Sunday, December 11, 2011

Breckenridge in the 1990s

In the 1990s, when Interstate 70 wasn't the gridlock it is now and Summit County was continuing its growth as a major international ski destination, Todd Richards came to town.

The snowboarder got caught in Boulder on a cross-country trip (they were headed to Southern California, where Richards now lives full time) because of its beauty. It wasn't long before Richards and his fellow snow-loving buddies discovered the mountains. A New Englander, Richards came to Colorado thinking he was at the top of his game, but admits he was sorely mistaken.

Colorado, he proclaims, was the place where competitors were bred. Now in his 23rd year as a professional snowboarder, Richards swallowed the pill, turned up his competitive edge and took on the challenge of competing for No. 1 in the game.

Today he has “World Champion competitor” and “Olympian” to add to his list of accomplishments, and has since evolved into a commentator for circuits such as the Dew Tour and fulfills other roles in the TV and online broadcast worlds.

In the early 1990s, “day-glo” apparel still reigned from the 1980s, but it wasn't long before the urban grunge of the skaters-turned-snowboarders took over. It was the era where the single board was despised by those on two planks, and Richards' memory of Breckenridge during the decade stays true to that divide. It was clique-y, he said. The same is true today, but now there are more types from which to choose.

“The town was still funky,” he said, explaining that everyone in his circle lived 10 to a condo in the Baldy Mountain Townhomes (he might not be exaggerating) and worked at either Pasta Jays, Mi Casa or Fajitas.

There were still mining folk in town, like Buck, the “crazy,” grizzly man who lived up French Creek and showed up in town with guns and knives strapped to him, Richards recalled.

“This was before people were building million-dollar snowmobile homes,” he added.

Work for your jumps

Richards remembers it wasn't easy developing into a snowboarding trickster. You had to want it. The halfpipe wasn't built until January most years, and terrain parks were non-existent. Logs and shovels were the best tools they had. They'd create natural jibs, and use shovels to build jumps.

“We had to work for our jumps,” Richards said. “We would ride around on the hill with shovels. We had designated shovel days” when conditions weren't ideal.

“We would make do with what we have,” he said.

Now, he said, he rides the lifts and scans the entries to his old stomping grounds. There aren't even tracks to the old hotspots.

With terrain parks what they are, and resorts competing to open the first halfpipe, Richards, too, heads to the ready-to-go features.

“I paid my dues,” he said. “I feel really lazy now.”

Richards was around when snowboarding went from the ugly stepchild to an eye-popping extreme sport. The latter half of the 1990s saw the Winter X Games begin (1997) and the snowboard halfpipe and slalom added to the Winter Olympics (1998). When Richards first arrived in the county, Copper Mountain was the hotspot, but it wasn't long before Breckenridge became home base for the cutting edge athletes.

“If you wanted to ride pipe, you lived in and around Breck,” he said of that time period.

From his Baldy Mountain Townhome, he could scope out the pipe and follow the machinery as it refinished the pipe, which at that time wasn't carved into the clean “U”-shape it now has. Richards said it was more like an “L.”

Nonetheless, “We knew the cut schedule,” he said.

1990s: The heyday, and the urban transition

The late 1990s was the heyday of snowboarding — when people were making money as urban grunge hooligans said Richards.

“Everything was very urban slope-thug,” Richards said, adding that one of the main jumps once the terrain park developed was the “Wu-Tang” jump. The landing was so hard, it sounded like a gun going off.

Youth with basic editing knowledge and a camera in hand began making their own videos — Richards remembers filming footage during three weeks in spring at Arapahoe Basin — and modern snowboarding took shape.

Snowboarders who showed up without a dime began grinding rails, ollie'ing down stairs, and generally “applying the skate template to snowboarding.”

“It was gritty,” Richards said, adding that there were a few women, like Christine Sperber and Wendy Powell, who were also pushing the sport from the female side.

“The companies had no idea they should be paying us so much money,” Richards said with a sly smile. “They were paying us to (screw) around.”

Courtesy of Summit Daily News