warm when you stick it on. There’s no video playing, watch “Winter Waves” again as a group and get lost in the story.
- It’s now 7am. Time to load into the Tercel and go to Stratton, the only local mountain that allows snowboarding. Did you forget your certification pass? SHIT! Gotta go through that crap all over again. What a waste of time.
- Discuss last weekend’s riding in the car and what new tricks you want to try (Backscratcher or 360?), what new trails you wanna ride, claim the first pow slash on the side of the bunny slope. Get up to Stratton and begin to see familiar sites, endless parking lots, shuttles, always check for a spot up front to scam. Find one that’s on a snowbank and jam the car up on it. Climb out and drag all your gear out of the car. No roof rack needed with 4 people in a Tercel with a racing steering wheel and 8-ball shifter.
- Here begins the staring, the questions, the uncertainty, the pride, the attitude. Field some typical skier questions, watch you brother and his friend’s do the same, all on the way to getting on the lift. “Is that fun?” Uh, yea, it’s real goddam fun. Is THAT fun, cause I never skied and never will. Next question. “Is it hard to learn?” No. No need for those clunky boots and poles to get in the way. “How do you turn and stop?” Well, you just think about it and it happens. “Is it fun in powder?” No need to answer. I am convinced that our answers to these questions, a dozen times a day, all winter, was one reason snowboarding exploded.
- Carry your board under your arm, walk normal in normal snow boots, skip the lodge stop, no need, you don’t have lunch or clothes to change into or a cooler or kids. Get in the lift line and hope they don’t ask for your certification, maybe they’re not checking this week. Don’t strap in yet, there’s no need. Strap in right before you get on the chair, it’s easier.
- There are a couple of other snowboarders in line, exchange looks, check out the equipment, a worthy nod shared. The Bogner-clad husband/ wife combo in line behind you edges their new Rossignol skis right over the back of your used Elite 140 with the gloss-top finish. You look back in disgust and a few moments later spit on their ski tips. Your brother gets mad that you’re being a jerk, who’s the friggin’ jerk?
- It’s 7:45 am and the lift is running now. They have not had any new snow in Vermont since Christmas. It’s hovering around 12 degrees and your ears are already cold under the hoodie and crappy ski cap. You pair up without thinking about it, someone always gets paired with a stray skier, which sucks. You nuzzle up to the wanker two planker and onto the old, sketchy double chair.
- Keep quiet, no need to strike up conversation, besides there are lines to spot, new jumps to scope. You hope your binding does not release because the way your sitting, the board has to hang from your leg, there’s no way you can get it way up onto that footrest. Fuck safety leashes. Holy crap, no one even asked for your certification pass! Must be they’re not checking this week. Maybe they don’t bother, since you’re only riding the bunny chair anyhow, no need to go all the way to the top, there’s plenty of rad shit to ride down here, and less people to hassle you.
- Ok, here’s the hard part, getting off the lift without falling. One foot strapped in via Fastex and webbing, one foot on the skid mat between your bindings. Everyone is already off the lift and buckling in, waiting to laugh at you when you bail. Smooth it out, relax, just stand up and ride down the hill. Chairmate the skier decides to cut in front of you and runs a pole right across the top of your board as he falls into you. You know he’ll claim it was your fault, keep your mouth shut, you’ve made snowboarding look bad again. Your friends and brothers don’t laugh, because they’re already heading down the trail. Buckle in and channel your hatred of all things ski on the shred ahead.
So, in 1986, we went on to snowboard til the lift closed in every kind of crap weather, on the bunny slope at Stratton, not because we had to, but because it was the most fun we could have as a group together. We got in 100 runs a day and talked about each one on the lift ride back up. We hit the same, stupid jumps, rode around the same bald, icy spots on the trail, fell in the same steep sections where catching an edge hurt, bad. Once in a while, someone did something insane, like complete a 360 or ride out a nose ride under the lift on a Cruzer 165. The next season, they made it free to ride the bunny chair at Stratton, and added a high speed lift to the top. We spent less money and never left that trail, until Magic Mountain opened up to Snowboarding.
Occasionally, we’d run into other snowboarders like Mark Heingartner or Andy Coghlan, who were teaching and certifying riders at Stratton, as well as riding for Burton. They came by and rode with us, showed us the new bindings and boards, they wore head to toe Burton outfits with Stratton patches sewn on. Mark even told me the secret to not catching my edge on the steep section, right by the lift: Just straight-line it. I never thought about how ridiculous it was for us to ride one trail all day, every day, every weekend. Even when we went over to ride at Magic, we picked the funnest way down the hill and rode that same trail all season. it was full of banks, jumps, pow slashes the skiers never even saw, and had plenty of spots to stop along the way and stoke each other out.
Typically, on the way home from the mountain, the obligatory stop by the Burton Showroom in Manchester preceded the search for free food. We had not eaten much since breakfast, whatever condiments were left around the cafeteria, or if you were ballsy, hang around the garbage can until some skier mom comes by with a tray of half-eaten sandwiches her brat kid barely touched. Anyhow, back to Burton. We had to stop by there a second time, we had already been by the factory on Friday night, the doors long-since closed since it was about 11pm. Sometimes, on Friday nights, there’d be one or two straggler board-builders hanging in the factory and they’d let us in the place. After a 4 hour drive from Jersey, the first place we went was the closed Burton Factory in Manchester, Vermont at 11pm, just in case someone was hanging around to let us in.
Stopping by Burton after riding was a tradition that lasted through the move to Burlington, but soon stopped when we all worked there and got sick of the place. But in 1986, the factory store was abuzz with the stories of riding that day, of course all of the stories were from Stratton, and most were from the lower mountain, which was more fun to ride. We listened, watch videos, drooled over the new Cruzers, Express 175, darth vader highback bindings, and new showroom staffers, who were attractive, college-aged ladies. They knew us by name, they even knew what we were getting for Christmas next year. About 7pm, the place was closing, so we helped them clean up the shop, put away the mags and videos. We even talked about making our own video, from all of the footage we’d been collecting. The girls said to bring it in and they’d play it in the shop, that cemented the plan right then and there. Now, we needed food and a shower.
Bunny chair opened around 7:45am the next day, Sunday, skip church. After another full day of riding, we left to go back to New Jersey straight from the mountain, wet boots, stinky socks and sweaty hair packed into the tan 1980’s Tercel with wet boards, sopped jackets and stoked minds. All we cared about was making the next week of school go by quickly and painlessly, and most of the time it did, because all you had to do was remember the look on those skier’s faces when you hauled ass by them, carving turns, stopping on a dime and spraying snow up into the air with your board, right before getting back on the lift ahead of them. None of your school mates understood you, or where you went each weekend, or why. They only heard the rumors and noticed your broken leg every couple of seasons and your bad haircut. Damn snowboarders…
We weren’t cool, we weren’t core. We weren’t opinion leaders and we had zero style. We were dorks on snow. On to 1990.