The era: Skate-style riding has taken over, Canadian pros are becoming recognized internationally
Influencers: Kevin Young, Marc Morisset, Sean Kearns, Sean Johnson, Alex Warburton, Noah Salasnek, John Cardiel, Terje Haakonsen, Brian Iguchi, Jamie Lynn and others
Definitive videos: Roadkill; Project 6; Pocahontas; The Hard, the Hungry and the Homeless
Important resorts: Whistler, Blackcomb, Stratton, Mount Baker, Tahoe
Tricks: Shifties, boardslides, jibs, bonks, spins, skate-style grabs, anything switch
Terrain: Tree stumps, rocks, handrails, halfpipes, funboxes, kickers, natural terrain
The uniform: Cut-down boards and low highbacks; big, wide-bottomed, jean-cut pants; flat-brimmed baseball caps with sunglasses; plaid jackets; bleached hair
The early to mid-‘90s was one of snowboarding’s pivotal eras. Snowboarders were no longer considered pariahs—resorts realized snowboarding’s impact on their bottom line—but still weren’t completely accepted. Maybe it was the bleached hair and oversized clothes, or the late-night antics in ski-town bars. For better or for worse, the world was beginning to take notice. Change came after the turn of the decade. Snowboard videos like Riders on the Storm and Critical Condition made stars of Damian Sanders, Nick Perata and Steve Graham, but included smaller parts from new-schoolers Chris Roach, Mike Ranquet, Noah Salasnek and John Cardiel. They rode the same boards as everyone else, but they skipped awkward grabs and funky tweaks in favour of smooth, skate-style Frontside Airs and Methods. They jibbed tree stumps and slid logs. Their video parts gradually became longer, and many older riders faded into fluorescent obscurity.
Skateboarding flexed its influence on snowboarding, sparking a revolution that continues to this day. Snowboarding’s first major overhaul would yield huge changes. Binding stances became wide and centred, often exceeding 24 inches. Highbacks were shaved down and, after some minor jigsaw and epoxy work, boards lost their extended tips and tails. Urban skate fashion became the on-slope norm, function be damned. Contest riding, once the staple of a rider’s career, gave way to a new professional model: riding and shooting for video parts and magazine interviews. With snowboarding growing more popular by the season, the industry looked north for talent. Thanks to direct sponsorship from American companies instead of Canadian distributors, riders like Sean Kearns, Sean Johnson, Alex Warburton, Chris Nichols, Marc Morisset and Kevin Young became widely recognized names. With Whistler and Blackcomb in their backyard, they took full advantage of the deep snow and vast terrain to play their part in the revolution.
Snowboard Canada spoke with two of the movement’s key players—Kevin Young (who rode for K2, then Shorty’s), and Marc Morisset (who rode Sims, then Division 23)—about the early ‘90s and where it took them. It was no easy task, getting the two busy individuals together, but the conversation was smooth and easy as the twosome reminisced about the early days.
Kevin: I took one of Sean Kearns’ boards that had a really square nose and tail, and rounded it out. I guess he could’ve been considered one of the older guys. He was in the magazines before I moved out West from Toronto. When I met him, I was almost star-struck. But other than that, I didn’t get a whole lot of input from other people. By the time the next season came around, I was on a new K2 Juju, which I helped develop. I had a lot of good response to that board; a lot of people liked the shape but not necessarily the graphics.
Marc: The thing the older guys had the biggest problem with was wider stances. And some of the clothing—all the snowboard pants at the time were gripping, so we’d wear these big, oversized jeans with sweatpants underneath. Some of the older guys in their skintight Yuki Nemaki suits were like, “What are you guys doing?”
Kevin: Riding on the mountains here? That was the biggest progression, obviously riding natural stuff. The tricks we did definitely came from skateboarding. And if you stand on a snowboard after skateboarding all summer, it’s just natural to take it that way. The progression was a direct result from the terrain we got to ride.
Marc: We were part of a bigger thing that was happening right across the industry but heavily in Canada because of the terrain. The technology was getting better, too. All of a sudden you had a board that was absorbing vibration instead of bumping you off. And the boots had some kind of liners. That gave us the ability to push it. One of the things that we can look back and say, This is something we did, was when we first started you had to travel down to some World Cup halfpipe contest and place. And if you placed, then all of a sudden you’re getting a little more travel budget to get you to the next contest. What we did was say, Hey, we’re having way more fun just cruising down the hill and popping off of stuff and taking all these tricks to a more freeride level. Our generation really pushed the freeride and freestyle model.
Kevin: I competed a lot until I turned pro, but as soon as I got hooked up with sponsors I’d go out and shoot with Eric Berger or Dano [Pendygrasse] and get a photo in the magazine. And the sponsors started to see that it was worth more than a contest result. At that point I felt really lucky to not compete when I knew so many people traveling on the World Cup, and that was their gig. They had to compete, and they traveled the circuit, and it was about points and results. And they were stressing if they didn’t do well in a contest. I got to do contests for fun at that point. It was kind of, Go and be seen. We don’t really care how you place, just go and get some photos. Trips turned away from traveling for contests to traveling for shooting and filming. I consider myself one of the lucky ones. I don’t put myself above anybody; I was just kind of in the right place at the right time. And traveling internationally was unbelievable. Actually being sponsored by an American company and not going through the Canadian distributor was such a huge step. I remember Sean Johnson was riding for Lamar in the U.S., and that was amazing. He’d made it, in my mind. You had to be American to get hooked up in those days, and that really started to change around the time when Marc got on Sims and I got on K2. Before that, Sean Kearns was on Santa Cruz. Other than Johnson, he was the only guy riding for an American company. Right around that time, Morrow popped up and Alex Warburton rode for them.
Marc: And Jon Boyer rode for Lamar. I remember when, going out in Whistler, you couldn’t even wear a beanie to the bar.
Kevin: You couldn’t wear hats at all. It was pretty pathetic. My biggest memory of partying was at Tommy Africa’s in Whistler. At that time we knew all the snowboarders in town—the locals were Dano and Sean Kearns and Alex Warburton, Jon Boyer and that crew. And then us—Johnson, Chris Nichols, Mori, Rich Carlson, Dave Craig. It was a time where Tommy’s bouncers hated snowboarders and there were so many controversies. Every night there was a fight with the bouncers, somebody getting kicked out just because of lame attitudes from people. Now obviously that’s changed, but back in the day it was a big hassle to go to the bar. Marc: We helped pioneer the use of snowmobiles. When Kevin and I first got our Triple Sevens in ‘96, there was us and maybe three other guys with snowmobiles. Kevin: I didn’t know any other snowboarders with a sled. It was kind of a redneck gig out here. There was definitely a lot of snowmobiling going on, but it wasn’t snowboarders or even skiers, for that matter. That era when we got our sleds was kind of the end of us going heli-skiing so much for all of the movies. As soon as we got our sleds, the heli-ing stopped and the work began. What I remember the most about those days was the exploring. Halfway between Squamish and Duffy Lake, that first year, we scoped 20 different spots. We had no idea what was there; we were just discovering places. And still to this day, some of the jumps you see in movies were jumps we found. Now there’s a race at the bottom of the hill with a film crew at 6 a.m. when it’s still dark out, racing to get to those hits. The whole reason for getting sleds was to get away from the crowds, to not have to worry about someone snaking your line as you stood there and waited for the cameraman to set up. Now that’s what’s going on in the backcountry here. Marc: What’s nice today is when you actually go out onto the hill and you’re not in the park, there’s not a whole lot of snowboarders out there. It’s kind of crazy. Kevin: It’s like a rebirth of the mountain for me because there was so many years of not riding the mountain on those good days and hitting the backcountry [instead]. Riding the mountain, more often than not, I’m riding new places that I’ve never ridden. Or I’m rediscovering places with way less effort than it takes on a snowmobile. Snowmobiling is a lot of work; it could take you a half a day to do one run. I started to appreciate the mountain a lot more.
Marc: It’s progressed to the point where kids look at [pro snowboarding] as somewhat unattainable. You can’t easily get out to the backcountry, in the middle of nowhere. And they’re not going to throw themselves down a 20-stair handrail. So it’s going to be interesting to see if snowboarding does come full circle—and if it’s all about freeriding with your friends again and getting out to the mountains for two or three years when you’re done school. Just having a good time, waking up every morning and hitting the first chairlift and being the last people off the hill. When I look back, those were the best days.
THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN SNOWBOARD CANADA VOL. 14, ISSUE 2: