“Justin Mooney-that kid’s a snowboarding monster,” says a voice coming from the downstairs living room of the Mt. Hood Ride house. I look across the upstairs loft to Justin’s bunk. His eyes twinkle as he giggles silently about the participants in the downstairs conversation who have no idea he can hear them talking. “You know, it’s so funny,” the voice continues. “You get so dependent on the snowboarding media. The videos, the magazines, they’re supposed to tell you what’s going on in snowboarding-who the good riders are. And then you go out on the hill, and you see kids like Justin just ripping. And you’re thinking, ‘Who the hell is this guy? How come I’ve never heard of him before?’ And then you realize that you’ve been deceived, that the media’s not telling you the whole story … “

I first heard about Justin on a chairlift in Jackson Hole. Chairlifts are where the real snowboarding heroes are created. There’s a cliff band in Jackson called Root Line, which has various options for large and really large airs, depending on snowpack and the line one chooses to take off of it. The trick to Root Line is landing in the near-subliminal transition at the bottom-overshoot it and you eat knee. It’s distinctive for this reason. Anybody can huck off a rock cluster, but few can put their board down solidly at the end. So earlier in the day, the story went, a few members of the local Jackson posse had stopped at the top of Root Line, checking their lines, when Justin rolled by, aired the biggest section of the cliff, stomped it clean, and kept riding. (The picture ran in Snow Life, issue one of this year.) Praise is not bestowed on the undeserving in Wyoming. Everybody who witnessed him ride that day remembers.

I tell this story to Justin for the third time this year, and his reaction is the same as the first: wide-eyed surprise, a hint of stoke in the slightly upturned corners of his mouth. Justin’s been riding for twelve years, competed in the very first USASA nationals when he was thirteen, had his sponsors go out of business, was picked up by other sponsors bent on holding him in their am-ranks, been promised coverage that never came through … it’s a typical story, but one that’s been enough to make many an aspiring pro-snowboarder throw up his hands in defeat. Yet here he is-one of the newly planted saplings amidst the clear-cut that is the Ride pro-team legacy, an industry veteran at the age of 22-sitting across from me in an overpriced diner, pouring syrup on his eggs and hash browns, eyes still shining like an eager grommet trying to keep it cool.

“You’re going to write something about my food, aren’t you?” Justin asks warily.

“Yes.”

He smiles skeptically, points out that French toast is really just bread dipped in egg, and continues eating, despite protests from the other table dwellers-neither of us know what direction to go with this interview.

“I tried to read that Spotlight in the first issue of TWS, just to see what I was in for,” he says between bites, “but … I don’t read, really. If I were to try to write my own Spotlight, I’d probably start talking about something and have a really strong opinion about it, but then halfway through I’d be like, ‘I don’t really believe that. Actually, I can see the other side,’ and then I’d talk about that, completely blow away the first point-like it could have ever been me who said it. If it was a school paper I’d turn it in and get an F. I suck, seriously. In high school I had to do extra credit so I could pass English. I had to paint a mural on the wall of my English room about a book we’d read. Cliff notes. I’ve been doing it forever-getting out of it any way I can.”

English may not be Justin’s special purpose in life (maybe not math, either … or science, really), but his talents are many. Picture this: hold a kitten upside-down high in the air and let go. Watch the fluid motion between the drop and the floor while the little ball fuzz twists, lands effortlessly, and then looks back up at you like nothing happened. This is how Justin rides: light-in every sense of the word. It’s cool to watch. When he shows up to a snowboarding session, you can feel the energy level rise. And you can bet on hearing a few, “Where’s Justin?”s if a session goes down with his local crew in Montana and he’s not a part of it. He’s a silent catalyst, which is an integral part of most group dynamics.

You wouldn’t know it from talking to him, though. In fact, one gets the sense that if things hadn’t worked out with the pro-snowboarder game, he’d simply shrug, finish the graphic-design major he’s currently pursuing at the University of Montana in Bozeman, and continue down a new life path without any big “I coulda been a contender” speeches. He’d probably have to show his grandchildren pictures to prove what a good snowboarder he was in his youth, if he ever talked about it at all.

It’s ironic to get that feeling from someone who once sent out a “sponsor-me” form letter to every snowboarding company in existence, including TransWorld. “I don’t know why. I just always saw the stickers on people’s boards. I thought they sponsored people, so I sent it in-and they printed it and wrecked me.” he says, smiling.

Since then he’s had a few pictures published-some ads, a Who?, and has placed well in the few contests his school schedule has allowed him to enter: in the USASA nationals his first year of college, “I got first overall,” says Justin, “first in slopestyle, second in slalom, third in GS, and thirteenth or eleventh in halfpipe. And then after that, I was kind of over it. I figured, once you win it, you know-what else can you do?” In the Mt. Baker Banked Slalom, “I was eleventh last year-third going into the second day. And the year before that I was tied for first going into the second day. I’ve always been in the top five for the qualifying days-the stress day where all the cameras are in your face. This year I ran fourth, which meant I was fourth the second day. Everybody just turns it up on that last day, though. I did too, but I sketched out. The year before that, I fell. I was having the best run ever, but I fell and got 21st.”

Justin’s still got his eye on the big picture, though, when it comes to what’s kept him on his board year after year. “I like to jump. It doesn’t matter how stupid and small the jump is, it’s the best thing. I still have a tendency to go to a mountain where people are doing crazy lines, and go find the cat track and log jibs. I like really flat landings,” he laughs. “When I started out, snowboarding was just more of an escape. You could go up riding and not worry about anything else, and it was so fun. There were so many tricks-every year a new one would come out, and I’d think, ‘God, I wonder how they figured that out.’ Like, I didn’t think any more tricks could be invented, and that was when the method came out.

“So now it’s become more of a keeping-up thing-learning everything there is to do now, taking something someone else is doing, like a line or a jump, and doing it differently, and getting to where I’m landing consistently. Doing a trick isn’t necessarily the hardest thing, it’s landing it. And doing it styled.”

Favorite trick? “Blindside 180.”

Emphasis on style over technical achievement seems to be a repeated theme among a lot of snowboarders who, it appears, have a natural affinity for technical snowboarding prowess. But when pressed to answer into a tape recorder if he feels his personal snowboarding skill is a product of talent or his years riding, Justin falls silent, trying to think of a way to evade the question. “I often think that experience in snowboarding doesn’t really mean anything,” he finally answers. “Like that movie Roadkill, Bryan Iguchi had only been snowboarding for three years or something. And Devun Walsh started snowboarding in like ’92 or ’93. He’s got awesome style-does tricks really big and bold, the way tricks should be done. I think the longer you snowboard, it doesn’t necessarily make you better. It actually works the opposite because you get in a rut, as far as learning goes.”

I ask why it didn’t make him bitter, riding for so long, but not really getting anywhere with it until recently. “People who don’t have a balance in their lives are the ones who burn out on snowboarding, I think. It’s easy to get caught up. For me, the most frustrating thing with sponsorship is that I didn’t really pick the right route. It would have helped to know that when there were 700 snowboard companies, it was going to dwindle to what there is now. I really didn’t see it coming because I wasn’t concerned with all of that. I grew up competing against most of the guys who are in the limelight now. It was hard. It can make you kind of doubt yourself and your abilities when you don’t get support. I admire a lot of people I knew growing up who were, and are, great snowboarders, but they never had any interest in sponsors.”

Ability exists with or without support. If Justin never graced the pages of this magazine, the story of his journey would have been told over breakfast without a tape recorder present. Instead of a contract with Ride, it would end with Justin looking to get a graphic-design job after college. But he’d still be smiling, he’d still be snowboarding, and on chairlifts, the answer to the question, “You know Justin Mooney?” would still be a story about a day that someone saw him ride and thought, “How come I never heard of that guy before?”yle-does tricks really big and bold, the way tricks should be done. I think the longer you snowboard, it doesn’t necessarily make you better. It actually works the opposite because you get in a rut, as far as learning goes.”

I ask why it didn’t make him bitter, riding for so long, but not really getting anywhere with it until recently. “People who don’t have a balance in their lives are the ones who burn out on snowboarding, I think. It’s easy to get caught up. For me, the most frustrating thing with sponsorship is that I didn’t really pick the right route. It would have helped to know that when there were 700 snowboard companies, it was going to dwindle to what there is now. I really didn’t see it coming because I wasn’t concerned with all of that. I grew up competing against most of the guys who are in the limelight now. It was hard. It can make you kind of doubt yourself and your abilities when you don’t get support. I admire a lot of people I knew growing up who were, and are, great snowboarders, but they never had any interest in sponsors.”

Ability exists with or without support. If Justin never graced the pages of this magazine, the story of his journey would have been told over breakfast without a tape recorder present. Instead of a contract with Ride, it would end with Justin looking to get a graphic-design job after college. But he’d still be smiling, he’d still be snowboarding, and on chairlifts, the answer to the question, “You know Justin Mooney?” would still be a story about a day that someone saw him ride and thought, “How come I never heard of that guy before?”