I have been traveling around since September 11th. By snowboarding standards, I guess that seems puny, but my body and spirit are far from athletic and I need to STOP.

Last we spoke, I was happy in Seattle. That was a month ago. Thanksgiving time. I was using an office at Mervin Manufacturing, trying to write in between dumps in the mountains. I went to the Space Needle for turkey. Saw Jimi Hendrix’s grave. Giggled through powder at Mt. Bachelor. It seems like years ago. Now, I’m in Lake Tahoe, living in the SOL Shack. I have a broken rib, a vicious cold, no voice, and I have to write who knows how many pages over the next four days. Remember, I mentioned something about meltdown? We could be close, ladies and gentlemen.

My next stop was the 007th Annual TransWorld Snowboarding Industry Conference and Powder Quest at Vail, Colorado (I’m skipping over the parts where we almost ran over a coyote in the desert and got a $225 speeding ticket and saw a tractor trailer destroy a Ryder truck full of papers. I’m also skipping the night in Las Vegas when I dreamed I was at the top of a mountain and I broke the bathroom window of our Travelodge room because I thought I was going to miss the last snowcat down the mountain. You don’t need to hear about that in any more detail.) The most difficult part of the conference for me is that although I was invited (after substantial begging), I could not afford any of the “special agent” packages, so I was there on a total guerrilla-style mission to glean what I could. Luckily, people in the snowboarding industry are sympathetic to the freestyle crasher. I mean, snowboarding is about rebellion, right?

The first night of this James Bond theme extravaganza, I was very very nervous about my passless state, so I drank a lot. The conference can be a pretty cliquey thing, and although I have made some friends in the industry, I was feeling conspicuously un-snowboardy. The bar scene at the hotel was at first daunting, then funny, and finally some of my friends showed up and I scammed a floor to sleep on. Eventually, a very kind person in the industry, who I will not name in order to protect him/her, lent me their pass for the awards banquet. Once I was in, I ate a whole lot and nestled in to watch the show. TransWorld honored Tom Sims and Jake Burton with awards, presented by the guy who played Jaws in the Bond flicks. It was actually the guy, the really big guy, right there. He got up and thanked “Snowboarding Mountain Magazine” for inviting him, and announced that he would be hanging around the Vail Cascade Hotel all week, signing autographed pics of Jaws. It was a little sad and very stilted, but everyone was sorta tanked and cheered like crazy for him.

The rest of the program was a real tear jerker. They showed slides for both Sims and Burton. Sims rocked Burton’s with amazing skating shots from the ’70s. That guy was a style genius. Jake’s slide show was almost all shots that have appeared in TransWorld, sorta boring, but his speech kicked ass. It’s weird, Jake can be so difficult to get to (believe me, I’ve been trying for a while) and his company is so huge that people inevitably badmouth him.

Maybe spending so much time on the West Coast, especially in the Northwest, had put a bad taste in my mouth about Jake, but this speech turned me right around. He was funny and genuine and humble. After the speech, the person sitting next to me leaned over and said, “Wow, and I always thought he was a jerk.” When it comes down to it, Burton may be a huge companyy in snowboarding, but in the realm of the world he’s dealing with behemoth corporate types every day. His philosophy of business has stayed pretty much intact, if not improved over the years and he gives snowboarding a better name than all the little “core” companies combined. I’ll end this rant now because it sounds all ass kissy and it is, but it’s true, too. What can I say. Jake Burton won my heart.

Speaking of winning my heart, seeing people like Damian Sanders was a trip. He gets the preservation of style award. When snowboarding changed and neon became gay, Sanders didn’t pull a Bon Jovi and cut his hair. He kept his look, and while he now has black hair and wears a lot of black, his style is the same. He is unquestionably Sanders. I’d like to share a quote I recently came across in an old TransWorld. Sanders was asked: Do you think you are how you look? He responded: “No They expect me to be the meanest person. And nobody understands. And I dress like a punk – or a fashion punk. I don’t dress like a skin-head type punk. I don’t wear a hat backwards and a T-shirt. I dress like a nice punk. Almost like a heavy metal except I don’t have rags hanging all over me. And I don’t wear long hairdos and pretty makeup. I dress like this because I can. This is the first time in my life that I’ve been able to dress this way and it’s like they’re paying me to do it. It’s great. I’ve always wanted to just look how I want. And I’m slowly getting there. I still want a big thick Mohawk like the guy in Road Warrior.”