words: Mary Walsh
photos: Ryan “Huggy” Hughes, T. Bird, E-Stone, Blatt, and Mary Walsh
It goes without saying that Bear Mountain is renowned for its sensible weather patterns that are generally repetitively sunny. The Southern California resort is an anomaly in snowboarding: a place where you can ride a worldclass park year-round and rarely need a jacket. While storms hit the region throughout the winter, the resort returns to its sunny SoCal self quickly, making it an ideal place for perfect park laps regardless of the time of season. It is for this reason that it is so unique that the 2016 edition of The Launch presented by Volcom, the ninth time the annual event has taken place, has been so plagued by Mother Nature’s whims. A windy first day, clouds and snow the second and on the third, a mix of bright sun, ominous clouds and two rogue snowstorms that broke up the day, threatening to end the sessions before moving on with the wind and allowing the snowboarding to carry on, even better than before.
But really, why we keep bringing up the weather is not because of the predilection that the San Bernadinos have to temperate spring riding year-round compared to the past three days, but that this circumstance further and fully illuminates the fire that is driving the rising generation of snowboarders. Not once in the past three days have the attendees of The Launch called it quits because atmospheric conditions were less than ideal. The kids keep riding. When the snow is fast in the morning, then a little slower when it melts under the noonday sun, then fast again as the temps suddenly drop, these guys throw a tester over the big jump and then continue sending. There are few instances where this outlook would be so contagious.
In the lower jump plaza, a variety of transitions had been explored over the course of the first two days of the event. Sending the 70-footer straight up and over was popular. Dropping into the rider’s right QP was also a favorite. Utilizing the cut-out walls of the gap was going down, as well. But up until day 3 of The Launch, the rider’s right take off, a gap to seemingly nowhere that lent itself to a step over to the landing of the jump had yet to be sessioned. The kids of The Launch had been eyeing the sucker for two days straight, but no one had dropped in yet. Day 3, everyone figured, it would go down. Of course, Wednesday morning opened up with blustery and variable conditions and by the time everyone was warmed up, it was intermittently snowing, gusting, and getting sunny. In most cases–in almost all cases–when riders are tasked with a photo shoot on an intimidating feature and the weather can be categorized as inclimate, the feature is not hit. A weather window is patiently waited for. Well, not at The Launch. The riders who attend this yearly gathering are a rare breed whose style and terrain preference run the gamut but who are all connected by one very strong trait, their excitement and hunger to drop into anything and everything that lies in front of them. Shortly after lunch on day 3, Luke Winkelmann, Kyle Mack, Brock Crouch and Nik Baden figured the weather couldn’t get any worse and they might as well send it. And sent it they did. The four riders sent it in twos down the line to the transfer gap and cleared the thing with ease. You’ll have to wait for the video to drop to see exactly what these guys were throwing, but suffice to say it was a hell of a show.
While Baden, Mack, Brock, and Winkelmann were hucking that side, Justin Phipps and Dusty Henricksen were dropping doubles over the main jump with only two feet strapped in between them. Both in succession and side-by-side they floated over the massive table with hoofs stretched straight to the sunshine. The keyhole takeoff in between the main step-over and the rightside jump saw plenty of action today as well as Drayden Gardner, Jadyn Chomlack, Gabe Ferguson, and Jared Ellston sent the skinny line over the top. Spencer Whiting, Grant Giller, and Kix Kamp were standouts on the jump, too.
The rest of the park wasn’t left unscathed, either. The upper section was filled with action in the morning as Drayden Garden and Jed Sky planted the QP next to the wallride, Jed also with only one foot attached to his snowboard. The massive marshmallow jump became a launchpad for traditional sending up and over as well as transfers and a QP-esque line as what seemed like the entire Launch crew hit the jump in one way or another. Mateo Soltane and Milo Malkoski were planting the side. Zach Normandin, Richie Conklin, and Kix Kamp were finding transition. Gabe Ferg was boning out methods to the side of the jump.
At the bottom of the hill, just above the Bear Mountain deck, a group of metal-ready riders collected for a session. Joey and Pat Fava, Tristin Heiner, Trevor Eichelberger, and more spent the afternoon hiking relentlessly to supply shots for the Day 3 edit. Jack Coyne was annihilating the tube, as well and Sam Buckmelter was firing.
Tomorrow may be the last day of The Launch this year, but it’s also supposed to be the sunniest, which means that there is plenty more where this came from, because if the up and comers of The Launch presented by Volcom are happy to throw down in challenging conditions, we can only imagine what they’ll do when the weather is perfect.