January 2016. In typical Tahoe fashion, January brings sunny skies and cool temps but not a drop of moisture on the radar. We’re secretly welcoming a break in the weather; the past 31 consecutive days of powder-filled splitboarding have left our bodies thrashed. December absolutely went off. November’s colorful leaves hadn’t finished falling before a few feet of snow blanketed the forest floor, causing widespread powder-panic. Optimism and hope surged throughout the Tahoe community, especially within our crew, after the past few drought years brought thoughts of finding a new place to call home. But it’s hard to leave this oasis nestled between the East and West crests of the Sierra Nevada mountain range—a sanctuary which that has harbored such a large part of snowboarding’s history and community. Lake Tahoe and its magical waters fed by an average annual snowpack of 300 to 500 inches is a special place to call home. Or as longtime snowboarder and Tahoe local Roan Rodgers simply puts it, “It’s easy to live here and be a ski bum.”

Like most mountain towns, people have long arrived in Lake Tahoe seeking to indulge in the ski-bum way of life. It starts behind the kitchen doors of a seasonally thriving restaurant scrubbing a vacationer’s plate clean to pay rent, put gas in the truck, and afford a season pass. Powder is the church, and attendance is mandatory. We befriend others seeking the same nirvana, tap into our seasonal groove, and take pride in a community basking in the simple life. A long time ago, in this Northern California sanctuary, somewhere between washing dishes and scoring quiet, midweek pow days, an elevated state of the ski-bum life began to grow as internationally acclaimed snowboarding videos surfaced from the Tahoe basin.

Gray Thompson: Jack of all trades, master of none. Whether following the guys up a couloir to capture a shot or riding it himself, Gray answers when the mountains are calling. After founding Warp Wave with Eric Messier in 2013, Gray’s worked year-round to keep Warp Wave alive and well and the audience always on their tippy toes. | Photo: Keith Rutherford

Warp Wave started making videos a few years ago to show snowboarding in its simplest form. Our intent has always been to bring friends together and inspire others to step into adventure and creativity. This season, the stars seemed to be aligning for our latest film project, Aurora Boardealis. An atmospheric change promising an El Niño year built a wave off the shores of Lake Tahoe that many were eager to ride. Making a snowboard movie is a puzzle, and for the first time since Warp Wave’s 2013 inception, all of the pieces were fitting together.

Warp Wave cinematographer Sam Tuor and Tucker Andrews | Photo: Sean Kerrick Sullivan

Bringing a new lens to the mix was Sam Tuor, no stranger to documenting snowboarding in its purest form. Ready for any adventure at the drop of a dime, Sam would prove crucial in documenting the powdery pursuits of the growing Warp Wave roster: Tucker Andrews, Nick Russell, Taylor Carlton, Johnny Brady, Curtis Woodman, Felix Mobarg, Jackson Fowler, and Zander Blackmon, to name a handful. Eric Messier and I had spent the past few drought years laying the groundwork, and we were ready to send this shuttle to the sky.

Eric Messier: One of the best and most natural styles in snowboarding, anyone can enjoy watching Eric ride. Match that with his deeply rooted passion for Lake Tahoe and the Sierra, and you have one heck of an influential guy. Having helped found Warp Wave, Eric reliably keeps the vibe alive. | Photo: Greg Martin

As darkness replaces the evening hues of a crisp West Coast sunset and its poignant alpenglow, the night sky evokes a sense of wonder and sparks a lust for exploration and discovery. We are inherently curious—always searching to make the unknown known. Whether it’s space exploration or turning up stones in the landscapes of our own backyards, we look to pioneers for inspiration. Lake Tahoe, the Kennedy Space Center of snowboarding, is home to a legacy of pioneers and generations of riders that who have set the stage of snowboard filmmaking since the late 1980s.
Taylor Carlton: There is no doubt that Taylor should be hosting his own Comedy Central show by now. Instead he has spent the past 11 years in the mountains of Lake Tahoe keeping the crew in tears of laughter when not wide-eyed watching the lines he climbs and descends. | Photo: Jeff Curley

When Mike Hatchett laid roots on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe in 1990 and began shooting the first video in the Standard Films series Totally Board, his crew took note from Tom Burt and Jim Zellers who pioneered Tahoe’s most classic zones—one in particular: Donner Summit. “Donner Summit was the Mecca,” Mike explains. “On one side you have all the quarter pipes, hips, and freestyle stuff. Then right next to it there are all these gnarly, steep lines. When we got there, Tom Burt was the person with the knowledge. He trained my brother [Dave Hatchett] and I, Noah Salasnek, Rocket Reaves, and Nate Cole. All of us really.” Momentum hurtled in 1989. Mike states, “Once Squaw Valley opened to snowboarding, it was game on.” Tahoe became the place to be.

Johnny Brady: Born and raised in Tahoe, Johnny is the epitome of a well-rounded snowboarder. When he approached us about dedicating his winter to joining the crew and exploring deeper into his home terrain, we welcomed him with arms wide open and couldn’t wait to watch him fly through the air. | Photo: Sean Kerrick Sullivan

Flash forward 27 years. Mike and his brother Dave, Tom Burt, Roan Rodgers, and many others still call Tahoe home and rip laps on Squaw’s KT-22 chair, although the lines are longer now. There are a few generations between Standard Films and this young Warp Wave crew, but the stories Mike shares and the terrain he helped discover, those we can closely relate to. “Tom Burt ripped that line way harder than you… back in ’89!” became our season-long joke as we hiked and splitboarded around Donner Summit and throughout the plethora of peaks in the Tahoe Basin.

Nick Russell | Photo: Gray Thompson

Standard’s Totally Board films have become our Sierra Bible containing all the classic lines to. Every night we spent at home sounded something like, “Dudes, we have to find that zone they are riding; it’s insane!” To be amongst the Tahoe backcountry is to be inside a classroom, only to replace the humdrum of the periodic table with the extremity and fluidity of a particular line Noah Salasnek painted with his board.

Top row photos: Greg Martin
Bottom row photos: Sean Kerrick Sullivan, Gray Thompson

Exploration and documentation are recurring themes throughout the Sierra Nevada mountains, from John Muir and Ansel Adams photographing and writing about the area’s desolate wilderness, to the thousands of selfies taken at historical landmarks like Emerald Bay, where seeing Tahoe’s waters for the first time can be a jaw-dropping, shareable experience. There is something mystical about this globally tiny yet locally endless mountain range that attracts and rewards so many people.

Jackson Fowler: The latest addition to the crew, Jackson took note from Tucker and made the pilgrimage West from Colorado. A quiet ball of fiery energy, Jackson will relentlessly hike and keep a session going for hours. With such a unique take on snowboarding, we are constantly on our toes anticipating the radness of Jackson’s next move. | Photo: Gray Thompson

In our nostalgic conversation that helped me peer into the Golden Days of the early ‘90s, Mike explained, “There was hardly anyone out there. In the moment, I wasn’t thinking I’d be looking back 25 years later going, ‘Yeah, I guess we were the first guys to go out there.’” What Mike didn’t realize at the time was the historical map of snowboarding they were creating that generations since have looked to for inspiration. “We were just exploring,” says Mike says. “My brother and I have always been into exploring. We were doing a lot of first ascents rock climbing, always going into the middle of nowhere in Baja, exploring places where no one goes. Adventuring on our snowboards tied right over, and it was just amazing.”

Felix Mobarg: Token Euro of the ensemble, Felix’s bag of freestyle trickery runs deep, but his style runs even deeper. Watching him transition into backcountry powder riding, Felix resembles a little kid at a candy store, jaw dropped and in awe at the endless potential of features hidden in the Sierra. | Photo: Keith Rutherford

With the arrival of the futuristic 2000s came digital cameras and an influx of film crews to North and South Lake Tahoe. As more and more zones were being unlocked, the Mecca of Donner Summit expanded, engulfing all of Tahoe and much of the greater Sierra Nevada range. Snowmobiles became the premier mode of transportation, allowing crews to go deeper into the backcountry, discovering new jumps to build and lines to ride.

Tucker Andrews: Upon arriving to Tahoe via Colorado, Tucker was an instant match with Warp Wave. For a guy who prefers backflips to straight airs, Tahoe’s playful terrain speaks fluently with Tucker’s riding and our cameras and eyes love every moment of it. | Photo: Greg Martin

“Back then it was Mack Dawg, Standard, Absinthe, Robot Food—everyone was in Tahoe. I moved to Tahoe because all those other dudes were in Tahoe; it was totally the hub,” explains Pierre Minhondo who, part of a new generation, helped create the famed Neoproto videos, and later People Films. “There were cool people and a lot were very courteous to us, but we were also stepping on a lot of toes. We would go out to all of the snowmobile spots, and we didn't know where any of the jumps were, so if we happened to be out at Blue Lakes or Red Lakes and Standard, Mack Dawg, and Robot Food had built jumps during that storm cycle, the next storm cycle we would go and build those same jumps because it made sense to us,” Pierre says.

Left: Eric Messier and Tucker Andrews | Photo: Sean Kerrick Sullivan
Right: Felix Mobarg | Photo: Keith Rutherford

There was no better place to study the process and routines of snowboard filmmaking than in Tahoe. Following in the footsteps of those who came before us facilitates progression, and although it drew tension in the Tahoe area during this time, the competitiveness between crews pushed the envelope of riding, shooting, and editing snowboard films. “People were so competitive,” Pierre continues. “There were so many crews in such a condensed area. Everyone was going out, and it was off to the races—; everyone just kept one-upping each other.” To put it simply, Tahoe became crowded.

Curtis Woodman: Once the new kid on the block closing down films like Neoproto’s Some Kinda Life, Curtis is now a seasoned veteran of the Tahoe snowboard scene. With every zone in his back pocket, we can always count on following Curtis into the mountains for an awesome day of surfing the earth. | Photo: Jeff Curley

The next chapter to unfold in Tahoe’s history book begins in a much quieter setting. Like the stillness and vastness of a high Sierra meadow, there was ample air to breathe. Fewer pro snowboarders refueling at our local Mexican restaurants seemed to signify a turn of the page. Bigger, established film crews booked tickets to more exotic locations, leaving the home stage to a less accredited but equally passionate generation. Coinciding with the departure of these large film crews was the arrival of an unfortunate change in climate patterns, bringing with it Tahoe’s most dreaded enemy: drought. Nothing looked the same. Gone seemed the days of 48-hour, 10-foot snowstorms burying entire neighborhoods. Instead, the new generation had to learn to embrace a six-inch, 12-hour window of a pow day.

Nick Russell: A total free spirit who moves magically through the mountains, when Nick decided to call Tahoe home for the year, the Sierra rejoiced. Nick’s take on big mountain riding inspires us all to keep exploring, discovering and enjoying every turn the mountains have to offer. | Photo: Gray Thompson

It was during this time of turmoil that we decided to look at this historically impressive place with new eyes, through the camera’s viewfinder, as we set off to contribute to Tahoe’s filmmaking legacy. With a handful of Warp Wave’s population having grown up in and around Lake Tahoe, many of us have witnessed firsthand the comings and goings of previous generations of Sierra snowboarders. For the first time since the late ‘80s, Tahoe wasn’t a competitive arena. It felt more like a cobwebbed Olympic stadium from the ‘70s. We could pick any infamous zone on the map and have it all to ourselves, as long as we were willing to ride subpar snow conditions. Splitboards helped to quench our thirst for adventure as we set out to paint new layers on our backyard canvas.

Jeremy Jones | Photo: Gray Thompson

Today’s Tahoe generation seeks to tribute those who came before us—the pioneers and influencers of such a special place with such unique history. Whether visiting a jump that the Hatchetts discovered in 1995 or exploring the deeper reaches of the High Sierras that Burt and Zellers first set a skin track to, we discovered Tahoe holds lifetimes of sights and experiences for us all to pursue. The area is so vast and still holds so many secrets that even through back-to-back years of drought, it would take a volcanic eruption or an invitation to board a shuttle to space to desire a new place to call home.

Gray Thompson | Photo: Sean Kerrick Sullivan

Tahoe sits too far south to enjoy the lights of Aurora Borealis. But the energy here radiates an atmospheric attraction that’s brought like-minded individuals together under this beautiful granite-laden, snowcapped roof. Warp Wave has welcomed new riders embodying an adventurous spirit, eager and motivated to experience the Sierra and all this region has to offer. I often find myself daydreaming of the bright, crisp mornings shared with close friends as we weathered the night’s storm experiencing the power of the Sierra, in turn revealing perfect pitches and mystical powder fields that feed the soul.

Eric Messier | Photo: Sean Kerrick Sullivan

It is those moments that spur a feeling of connection to pioneers like John Muir who beautifully stated, “Looking eastward from the summit of Pacheco Pass one shining morning, a landscape was displayed that after all my wanderings still appears as the most beautiful I have ever beheld. At my feet lay the Great Central Valley of California, level and flowery, like a lake of pure sunshine … And from the eastern boundary of this vast golden flowerbed rose the mighty Sierra, miles in height, and so gloriously colored and so radiant, it seemed not clothed with light but wholly composed of it, like the wall of some celestial city … Then it seemed to me that the Sierra should be called, not the Nevada or Snowy Range, but the Range Of Light. And after ten years of wandering and wondering in the heart of it, rejoicing in its glorious floods of light, the white beams of the morning streaming through the passes, the noonday radiance on the crystal rocks, the flush of the alpenglow, and the irised spray of countless waterfalls, it still seems above all others the Range Of Light." (- The Yosemite, 1912)

Jeremy Jones. | Photo: Gray Thompson

As we continue adding to the archives and history of this Sierra Nevada, Range Of Light, snowboarding community, all we can hope for is the storm door to stay open and the pen to keep flowing for many chapters of passionate generations to come.

Watch for Warp Wave's full movie, Auroraboardealis, dropping November 29th on TWSNOW.com.

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