This year is the second in its nearly two-decade history that Riders' Poll took place in the Breckenridge. That most in attendance at a snowboarding awards show spent their day snowboarding produces a feeling an urban venue doesn't have. The crowd is collectively carrying the certain satisfaction that comes after a day on-hill. As snowboarders funneled off the frigid streets of downtown Breckenridge and into the Riverwalk Center, from the conversations heard to the attire worn, this couldn't have been more apparent.
When the lights dimmed, two names took the stage: Eddie Wall and Tom Monterosso, perhaps even better known as T. Bird. As Rusty Ockenden noted in his acceptance speech for The Manboys' Online Video Series of the Year award, these two represent snowboarding in the realest sense. It's the first time the duo has teamed up for something of this nature, and Wall's charisma combined with the Monterosso's wit proved an ideal dynamic to direct what may be the most-attended Riders' Poll to date. The night marked Monterosso's first time in front of a crowd this size, and if you happen to be one of the over 1000 in attendance, that should shock you. He's a natural. At everything.
In typical fashion for both these individuals, Wall and Monterosso wasted no time in presenting the first award category of the evening: Men's and Women's Rookie of the Year. Rookie is a term that carries more ambiguity in snowboarding than in ball sports, but when a young rider appears from the shadows and blows minds, the community takes note, and in the past year Mike Liddle and Jill Perkins did just that--Liddle with a head-turner of a part in Arbor's Cosa Nostra and Perkins with an online part that exudes impeccable style and trick selection, filmed while on the road with Desiree Melancon for United Slopes of America.
Mark McMorris and Iikka Backstrom took the stage to announce the nominees and present the awards for Men's and Women's video part of the year, which went to Halldór Helgason for his ender in Arcadia and Robin Van Gyn for her boundary-pushing powder boarding documented in Depth Perception and compiled in an online part.
Especially in the current climate of snowboard media consumption, Online Video Series of the Year is an award that carries weight. Jesse Paul and Ben Ferguson presented the award to Rusty Ockenden, Matt Belzile, Chris Rasman, Jody Wachniak, in town all the way from Whistler, and Eric Jackson, in town all the way from whatever river he's currently fishing. Their somewhat self-titled series, Something by The Manboys, demonstrated sled-accessed backcountry riding at its highest level, five times over, and snowboarding took note.
With an introduction that mentioned Mack Dawg's Stand and Deliver by both presenters, Spencer Obrien and Danny Davis, the award for Video of the Year went to Beacon, by Hayden Rensch. The film's star, Louif Paradis, was on-hand to accept the well-deserved award with the amount of genuine gratitude you would expect from one of the most humbly talented riders ever to strap in.
The ever-eclectic Standout Performance of the Year award holds perhaps the loosest definition for nomination, which is precisely what makes it such an honor to receive. With no specific framework around possible nominations, that which is truly exceptional ends up on this diverse list, and everything about putting down the fastest time at the Legendary Banked Slalom then winning the event’s switch race stands out. Of course, you can't expect Nils Mindnich to miss the second biggest banked slalom of the year, so Mindnich gave his acceptance speech from Bend, Oregon, via video while waxing his board for the Dirksen Derby.
While the rest of the Riders' Poll awards are decided by the recipients' peers in professional snowboarding, one nomination is a direct acknowledgement of the impact a rider has on the audience. It should come as no surprise then that Halldór Helgason is this year's Men's Readers' Choice recipient. Anna Gasser is the women’s winner in this category, and her short, shocked, and heartfelt acceptance speech showed the enormity of what it meant to her. Helgason was equivalently excited, and accepted the award presented by Zak Hale and Bjorn Leines--his second of the night--in true Halldór fashion. Drink in his hand, uncontrollable smile on his face.
It would be impossible to find a more appropriate venue to award Todd Richards with the prestigious Legend Award. After an introduction made by fellow Masshole Chris Grenier and snowboarding's most knowledgeable man, Pat Bridges, Richards gave an acceptance speech that was noticeably sincere. His critical eye and sharp sense of humor is part of what makes Richards the legend he is, but to see what this award means to someone like Todd is testament to its weight.
Of course, Rider of the Year is another heavy nomination, and there may not have been a more grateful duo of recipients in the award's history. Sometimes you can tell when someone knows it's coming, and Anna Gasser and Louif Paradis had the look of disbelief that only comes with genuine surprise when they each took the stage. After a few words on the award's meaning by Ozzy Henning and Jake Welch, it was, dare I say, moving, to watching Gasser and Paradis accept the honor with such forthright gratitude. Perhaps the best part of the night, however, came moments before Paradis took the stage when fellow nominee Halldór Helgason enthusiastically embraced an astonished Louif. You're supposed to pretend to be happy for the winner when it's not you, but there was nothing artificial in this instance. It was indicative of everything that's right about this community we're lucky to be a part of.