“We haven’t built that feature since something like ‘98?” Raul says to me with a sly grin and the fire of stoke in his eyes as we start digging out what will become the second zone at this year’s LoveGames. The jump he’s referring to is on the other side of the pass where a crew of diggers is wrapping up and making their way toward the rest of the dig crew armed with rakes and shovels. We’re standing at 11,990ft; I’m on the highest continuously maintained pass in the world, and I’m a little out of breath because I work a damn desk job and don’t snowboard as much as I’d like to anymore.
“The idea is, you know, we have all these features that we used to hit back in the 90s and it’s just cool to see what’s possible on them today.” Raul continued. Taylor Boyd, along with Kit Hendrickson and Ryan Phipps and a slew of others worked for the next 3-4 hours meticulously shaping the huge wind feature into a partial bowl / quarter-pipe combo that flirted with 20ft.
Ben Lynch and Ryan Arrington – Two Looneys from Grand County. Photo: Juan Jose Sieiro
After a few test runs on the 1/4pipe, it was onto the ironing board where still another build crew was working on what Raul called “the road to China”. A massive excavation project for sure, but totally necessary for the in-run to the legendary hip feature. Blocks were cut and stacked, future zones were scoped, and many an instagram post was made by those who aren’t with ATT.
“I wanted to make what I would’ve made when I was 12 years old in my backyard.” Joe Suta, owner of Nightmare snowboards, says to me grinning ear to ear almost giddy taking in the view of his team’s creation. As I look around the fourth and final zone, my eyes are immediately drawn to a double set of true gaps set up like a BMX rhythm section. I can’t believe what I’m seeing as I vividly recall a neighbor of mine back in Michigan having a similar death gap rhythm setup built on the hillside in his backyard during my first winter of riding in ‘94-’95. Taking in the rest of the zone I’m transported back to a time when snowboarding didn’t need anything but itself and the people who were into it. There was a time when a lot of places wouldn’t let us ride their lifts so we as snowboarders were forced to get creative to ride: find hills in the woods or on golf courses, hitchhike up a mountain pass, or find handrails in the city.
Chris Waker. Photo: Chad Otterstrom
Arguably the best thing about the LoveGames is that it maintains the concept of accessibility that makes snowboarding so great. You don’t need a lift ticket or season pass to put your thumb out on Loveland Pass and hitch a ride to the top. You don’t need to pay $15 for a cheeseburger and $9 for a beer when you can bring a grill and cooler up with you for lunch. Hell, you don’t even need a special invite to attend, or compete in the LoveGames. That is what makes this event fucking cool; it is truly open. It’s pretty unique these days to see legends and well-known pros riding side by side with local heros and groms with the exception of other accessible events like banked slaloms. Snowboarding needs more of this. It fosters community and stoke. It makes people feel like they’re a part of something; not simply as a spectator as is the case with something like the X-Games or Dew Tour, but as a snowboarder, as a part of the community.
Sunday morning came early after digging all day on Saturday and my body was happy to relax, sip on a few beers and ‘work’.
Dylan Alito. Photo Chad Otterstrom
I hadn’t yet seen the first zone in person and as I traversed across the still crusty south facing terrain the kicker came into view. My first thought was, “they weren’t kidding; there is over 100ft of landing.” Zone 1 can best be described as a mirror of the ironing board, but bigger and with a better landing. This zone gave the goofy footers a chance to show off their methods and gave regular riders a nice frontside hit to get creative with. Seth Hill sent a crippler nearly to the hairpin, Nate Cordero made sure everyone knew he was in attendance with his trademark consistency, and Chad O sent an air into a shadowy chute in less than ideal snow conditions.
As things wrapped up at Zone 1 the crowd took to Loveland Pass to thumb their way back up to the top and Zone 2. I can only imagine what it must have looked like to drivers coming up the pass as literally hundreds of dirt bags too cheap to buy lift tickets held their thumbs out hoping that the kindness of strangers holds true above 11,000ft. As usual, the Audi’s, Mercedes and Acura’s drove by….fuckin’ skiers….but eventually we all made our way over to Zone 2 where our ¼ pipe awaited.
Jade Phalen. Photo: Chad Otterstrom
Zone 2 proved to be challenging for most of the field. The always treacherous in-run ate up it’s fair share of competitors and even snapped a deck. If you were lucky enough to make it to the tranny you had to hold it together going up a hand dug 20ft ¼ pipe. Initially the transition we had put in was nice and smooth but after a few slams, dug in tips and lip disasters the beast took on a new form. Riders had all they could do to clear the lip so many resorted to various plants and inverts to earn notice from the judges. Ryan Arrington put up a nice double plant, fully extended, Aaron Golbeck tossed a backie and Chris Waker proved you don’t need a twin to ride tranny. The ¼ pipe is always a crowd pleaser as the jam format of the LoveGames has riders dropping in on one another with little regard for the consequences. While there were a couple near misses, carnage was avoided. Chase Blackwell’s overhead air was nothing short of amazing considering the wall he was working with, and it earned him the Oakley ‘Arctic Sword’ award.
From the quarterpipe it was on to the infamous Ironing Board hip. More poppy and flatter than Zone 1, the Ironing Board is where the wheels can come off for some. Standouts from this spot included Jade Phelan’s ‘Don’t Care’ backflip, Ben Elliot’s massive barrel roll backie, and Nate Cordero’s nasty back 3s and switch cork. Chris Waker sent a message to the Clear Creek County meth addicts that Methods are still better than meth heads which garnered him the ‘best method’ award. Even the loose cannon known as, Ethan ‘Maverick’ Campbell put down some tricks on the ironing board (and every other zone it seemed) this year.
Kirk Teare. Photo: Chad Otterstrom.
JG Mazzota, co-owner of Satellite, and masterful event heckler, directed traffic down to the fourth and final zone near the bottom of the Loveland side of the pass where the Nightmare zone awaited the competitors. Everyone seemed just as blown away with what the nightmare guys had come up with as I was. Some of the amazement I’m sure had to do with the possibility for a re-direct off a tree on the rider’s right side of the zone and also with the double gap rhythm section just begging for someone to clear the whole set. As the crowd settled in for the fourth and final installment of this year’s games, the riders began to get their lines through the Nightmare zone dialed. Many a straight air to backflip was thrown through the rhythm section, but it was Jade Phelan who managed to clear the full set near the end of the jam. Ben Lynch, Sean Murphy, Kit Hendrickson, and Aaron Golbeck all tangled with the tree coming out mostly unscathed. Women’s competitor Michelle Zeller threaded the needle between the branches and rode away and once again Maverick put down a nice back 5 over an obscure but do-able gap in the zone.
As the afternoon wained, the crowd gathered at the bottom of the pass for a barbeque and the awards ceremony. Hugs and smiles were shared. Stories were told and sunburns were attended to. Colorado has an event to be stoked on in the LoveGames and I invite anyone reading this to come check out this event for yourself next year. You will have a good time, I promise.