This article originally appeared in the November 2018 issue of TransWorld SNOWboarding. Rewind: Salt Lake City is our five-part web series documenting some of the people, crews, locations, and videos that Salt Lake City has had a hand in influencing. Watch it here.
No other metropolitan area in the world has had as profound an effect on snowboarding as Salt Lake City. Its topography puts much of the region on a slight incline, rising east. That subtle slope is the catalyst for its unrivaled array of iconic urban features. And further into the Wasatch Range, where that slope leads, lies some of the best terrain in North America, blanketed each winter by storms that drop light snow, more stable than that found in its neighboring state to the east. With world-class resorts Brighton and Snowbird located about a half hour from town, up Big Cottonwood and Little Cottonwood Canyons, respectively, lift-accessed terrain abounds in close proximity. Within the boundary ropes of these resorts lie playgrounds that have provided the venue for worthy content spanning generations, and in the adjacent sidecountry and backcountry are features and lines, upon which new levels of powder progression have been pushed for decades. Through magazines and videos, the documentation of this region has marked it as an enduring mecca that consistently draws riders from across the world—one of snowboarding's hallowed zones of influence and progression. It remains constantly evolving, alongside snowboarding itself. It is a place to learn an expand possibilities. For those who call Salt Lake City home, they know there's no place like it.
"People moved here more for the terrain than the contest scene… We didn't have pipes as readily available as Colorado or California. Ours was more natural style stuff… I think people saw it two-fold—that you could come here and have killer mountains to ride and not have to train in a halfpipe or something like that." — Jeff Davis
"I think originally Salt Lake was skipped over. When I started snowboarding it was Breckenridge [and the] East Coast—this is what was publicized in the magazines, and maybe some Tahoe. Those were the three things I knew. Nobody really talked about Salt Lake City or Brighton or Snowbird. But I think once people figured it out… it just took off." — Andy Hetzel
Of course, it all started with hiking. With the influence of Dimitri Milovitch, a Utah-based snowsliding pioneer and inventor of the Winterstick, snowboarding appeared early in Utah. By the late '80s, Utah resorts began to open their lifts to snowboarding, and top riders from around the country—hearing rumors of the world's best pow—were drawn to the mountains above Salt Lake City. Amazingly, Alta was one of the first to allow snowboarders but soon rescinded their invitation. Once Brighton opened, with Snowbird soon to follow, it was on. Justin Jimenez, Bill Harris, Stephanie Cherrington, Gene Higgins, Dennis Nazari, Drew Hicken, Rich Varga, Jeff Davis, and many others were the first wave.
Soon outsiders arrived. Andy Hetzel, Shaun Palmer, the Basich's—even MCA from Beastie Boys found his way to the Wasatch. The influx had begun. Salt Lake was pulling the biggest names from all directions to its steeps. With virtually no park, pipe, or manmade terrain available at the time, but plenty of cliffs, steeps, and bottomless pow, much of the riding during this era was done on natural features enhanced with DIY shovel-work.
Around the turn of the millennium, the influence of magazines and videos within snowboarding was reaching an all-time high. In an era before social media gave each rider their own platform, these mediums held a tastemaking power that dictated precisely who, what, and where was important, and Salt Lake was getting plenty of play. Snowboarding's most influential riders belonged to distinct film crews. Mack Dawg had a heavy Salt Lake contingent, with riders like Jason Brown, Seth Huot, Brian Thien, Jeremy Jones, and JP Walker calling the city home. The Kingpin Productions crew was largely based in Utah as well, with founder and director Whitey McCounnaughy making the move from Colorado. Around '94, Kingpin showed up with E-Stone, Blotto, and Shane Charlebois. J2, Mikey LeBlanc, Ali Goulet, and Brandon Bybee were all residing in SLC.Easy access to world-class terrain—both in the street and mountains—was drawing snowboarding's top talent and media to the region. Marc Frank Montoya came. Noah Brandon, Jamie Lynn, Chris Roach, and Noah Salasnek showed up. International riders like Ingemar Backman, Wille Yli-Luoma, and Terje Haakonsen came through. Romain De Marchi, Gigi Rüf, JP Solberg, and more filmed groundbreaking snowboarding in Utah zones. The ability to gain over 6000 feet in elevation with a short drive followed by a tram ride, to access massive natural features from the side of a highway, and to hit multiple street spots in a day after warming up.
As street-based video parts became increasingly common, Salt Lake City only grew in appeal to snowboarding’s established pro community and the next generation of riders looking to come up. The influx of riders and film crews was so great that finding something untouched among the city's seemingly endless street spots grew tougher and required more creativity or bravery. JP Walker, Jeremy Jones, Mikey Leblanc, Mitch Nelson, and Brian Thien had laid the groundwork for the street-based jib movement, and kids around the world were watching via Kingpin and Mack Dawg films.
Local upstart Finger On Da Trigger Productions was born from hip-hop-inspired brand Technine and laid claim to some of the heaviest spots in the area. Next came KidsKnow productions, the video manifestation of Mikey LeBlanc's fashion-forward outerwear brand, Holden. FODT and KidsKnow offered two portrayals of SLC-based snowboarding. At the same time, the fabled Grizzly Gulch, site of features like Pyramid and Chad's Gap, became a defining place to measure worth and film an ender, fitting well with the large-scale approach of Absinthe Films. In 2004, Travis Rice became the first snowboarder to jump the behemoth we now know as Chad's.
Down in the city, the scale of rails was growing alongside backcountry progression up in the Wasatch, with an increasing amount of consequential, line-based, gap-based, and wallride-based spots finding their way into the mix. Street riding evolved from a discipline that solely took place on a handrail to become something more innovative.
As the decade turned, riders like Dan Brisse and Bode Merrill began to push the proportions of feature size to previously unfathomable levels. The evolution of street and backcountry riding accelerated while the growing popularity of the web edit refocused a spotlight on inbounds resort riding, especially at Brighton and Park City, from riders such as Scott Stevens, Chris Grenier, and Chris Beresford. Creativity honed on the park features at these places paved the way for a new era of style and tech-focused street riding, focused less on sheer size but unique spot selection and approach, that progressed alongside the large-scale roof-to-roof gaps and massive wallrides. A DIY park on Guardsman Pass, by the name Bone Zone, provided early season opportunities for a group of committed riders before Brighton offered it a legitimate home.
Today, while a new generation of riders like the Flyinggg crew is spending their early season hiking the Bone Zone, others like Griffin Siebert and Forrest Shearer can be found earning turns via splitboard—the foot-powered touring approach that was also pioneered in Salt Lake City. After decades as a hotbed of progression and innovation, the Salt Lake City scene remains more vibrant and diverse than ever. For every style of rider, terrain type, interest, or dream of becoming a more well-rounded rider, there is a niche to be found here. It appears that Salt Lake City's effect is only increasing in magnitude. There is no place like here.