An Exploratory Mission—Secret Shred Agents And All

Originally published December 2005 TransWorld SNOWboarding

By Chris Coyle

For the two weeks prior to my trip to Korea, every person I told about my upcoming adventure would come back with the same two questions: “North Korea?” and “They got snowboarding there?” The latter of the two didn’t bug me so much. For the most part, all most Americans know about Korea they learned from watching M*A*S*H reruns, so everyone thinks the whole nation is living in grass huts and trying to sell trinkets to a group of madcap surgeons. But the first question always killed me.

Who the hell do they think I am, some sort of an uber-spy? As if I’d assembled a crack team of pro-shred counter-terrorists to go deep behind enemy lines and take down the North Korean leader, Kim Jong II’s nuclear weapons program. I can see it now: “Okay, Lukas, I’ll slash some pow in Kim’s face, and when he’s blinded, you jib the deactivation button.”

My mission started in a little-known town called Las Vegas. The first objective was to meet up with the troop commander, Tonino Copene, and surveillance expert Mark Welsh. Copene informed me that a top-notch squad of commandos was joining us, and for mission purposes, it would go under the code name: Team Nitro.

“Welsh and I decided to try to pass as drunk snowboarders. We knew this would be a dangerous task, something we couldn’t just jump into haphazardly.”

One obstacle was passing through customs incognito. Welsh and I decided to try to pass as drunk snowboarders. We knew this would be a dangerous task, something we couldn’t just jump into haphazardly. We spent the entire night before pouring as much booze down our faces as possible. Upon arrival at the Las Vegas airport, it was clear our guise had worked. Not only did our clothes smell as if they’d been used to Swiffer a bar floor, but we also had trouble explaining where we were going to the ticket agent.

San Francisco was the meeting point for secret agents Lukas Huffman and Andrew Crawford. The rendezvous went as planned, and it was off to Korea. Still stinking like booze and googly-eyed, we had no problem sneaking past the customs agents on our arrival in Seoul either, but our cover was blown when we were mobbed by an entourage of digicam-wielding Koreans. We were left with only one option: to shred with extreme prejudice-aaooohhh!

Okay, enough of that shit. The rest of the crew (Lisa Wiik, Jante Edvasdsan, Fabian Roherer, Mikeal Sandy, and Nitro’s Korean distributor Jeho) met us at the Seoul airport where we were put on our own bus and driven up to the mountains. Around this time is when we were handed our schedules for the week. Yup, you read that correctly: schedules. This wasn’t to be a vacation. Jeho had organized a week of demos at a mountain called Phoenix Park Resort, starting at 8:00 a.m. He had every minute of our day accounted for. This included time slots for hitting the jumps, riding the pipes, and “freeriding,” which consisted of meeting 50 snowboarders at the top of the hill and taking a run with them all at once. Can you say, “Dicey”?

While the mountain didn’t have the most amazing terrain, Phoenix Park Resort was a surprisingly good time. Not sure if it’s worth traveling around the world for, but if you’re in the neighborhood, check it out. We were lucky enough to have a jump built for us, but upon closer inspection, it needed a little work. This is where the communication barrier first became very apparent. We told the boys to move the takeoff about twenty feet back and to make the landing steeper. The next morning, we found the opposite: the landing was flatter and the takeoff was closer. Considering that the schedule had damn near four hours of carcass tossing planned on this bad boy, it could have easily ended someone’s season early. Luckily, the pipe had just been cut, so we talked them into putting the jump off ’til the next day until it’d be fixed.

Every night after shredding, there was a press conference-type thingy held in the hotel. There was a long table with glasses of water and microphones, but instead of reporters asking questions, it was local shredders. This was the equivalent of watching a nightly car wreck. Highlights included Crawford making a “snowboard jump” out of binding boxes, which doesn’t sound that funny unless you realize that even we English speakers had no idea what he was doing. Then there was Fabian demonstrating how to do a nine in the pipe by jumping off his chair and almost taking out the table. There were also a handful of quotes that were nothing short of mind-blowing.

“The Koreans fell in love with Crawford over the course of these nightly meetings, so much so that they brought him a present—a set of nunchucks.”

The Koreans fell in love with Crawford over the course of these nightly meetings, so much so that they brought him a present—a set of nunchucks. He then spent every free moment in his room, shirtless, “chucking.” It seems he found winging two chunks of wood connected by a chain around his head and body “relaxing.” To each his own.

Partying was not on our schedule. In fact, most of us were in bed every night by 9:00 p.m. This was a big relief to Jeho who was petrified at the thought of us drinking. Turns out, a few years ago another team, which will remain unnamed (rhymes with squarewalk), came over, got hammered, and destroyed a ski area. The one night we did make it out, a convention of businessmen made our antics seem mild. A friendly lot those drunk Koreans are. Damn near every one of them came and introduced themselves to us. They would almost always open with, “I want to meet you,” and try their best to talk to us in broken English. The conversation usually ended with everyone awkwardly staring at each other and smiling.

The trip came to a close with two days of scouring Seoul via train. Driving in South Korea’s capital is only for seasoned veterans. Picture a ten-lane highway, in rush-hour traffic, with absolutely no rules whatsoever-in the middle of Manhattan. You’re in the far-right lane and need to go left? Go ahead. No one’s letting you over? Just block two lanes ’til they do. Don’t worry—anyone who needs to get by will just drive on the pedestrian-filled sidewalk, including the police.

“Like the rest of South Korea, Seoul was beautiful and rich with history. Yet I still had a strange Tokyo-meets-trailer-park vibe going.”

Like the rest of South Korea, Seoul was beautiful and rich with history. Yet I still had a strange Tokyo-meets-trailer-park vibe going. See, most of Seoul was bombed into the Stone Age during the Korean War. Now, most everything is new and flashy. Still, the sight of food-splattered walls in restaurants was not uncommon. Get where I’m going? Yeah, kind of dirty.

Samsung is the biggest company in Korea, and from the looks of it, they celebrated by giving every business a big-screen TV. You couldn’t get a cup of coffee without seeing a five-foot-tall television staring back at you. At Phoenix Park, the president of Samsung even had his own run. No one else was allowed on the run except him. Even if he wasn’t there! WTF? That sounds like it would be fun for about a run and a half.

The trip was topped off with some shopping for bootleg merchandise and Korean barbecue, which was quite de-lish. Then it was back to the airport where our special ops, I mean, snowboard team, got on a stealth bomber heading for North Korea, I mean, passenger jet toward home … or do I?