Beyond The Pipe Walls: Louie Vito, Greg Bretz, and JJ Thomas go in search of soul turns

Louie Vito leads a very public life. His days are filled with high-pressure contest runs in global level events like the Dew Tour, X Games, and Red Bull Double Pipe. At night it's not unusual to catch him running the dance floor as a DJ. When that's what the world sees, it's easy to peg him as a contest guy, someone always in the spotlight. But there's a lesser-known side to Louie that rarely gets captured.

Early this season, he crewed up with his coach, 2002 Olympic halfpipe bronze medalist JJ Thomas, and Mammoth's latest breakout Greg Bretz, to shred, sled, and soak up all that Mammoth has to offer, outside of the pipe walls.

Louie Vito, Indy above the Sierras. Photo: Andrew Miller

Louie Vito, Indy above the Sierras. Photo: Andrew Miller

It's been four years since the area has seen a start to winter this strong, and thanks to El Niño, there were plenty of bottomless, untracked turns to be found. In-bounds, the resort has 3,500 acres of terrain to explore, and as a born-and-raised local, Greg had all the spots to build some booters on lock.

In-bounds shack attack. Louie gets barreled while Greg Bretz provides the shade. Photo: Andrew Miller

In-bounds shack attack. Louie gets barreled while Greg Bretz provides the shade. Photo: Andrew Miller

Air Vito. Louie ollies while JJ takes a rest. Photo: Andrew Miller

Air Vito. Louie ollies while JJ takes a rest. Photo: Andrew Miller

Lift-accessed terrain is a solid go-to but the chance to get off the beaten path is always more tempting. So the guys hauled out the snowmobiles to get a little deeper.

"Greg grew up in Mammoth, so he knows all the good zones," says Louie. "I owned a snowmobile for a few years and used it quite a bit when I filmed for The Boned Age movie. I got to ride a bunch of backcountry stuff and learn a lot from the guys I really looked up to—[Kyle] Clancy, DK [Danny Kass], Colin [Langlois], [Scotty] Lago, Chad Otterstrom—those guys taught me so much."

Braappp, braappp! Greg, outward bound. Photo: Andrew Miller

Braappp, braappp! Greg, outward bound. Photo: Andrew Miller

In the quiet of the backcountry, away from the regimented structure of contests and the scrutiny of judges, the only concern is trying not to cross another track. There's no need to worry about linking together a perfect line of tricks, it's simply about waiting to see what stash might open up behind the next tree, finding a rhythm, and laying down turns so deep you get lost in the white room. There isn't much that matters when you're in that place.

Far away from the crowds, Louie finds the white room. Photo: Andrew Miller

Far away from the crowds, Louie finds the white room. Photo: Andrew Miller

JJ digs deep on a backside hack. Photo: Andrew Miller

JJ digs deep on a backside hack. Photo: Andrew Miller

Well, except maybe your homeys. "Greg is is one of my favorite people to ride with," says Louie. "I have known him for so long and we have traveled together entire winters for years now, and it never gets old. There are very few people in snowboarding that I am that close with, and he is one of them. I have the utmost respect for him as a rider and also as a friend."

As for JJ?

"He understands everything from being a snowboarder, contest rider, filmer…he's done it all," says Louie. "I am constantly learning so much from JJ. Everything from snowboarding to life in general. It's great."

Out of the backcountry… Photo: Andrew Miller

Out of the backcountry… Photo: Andrew Miller

And on to the hot springs. Photo: Andrew Miller

And on to the hot springs. Photo: Andrew Miller

Contest winnings, medals, and exposure are all an inevitable part of Louie's life. But that pace can't be sustained without taking the time to seek some soul turns. That means finding a way to get lost and having the right people to get loose with.

That moment when life is straight-up epic. Photo: Andrew Miller

That moment when life is straight-up epic. Photo: Andrew Miller