By Dave Schiff
The migration of mankind dates back hundreds of thousands of years-people have conquered the unknown with hopes of a more prosperous life since history began. As our heritage shows, Western expansion has been the constant. Pilgrims traveled west from England to escape religious persecution and settled on America’s Eastern Seaboard, only to find that yet again prosperity lay to the west. This time it was west of the Mississippi River in the hills of California. “There’s gold in them thar hills,” people used to say.
The gold rush may be over, but there’s gold in the mountains of California even today-a metaphorical gold that’s actually white, a white gold that falls from the sky in bountiful amounts. These new miners don’t use the traditional pans and pick axes of their forefathers, but interesting little boards made of wood, fiberglass, and P-tex. They have come from the east to make it in a California paradise. This is the story of a little place called Mammoth Lakes-a town with limitless possibilities-and the pilgrims who braved the highways, volcanoes, and natives to call it home.
A Perquisite To The Future
Known as the “Ice Coast,” the northeastern states have produced an astonishing amount of snowboard talent. How can so many kids who grew up riding “inadequate terrain” get so good? Maybe it’s because East Coast riders go out every chance they get-riding in the rain or snow. And if the park’s icy, no one waits for it to warm up-because it won’t. Not to sound clichà, but snowboarding is life.
The seasons are short, though-most mountains operate from December until the end of March or early April. A normal, school-aged kid can only get in about 44 days from December to the second week of April if they battle it out with weekend warriors. So including holidays and days they ditch school, they get at most around 6( days total. Compare this to mountains in the West like Mammoth that are open from October until the end of June-just riding on the weekends gets you 80 days.
The aforementioned, determined-to-ride East Coast frame of mind is a common bond, however. Years living in such a small scene means everyone knows everyone-or has at least heard of them. You find out about it when someone moves away, and it hits home. You start pondering the existence of greener pastures (or in our case, whiter). Finally, the logistics start to play out: How much will it cost? Where will I stay? How can I get there? Eventually, nothing else matters. You think to yourself, “F-k it, I’m young, and life’s too short.” One by one, like lemmings jumping off a cliff, you leave.
Nothing Spells California Like J-E-R-S-E-Y
One of the first to set out from the East Coast in the name of riding would be Tom Winegar from Vernon, New Jersey. His brother Joe came the next year-they both settled in the Mammoth/June area. These two were a couple of years ahead of everyone else-but many more would follow from Vernon Valley Resort, now known as Mountain Creek. One person in particular was Matt Kass-who in the conviction of many spearheaded the movement. He left in the winter of 1((7 after being evicted from his temporary residence in Stratton, Vermont for having, as he put it, a “crazy party.”
“It was a cool scene there with guys like John Smallwood and Ross (Powers), but it just started to seem like it was fading out,” says Kass. According to Matt, he visited Mammoth around ‘(6 or ‘(7 for a month or two. “I was trying to film with Todd Hazeltine and take photos with Tory Piro. Then I came back the next year after meeting those guys and wanted to film the whole year. That’s when I met Gabe (Taylor)-it was cool ’cause we were all hitting jumps together, filming, getting photos, and doing contests.”
About two years after Matt left, current Grenade cinematographer Jared Slater was living in Killington, Vermont making one of his first major motion pictures entitled Cold Fluffer. These were the pre-Grenade days-the gang hadn’t yet banded together as the formal crew, but they were still friends and working with Slater. In fact, filming for Cold Fluffer brought some present-day Grenerds to Mammoth for the very first time.
In the fall of 2000, Brian Regis, Mark Reilly, and Jared Slater left Killington and embarked upon their pilgrimage to Mammoth. Mark and Jared settled in a double-wide trailer-a rumor existed that before they moved in, a family of thirteen occupied the trailer. At the same time, Regis was living with Eric Shaw in another Jersey-family unit with a bunch of dogs. He eventually moved into the double-wide.
Matt, Mark, Regis, and Shaw were infamous slaughterers of Vernon Valley. They were the kids that Sketchy D, Danny Kass, Kevin Casillo, and I looked up to in Jersey. They ran Vernon Valley. Still to this day, people talk of the V.H.C. (Vernon Hard Core)-the cops included.
I remember sitting in Danny’s house one midsummer day, listening to him talk on the phone with Lane Knaack. Lane was calling long-distance from his house in Manchester, Vermont. From the look on Danny’s face, I could see excitement, then a brief flicker of uncertainty: “You and Kyle are going to live with who? Catherine (Nieves) and (Amber) Stackhouse?” I could tell right then that Lane was talking to him about Mammoth. Danny hung up the phone, shook his head, and told me Lane was crazy. And that very August or September, Lane, Kyle Clancy, and Zach Leach moved into the now-infamous Mansion.
The Birth Of GMA
What’s hard to express is that all these guys were leaving concurrently-the movement had momentum, and everything was all happening at once. So at the same time that Kyle, Lane, and Zach were moving into a luxurious abode, Charlie Morace and Scotty Arnold left their homes in Connecticut and New Hampshire to find quarters in a different neighborhood-hell, it was in a different tax bracket.
Glass Mountain Apartments, otherwise known as GMA, could be compared to a makeshift military shelter in Rwanda. There were and still are 25 identical rooms for rent-each a single 20-by-30-foot flat, equipped with a small shower, a toilet, and a hot plate in the kitchen in case you need to cook ramen. A Native American named Phil Sidalos ran it. Phil was awesome—he didn’t care what went on with our friends, and for the most part, illegal aliens occupied the rest of the place.
Everything was going great, the Mansion thing was happening, and GMA was as sketchy as ever. If you happened to get bored of those places, you could cruise over to the double-wide and play some dice. Upon his arrival in 2000, Vermont-born Rham Klampart was a fixture at the double-wide playing dice (he would never play without throwing his own dice, though-personally, I think they were loaded).
The only thing missing was some of Mom’s down-home cooking. That all changed when Danny moved to town. The younger of the Kasses left New Jersey in the fall of 2000 with fellow Jersey-ite Mike Whitehead. He crashed out at the mansion for about two weeks until everyone unanimously voted him out. “He was just a bad roommate,” says Clancy. “He came in one day unannounced, made a bed in between Zach’s and mine, and made a mess.” Luckily, Danny’s mom sold their old house in Jersey and moved to Mammoth right after Danny’s eviction. They settled into a quaint two-bedroom apartment on Joaquin Street. For the record, Joanne cooks the best damn chicken Parmesan in the history of chicken-Parm cookery. Everyone would try to sneak a plate in on chicken-Parm night, and that started to be at least once a week.
Sketchy-D Comes To Town, And Lane Moves On
Dennis Buongiorno’s story is probably one of my favorites-it encompasses pure ambition. But first, let me elaborate upon Lane’s falling out at the Mansion. Danny, Lane, and his buddies Colgan, Aufeld, and Forbes from Vermont had this game they’d play late at night-taping beer bottles to the door of Lane’s room and chipping golf balls at them. Simply put, Lane likes to have fun. However, after having, as he put it, “a conflict of interests between Senorita Catherine Nieves and myself,” he left and moved into his own room at GMA with Colgan. “For 400 dollars a month, who gives a f—k?” said Lane. “Electricity and water are free-this place is paradise.” Charlie and Scotty were also happy to see a familiar face among the GMA sketch-balls.
As for Dennis, also known as Sketchy-D, let me give you a concise description to help you understand him. Dennis loves to snowboard and skateboard, and he is willing to sacrifice anything for it. His story is quite comparable to Eddie Wall’s—who, working as a night janitor at Mammoth, would ride all day and jib with a mop at night. Anyway, rather than me explaining it, I had the liberty of sitting down and having a friendly chat with Dennis.
How old were you when you left the East Coast?
I was seventeen years old, and I moved out from Vernon, New Jersey.
Where did you live when you first got to Mammoth?
My first crash spot was at Melanie Simon’s house in Crowley. I lived there for a week, then I lost my job, then, um, then I was just crashing in the Vons parking lot in the Exploder (his 1((4 Ford Explorer), floating around.
Where did you shower?
No showers-my shower was waking up in a sunbaked car.
Where did you go after that?
I moved into GMA with Lane—it was good living. I lived in a little studio with four dirty dudes. Awesome.
(Lane had never met Dennis, but one day he found a note from Danny along with $4.20 asking Lane to take Dennis in for the winter.)
Are you still living under the stairs at Danny’s house?
I just made a move recently. Yeah, I’m living in a room at Danny’s with the one and only Kevin Casillo. Dan broke my bed, then we threw it out the window. We’re doing some home improvements, you know.
(Dennis lived under Danny’s stairs for three years. After the 2002 Olympics, his bed was made of a mattress on top of crates of Nestea Cool.)
Do you have any advice for the kids on moving out?
Bring your wallet-it could get expensive. Go for it, and have fun.
High School Administrators Are Fools, Mortar Shells At Tyrol, And Griffon The Dog
The next to leave the east would be me. I was a senior in high school, and all my remaining friends in Jersey were going down a road I wanted no part of. I convinced my high school to let me leave a month and a half early to attend an “Olympic training camp” in California. Whether or not they knew I was lying, they allowed me to go. I left in May of 2001, a high school graduate none-the-less.
While driving cross-country, I received a call from Danny and Lane telling me to meet them in Wisconsin for the Tyrol Basin Summer Jam. It was the first time I’d ever seen the Grenade van-and it was beautiful. This is also the first time I met Bobby George and Matt Downey-the first West Coasters I made friends with. In fact, those two and Jeff Anderson served as a welcoming committee for the rest of us. They showed no signs of discrimination-they were just down for snowboarding.
Unfortunately, we did not even touch our boards at Tyrol Basin. I’d been somewhere near Ohio when I got the boys’ call and had bought some fireworks there before we met up in Wisconsin. So we had our own contest at Tyrol-actually, the proper terminology would’ve been war. Rather than watching just the halfpipe event, the crowd had to watch their heads, too, as Roman candle flares and mortar shells ripped through the damp Wisconsin air. I thought I was going to have a flash back from ‘Nam-then some security guard named Charlie assured me that it wasn’t ‘Nam, and that we were in fact about to injure innocent bystanders with our friendly fire. We jumped in the van-we had to leave.
By the fall of 2001, most of the Eastern snowboard scene was transplanted in Mammoth. Lane had bought a house of his own and rented a room to Colin Langlois. Jeff Kramer had just left and was sleeping on a bunk bed in a closet with Brittney Perkins. This was the year that Jeffy Anderson had his legendary New Year’s Eve party. Then Danny finished a close second behind Ross Powers at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake. Californians began to accept the crew-it only took them watching us from the snowboard-park chair for about a week or two. Jeffy earned the first part in Grenade’s Full Metal Edges, a film that captured the whole essence of the East-to-West transition perfectly. And Shane Flood with his dog Griffon would be the last of the group to finally make his way out from New Hampshire, sometime in 2003 from my recollection.
2004: Everything Is Happening, And The End
This is a good year, a very good year. It’s the year that this saga was transformed into text. And it warms my heart to see the process start over again in a younger generation. Cody Rosenthal, Shane Pospisil, Alex Soroken, and Jake Blauvelt moved to the welcoming arms of Mammoth this year. They had it easy, though-the West had already been won, and there were no coastal prejudices to greet them upon arrival. I’m sure we’ll see more East Coasters as they come of age and continue to move out west. One, for certain, is Pat Moore.
Like Matt Kass put it, the East seemed like it was fading out. You can only get so good on those hills, and there’s a point when progression requires a next step-a change in scenery-but bring your friends with you. That’s the unique opportunity that snowboarding offers: you make your own rules. There’ll always be a new face in the crowd or a new trick to be learned-it’s up to each individual to take initiative, though.
If you told me when I was in high school that someday I would tell the tale of one of the biggest movements in snowboard history, I would’ve laughed and continued to smoke my cigarette in the bathroom while I was ditching class. Yet what I’ve learned driving across the country with nothing but reckless abandon and a dream of riding my snowboard is this: follow your dreams-anything with the right amount of creativity and dedication will work out.
Clancy Reminisces About The Mansion
All the “boys” of the household went on a trip for a couple of months, and when we came back the entire garage was completely full of garbage. There had been no garbage removal the whole time we were gone-the girls were just putting the garbage into the garage, and it was five feet deep.
Then I used to tell people, “Don’t ride snowboards down the stairs.” There was a 54 set right as you walked in the front door, and there was a flat section halfway up and that was by Lane’s room. So of course people were just riding boards down the stairs all the time, running into the wall and putting holes in it. Zach patched fourteen holes in the wall from boards the day we moved out. Casillo might’ve have done the whole thing, though.