Saturday, May 3, 2008

feature and photos: Red Bull Snow Warz '08

About three weeks ago I hitched a ride with the Husky Snowboard Team down to the Northstar-at-Tahoe ski resort in Truckee, Calif. for the third Red Bull Snow Warz competition. The trip was a blast, and I got an amazing opportunity to work on a few different parts of my journalism game. First, of course, was writing an "embed" type story, which I loved and really want to do more in the future; it was my first "gonzo" type experience, and it really reinforced my desire to pursue this as a career. Second, it was a huge learning experience for my photography. Shooting action sports is tough, and I really forced myself to get up in the action, even if it meant almost getting clipped by boarders on multiple occasions. And, after I had been shooting the jumps for a while, I wandered behind the scenes to look for other types of photos. Unfortunately, I wasn't good about getting names or other caption information... learned my lesson there. Third and final, it was my first time experimenting with audio — you can hear an exclusive freestyle clip from the event's MC below. I've also included five of my favorite photos and the story I wrote.


Snow Warz: West coast comp tears up Lake Tahoe

It was time to roll out.

We were in the car, bumping Wu Tang out of a mini battery-powered iHome. The proverbial peace pipe was loaded. The boards were in back and the skis were strapped to the roll bar inside the roof.

It was a snowboard and ski competition. There were 14 hours of driving ahead of us. We were ready for Red Bull’s Snow Warz 2008 at Northstar-at-Tahoe Resort in Truckee, Calif.

After arriving and getting way too little sleep — the Hammer Award went to the rider who was “the last to stop drinking and the first to stop riding” — it was time for breakfast. There were tall tees and lazy beanies everywhere, and plenty of the riders were hung over.

But it didn’t matter that everyone had too much alcohol and too little sleep the night before; it was a perfect day to hit the mountain.

The sun was so bright and the sky so cloudless that anyone who didn’t have goggles or shades would go snow-blind. The only cold thing was the snow, and spring riding in 70-degree weather is just as good as it sounds.

The course was a legitimate pro construction. Through the gate was a down rail, followed by three jumps and ending with another down rail. It wasn’t huge, but it fit. The course flowed and was well put together, especially considering that the event is only three years old.

Snow Warz originated in 2006 as something completely different, a wakeboarding competition, at Western Washington University. Later that year the decision was made to trade in water for snow, and teams from 16 West Coast colleges showed up at The Summit at Snoqualmie. More than 230 riders registered at the 2008 event, more than tripling the first showing just three years prior.

“It’s grown a lot, and we brought it to Northstar and centralized it,” said Dave Goto, one of the original founders and this year’s organizer of the event. “It’s just huge. Kids are just killing it.”

Goto said he wants to see Snow Warz “taken to the next level” as a circuit for collegiate skiing and snowboarding, with a multiple-stop tour and a national championship. But even as a one-day event, the competition was a great opportunity for West Coast riders to show off their skills.

The day was definitely a good showing for the University of Nevada, Reno, the (almost) hometown heroes. Not only did all three of the school’s teams make it to the final round, but one of the teams, Eat Waffles, snagged the silver. Team Harvard, grabbed the gold, and Montana State University’s team rounded out the top three.

“The competition was off the hook!” said Dustin “Dirty D” Amato, the day’s emcee. “Team Harvard was throwing it down over there. They were wearing suits and ties, putting the cosine with the sine and doing their trajectory. Once they got the tangent lined up they had the right velocity and were just throwing it down.”

Team Harvard — called “Hard Vert” by the judges because of members’ ability to fly off the jumps — came up with its name when registration required a college association. They spent the rest of the trip convincing reporters, fellow boarders and even event staff that they had ponied up the cash to fly from Massachusetts.

Meanwhile, UW’s team Boss Tycoon didn’t fare so well. Though the members had thrown down big the day before at the nearby Boreal Mountain Resort, at Northstar they guys had a pretty weak first run and didn’t show for their second. While there was no Husky presence in the final heats, the team members were satisfied with their work.

“Snow Warz was dope,” said Parker Worthington, a freshman and captain of the UW team. “It was more about hanging out with everyone than the competition. It was like a Snoqualmie reunion. We had a lot of fun and kicked it with the homies.”

Washington’s roots in the competition showed despite the long drive, with three other teams from the Evergreen State making an appearance: Western Washington University, Central Washington University and Gonzaga University.

“It was a long way to go,” said Nathan Brown, a skier for Gonzaga’s team. “It’s a super sick event, almost all paid for, just a big party. It’s the last ski weekend of the year, and we can go out and just have fun out in the sun. You don’t need to be really competitive; we’re just here to have a good time, and everyone’s loving it.”

Even one of their teammates, who won the Tom Broke-Off Award for best crash — which involved him tearing a ligament in his shoulder after overshooting the course’s second jump — won a snowboard deck and seemed to be doing just fine.

The jump that he had an issue with gave other riders trouble as well, though there were no major injuries. Still, it brought light to the fact that there was a wide range of skill levels entered in the competition despite the course’s difficulty.

There was everything from skiers nailing 1080s and boarders throwing down switch backflips to riders who could barely clear the jumps. And, of course, one girl chose to hit the run in a chicken suit. But that didn’t matter; having fun was first priority. As one rider put it, “It was definitely more of a party mission than a snowboard one.”