It’s easy to spot James Patrick “JP” Fleege in a crowd. At fall events in SLC, you can watch him endlessly and seamlessly work the room. Handshakes and how-ya-doins are his forte. We all know, and loathe, that industry guy that gives us the blank stare of non-recognition when we are introduced to them for the third or fourth time. JP is certainly not that guy, and that is what makes him such a success. As much as we want to fit snowboarding into the “it’s a lifestyle” cliché, you have to remember that for anyone in the industry it’s both a business and a passion. When you meet JP you know, he means business. He has called Salt Lake home for the past five seasons, but he cut his snowboarding teeth on the mid-western hills outside of Chicago. JP has years of dedication and experience working significant events around the country, and has taken this experience, combined it with his passion for snowboarding, and the created the SLC Shred Fest. Shred Fest is a daylong music, snow, and lumberjack extravaganza in the heart of Salt Lake City. I caught up with JP to get the lowdown on his background and find out how the hell you manage to convince a city that having swarms of snowboarders converge on a public park is a good idea. — Daniel Cochrane
Lumberjack steez, defined. Photo: Jo Savage
I guess we should start with snowboarding in general. Tell us your story about how you begin snowboarding when you live in the nation’s third largest city.
JP: We had a local hill called Four Lakes that had 100 feet of vertical and a three-month season if we were lucky. That’s where I started. Weekends we’d pile in the car and go up to Wisconsin on Saturday then come home and go back on Sunday. It was a Midwest hill, so it’d only be open at night so that is when we would ride – 4-10pm on weekday nights, just jibbing ice.
So how did you transition to the “real mountains” from Midwest life?
JP: Well, a friend of mine in high school stumbled on this Polish Church group that would do ski trips. We’d work all summer to save up cash and for $700 we’d get on a bus, ride for 30 plus hours, and have a Christmas trip to Vail. That’s where I got my first taste of mountain riding. It was pretty cool, we didn’t have to go to the church, we’d just pay the money for the trips. It was just a couple of us at first, but by time we graduated High School we were doing like 40 people per trip.
Their accountants loved you guys!
JP: For sure!
Not Chicago. Photo: Chase Burch
How much did the mountains and snowboarding influence your collegiate choice of Montana?
JP: Well, I’d say “partially” influential, ha ha.
And how did you end up in SLC from Montana? Was it snowboarding life that brought you here?
JP: Right out of college I relocated to Portland. I got a job with the Chill Foundation. I had one contact, Joe Rizzo, who wasn’t even working with them at the time. Anyway, he set me up with an email and I sent that out in November before I graduated in December. Time went by and I didn’t hear from them, but then on a Thursday night I got an email saying “be in Seattle Saturday morning and we can do an interview.” I was like “ok, road trip!” and headed to Seattle, did an interview, and got brought on as the Portland Chill Coordinator. From there I asked to get moved to SLC and that’s how I ended up here.
So you’ve been in SLC since 2012, talk to me about Shred Fest and the entire goings on with that.
JP: Coming out of school I really wanted something big to stick on the résumé. I took all my money and started the Treasure State Shred Fest in Missoula, Montana. It was the first “pray for snow” type party in downtown Missoula. We had a good first year, and ended up running it for six years straight. So between all of the resources of SLC, Chill, Brighton and working events such as Kentucky Derby, I thought the potential was definitely here to do a large event in SLC. With the snow community and all the local professionals in town it seemed like it was inevitable.
Memories of when Windells was a snowboard camp. Photo: Eric Hoffman
I’ve been in SLC for a couple of decades. It seems like there has consistently been attempts to do something like this, but it has never panned out. How were you able to pull this off where so many others have failed?
JP: I think the biggest thing was the previous event experience my team and I already had. Another big deal was really teaming up on the local level with resorts like Brighton, and shops like MiloSport. I think if you go into this thing thinking you don’t need local partnership you’re destined to fail. We also have a solid ambassador program that helps spread our message at the ground level. Social Media is a huge asset now. We also reached out to others that have large-scale successful events like the team from the Twilight Concert Series. Getting all of those types of things sorted out before approaching the city is a huge deal.
So I mean you just rattled off a daunting shopping list of organization, but even after accomplishing that, what type of obstacles remained?
JP: Well, with the city, it is many applications and permits that come with no guarantee of anything actually getting approved or becoming final. Name dropping really helps with that; Brighton, Milo, Twilight those names catch their ear and carry a lot of weight. The biggest thing though was having those years of the Missoula event under our belts and being able to give those references to Salt Lake. Laying out all things in a professional matter is obviously key and being really detail oriented down to knowing that we are responsible for maintenance of the grass in the park, that sort of thing. Going in with that level of knowledge lets the city know we are not just some off the cuff keg party event.
Unsanctioned action. Photo: Gill Montgomery
What were you most proud of after the first event last year?
JP: Mainly our team. How we came together and pulled it off, being able to connect the brands and the event to the participants and the attendees. Giving experience to students and helping them start their path down the same road I went down, or their own road.
What did you see last year and think, “OK we need to tweak that?”
JP: Obviously being a community event we want to add as many local partners as possible. This year we are really pushing the green initiatives, using eco-friendly utensils, better recycling. Donating more to non-profits as well. On the technical side we want more snow this year, a few more dollars into entertainment, and then more first aid, security, a better layout; all those types of things that you have to think about as the event grows. We will also be adding a meet and greet this year with the Milo Team and the Armada Team.
All hail the Uintas. Photo Jo Savage
JP: The idea is to retain people being stoked on the sports and keep them growing. At the same time also have multiple outlets of entertainment like lumberjacks and music to help bring those people into the fold to see snow sports in a way they may not normally do. Broaden and grow the audience to hopefully broaden and grow the sport at the grass roots level.
Anything to add here at the end?
JP: I think one thing I have learned is that the biggest thing you can do for anyone is to introduce him or her to someone else. That opens up a relationship and resource that could turn into a lover, a best friend, a business partner, or whatever. It’s a small gesture but can have huge results – creating relationships.