The Great Lakes

The Great Lakes

Makin' it happen.

By David Sypniewski

Trying to make something happen. That's how our trip to the Midwest (Great Lakes Region) began. In fact that's how my childhood in Indiana began, too. I'm not knocking where I grew up, because I actually enjoyed it a lot, but maybe it was the mentality of the people around me. Maybe it was just the lay of the land that had my friends and I working so hard to really make our lives more exciting. Take snowboarding, for example–we learned on a golf course. Riding down the sides of overpasses to get four turns, being towed behind snowmobiles into jumps with no landings, and jumping off the roofs of our homes never seemed like dumb ideas to us.

When I was old enough to drive, I (like a lot of other kids) went out west where you don't have to try so hard to make it exciting. I'd been back to Indiana a few times for holidays and such, but never to snowboard. This time I came back to do a story, and brought a couple of kids who grew up riding places like Mt. Baker and Lake Tahoe–kids who never had to wonder what it would be like to ride four feet of new snow in real mountains. I don't think Tyler Lepore and Javis Lehn ever really knew what they were in for.

Photographer Shem Roose, Tyler, Javis, and I flew into Chicago in the middle of January. We rented a fifteen-passenger van and hit the road. We traveled close to 2,000 miles on the ice-covered, pothole-laden monstrosities in order to visit some of the most beloved snowboarding spots in the Midwest.

We drove through towns that belonged in Philip K. Dick novels or at the very least in the Twilight Zone. We stopped for bad food, gas, and handrails. We also stopped at every other Wal-Mart for no apparent reason at all. We were reliving my youth.

Even though we enjoyed every absurd moment–we had to get back. Like most great adventures, we all wished there'd been more time, but it was dumping out west. So here's a little summary:

There are some true rippers in the Midwest, and a lot of people are simply into shredding–I'm talking hardcore. They ride 500-foot hills from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., usually in sub-zero temperatures or the occasional freezing rain. How about those powder days? They're always there for both of them, too.

Most of the kids we met knew more about what's going on in snowboarding than I do. They religiously read the magazines, play the games, and watch all the videos and the X-Games. When Erik Leines (a.k.a. The Mule) showed up in Duluth to hang with us, some of the kids freaked–partly because he'd brought a ton of Oakley stuff to stoke people out with, but mostly because they'd just seen him on TV and/or read his then recent interview in the January issue of TransWorld SNOWboarding.

Tyrol Basin (Wisconsin) has the best pipe in the Midwest. Spirit Mountain (Minnesota), Crystal Mountain (Michigan), and Mulligan's Hollow (Michigan) are also a blast. The most fun we had was pulling each other into handrails–with jibbing being so well accepted again, everyone in the Midwest should slide handrails when they're bored. I'm sure they get bored.