Words: Joel Muzzey | Above: Outlaw Park, 1994, Chris Brunkhart photo
Once the skateboarders took over snowboarding, things got better fast. Tricks, style, equipment--pretty much everything. And thanks to that influence, 1980s snowboarding quickly evolved from looking like some odd offshoot of windsurfing to something much better. The skate mindset brought other ideas. What if there were jumps and rails, banks and transitions? Terrain features built for the sole purpose of shredding. With the perfectly sculpted parks and pipes of today it's hard to imagine snowboarding without them, but that time actually existed.
Until 1991 there was no such thing as a dedicated snowboard park. Not until a little resort in Southern California called Bear Mountain built one. Outlaw. The world's first. In the spring of 2016, TransWorld and Bear teamed up to re-create the groundbreaking park, session it, and shed some light on a time and place in snowboard history that completely changed the paradigm. To prepare for the build, Bear's park crew watched grainy videos, scoured old photos, and even talked to some salty old dudes who actually rode Outlaw. Then we invited a crew of riders for some laps down memory lane: local legend Chris Bradshaw, longtime Bear local Zak Hale, SoCal-bred Harrison Gordon, Bear edit regular Jordan Small, and a handful of others. Over the course of several days, the crew shredded the classic park run, lapping, laughing, and slashing the berms. Same as it ever was.
Here's how it began. In the winter of 1990, renowned artist and snowboard park pioneer Mike Parillo was just a punk kid from LA, living in a tent in the woods. His camp was set up in the trees across the road from Snow Valley ski area where he was working as a nighttime liftie. During the day he'd hitchhike up Route 18 to ride at Bear Mountain with a growing group of locals. As he explains it, "There were no parks at all, but there was a pipe up at Bear. I heard a rumor that if you went up there and you dug, you could get a free ticket. Being the broke guy that I was, this seemed like a great idea." That was it.
He started making the 15-mile trek from the tent-site to Big Bear. “After digging up there a lot and shoveling super hard, the guy who was supposed to do it, Darrell McClaskey, pulled me aside and said, 'Hey, do you wanna build the snowboard park here?' And that's how it started. The next season I showed up and they had hired some people to help and we got shirts. We didn't get our own cat at first, but every once in a while the cat driver would come by and help us build stuff. It was like all of sudden there was this snowboard park. That was 1991." The humble beginnings of a whole new era.
Born and raised in Big Bear, Ryan Immegart is Volcom's global marketing director, but when Outlaw opened, he was just a local grom. He remembers that "the run where they ended up making the Outlaw park was a part of the mountain that was like no man's land--no one really rode it because it was never groomed and it was just like moguls, ice, and kinda shitty." Somehow, he says, "Parillo convinced them to let him build a park back there. It was incredible." But the creation of the park took more than just the dreams of a tent-dwelling visionary and a few local kids.
Resort management was the key. And they were ahead of the curve because they not only recognized that snowboarders were showing up and buying lift tickets, but they were openminded enough to get on board and back it. An especially bold move considering the whole concept of a snowboard park was untested, unproven, and directly at odds with a lawsuit-leery resort industry built on skiing. This was a time when most resorts viewed snowboarders as actual outlaws. But Bear took the leap, put the riders in charge, and reshaped the resort experience. It was a point of no return. And who gave Parillo the green light? "Jerry Blann was Bear's president back then," he says.
"Now he runs Jackson Hole. And John Rice--he was the mountain manager. He was the one who was really pushing for snowboarding, doing all the legal stuff. He was a good guy." Remembering his days as the leader of the first-ever park crew, Parillo laughs: "We were just a bunch of skids, really--we were all really proud of just being dirtbags. Everyone was from San Bernardino or LA or Riverside. And, like, punk rock. It's funny, I just always thought I was gonna get in trouble. We were getting paid to snowboard all the time. I was clocking in and just snowboarding all day."
With no blueprint to draw from, the earliest version of the park came straight from Parillo's brain. "I was doing drawings
in my sketchbook and building models out of snow to show the cat driver. I always had to bring them beers, anything I could do to get them interested in building us stuff. I actually never drove that cat, but I was a good conductor. And I didn't even know it at the time, but this was my first art, I knew how I wanted everything to look and was always thinking of ways to make it better."
Dave Downing pulls this from memory, "You'd get off the chair and there was this little wooden stick that you'd always hit, like a jib, then there was this other log feature--Scabs had the cover of TransWorld on that thing, I think. Then you'd go down and hit a little tabletop jump, then you'd go into those banks." The infamous berms. "I think Parillo just made those berms so you could surf them like waves, but then everybody started jumping off the backs of them. Bryan Iguchi was doing shifty backside 180s and backside threes. 'Guch was the man."
Looking 20-some years into the past, lots of the details have grown dim but the mood and memories of the time endure. Parillo says, "It was a really strange time because it was the beginning of something new. We didn't realize it. We were all friends. Everyone was super tight. We'd ride back-to-back all day long, charging, pushing each other, and the whole evolution of our snowboarding went simultaneously with the evolution of the parks."
"Outlaw was our own little area Immegart recalls, "and that made us feel entitled and proud, really. It was a perfect setup, too. Chair 3. One chairlift and boom--you could just lap it all day long. It was the place where everyone came into their own. That's where I met Rob Dafoe. Bryan Iguchi. Jeff Brushie was up there, ripping all the time. Downing. Then there were the locals, like me and Neal Drake, and Janna Meyen." While we're dropping names, we should also add these: Brian Thien, Derric Swinfard, Todd Messick, Shannon Haymes, even a pint-sized Chris Bradshaw. Plus all the people we're leaving out. Sorry.
Immegart again: "At the time, I think we did have a sense that it was pretty special because when you got the mags, you didn't see any other parks. Riders were coming there from all these other places and resorts were kind of spiring to it and trying to learn from it. Then the movies started happening--lots of people were filming and documenting."
In years following the creation of Outlaw, snowboarding's growth was exploding--brands, industry, media. Volcom was up in Outlaw shooting their first films, Alive We Ride and The Garden. Dave Seoane and Fall Line Films put out their seminal films Roadkill and R.P.M., both packed with Outlaw action. From about 1990 through 1994, snowboard media was really focused on Bear. The reason, as Downing sees it, "is because that's where it was happening. Progression was going down at Bear Mountain."
Nobody could say definitively how the park came to be named Outlaw, but it was obvious to all. "Snowboarding was this outlaw thing in the early '90s," says Bear's marketing director Clayton Shoemaker, "It was like, 'We'll tuck you outlaws away on the other side of this ridge where nobody is gonna see you.'"
The park was also snowboard-only, no skiers allowed. "I think they kept skiers out of the park so nobody would see what we were up to," Parillo says. "And so we wouldn't get into fights with 'em. I remember pulling skiers' passes for going in the park. I loved doing that."
As a former Burton pro, Downing was a fixture in the early days of Outlaw. He says, "Snowboarding was sorta unknown back then, and some skiers weren't down with it, so yeah, there was some tension. I remember Jason Carrougher chasing skiers out of the park, yelling and cussing at them to get out." Yes, the skier-versus-snowboarder rivalry was real. But keep in mind, just a few years before this, most resorts didn't even allow snowboarders or, if they did, subjected us to a goofy "certification" tests to ride the lifts.
Within a few years of Bear Mountain opening Outlaw, snowboard parks began popping up from coast to coast. But by being the first to support the concept and the kids who created it, Bear Mountain wrote itself into snowboard history. "What made the difference," Immegart says, "is that it was made for snowboarders by snowboarders and everybody wanted to come there. It was all happening at that moment, so we felt like we were on the forefront of something. That was such a unique time in the history of the sport. I know in my lifetime, I'll never experience another movement like that. Something that was so profound. It birthed an industry and changed the way people think about how to ride on a mountain on snow."
For the past 12 years Clayton Shoemaker has been directing Bear's industry-leading park program. "The thought process in re-creating Outlaw," he says, "was to make it similar to the original with those classic features--like the banked turns but also to take what we know in 2016 and apply that, too. We didn't want to build anything super gnarly, either. The idea was to make a park that flows."
He continues, "Every few years people say, 'Bring Outlaw back; you need to bring it back.' So for me and my crew, it's pretty awesome to get to come in here and build on a run that hasn't been built on in decades. When we were building this, the idea was, if Parillo and those guys had the tools we have today, what would they have built?" Sitting at the bottom of the rebuilt park, Shoemaker describes the run as "sacred ground."
"A lot of kids don't get it," he says. "They think terrain parks just popped up--every resort has one now--but back in the day it was a fight for the guys who believed in having a park and were passionate about snowboarding. Not only was it a fight to get the resort to support it, but they had to go out and physically do it--without the tools and technology we have today. Hats off to those guys--I'll buy them a beer anytime because we'll never know what they went through with management and without these machines. And look at where we're at now. How many resorts have a terrain park?"
Check out the video that resulted from our Outlaw session below: