Bode Merrill

Eyes adjusted to the pre-dawn darkness and the nondescript greyness of the shadows that blanketed the piste began to yield to a new day. The Canadian Rockies awoke before me, white capped, rugged, formidable in every way, seemingly ablaze with morning glow. Millennia old, these craggy peaks are geological adolescents with their steep faces unpacified by erosion and time. A near blind, bone jarringly cold and decidedly icy 5:00am sled tow had brought six of us to the top of Sunshine Village’s 8,954’ tall Lookout Mountain where a vista of two provinces and the greater Banff National Park greeted us. This private access was all in the name of untracked terrain, yet unlike other storied early ups, this one wasn’t in the name of pow.

Words: Pat Bridges | Photos: Tom Monterosso

According to the grayscale, this sequence is pretty heavy. Gray Thompson. Norquay.

A Slice Of History

It has been said that, “Turning is the act of changing direction, carving is the art of changing direction.” That distinction may seem subtle on paper, yet in practice, the aesthetic differences become real. Much of snowboarding’s lasting appeal comes from a timeless subset of endeavors that are thrilling, challenging and above all else, accessible, meaning that you don’t need a world-class terrain park, halfpipe or powder to partake. You don’t even need to be athletic. Like locking onto a rail, stalling a handplant or tweaking an air, the sensation of carving is unmistakable and addicting. Once committed to a carve, friction and gravity subvert your intentions as board and body become one. Mid-radius you become hyper aware of the role that sidecut and flex—even the stiffness of your boots—plays in this orchestra of motion. There is an uncommon intimacy achieved when parallel with the ground, gliding across the surface of the snow, hands at play with the perfection and imperfections of the slope. Maintaining momentum and flow and pulling G’s is the end game. Then you commit to railing the next one.

Though no one can say for certain if it was a left one or a right one, there is little debate that the first trick ever done on a snowboard was a turn. As with all progressive maneuvers it took practice and time until a turn was done with style, and even then only in powder. Though carving was a legitimate inbounds pursuit, it wasn’t until two hardboot wearing gate bashers crossed the Atlantic with their asymmetrical race boards and thick accents, that carving became cool. Jean Nerva of France, and Germany’s Peter Bauer became the unlikely ambassadors of the arc when they produced a standout segment for Burton’s 1989 team video Chill. In addition to footage of the duo in abstract-patterned speedsuits swiveling their way down Stratton, Vermont there is an often-quoted clip of Jean Nerva gushing, “You carve, you carve, you carve, no slide!” This of course was his description of how his new PJ signature model race board rode—and yes, there was a time in our sport when racers had pro models; quite a few of them, actually. Once Chill hit stores, the popularity of carving reached an all-time high. The act of really laying it down, where a rider’s whole body makes contact with the slope, became forever known in North America as “Euro carving.” Interestingly, in Europe a “Euro carve” is still called a Vitelli turn, in honor of another speed freak named Serge Vitelli.

Page Turner

Given racing’s place within carving’s DNA it seemed fitting that a trail named World Cup Downhill would be our corduroy palette on this late March morning. Adjacent to Sunshine’s gate-accessible double black diamond, Delirium Dive, World Cup Downhill exhibits the traits that every rider looking to lay it down envies. Consistently dry, sub-zero temps made the snow firm but not frozen, as a steep double fall line freshly winched, tilled and meticulously manicured by the overnight mountain operations crew awaited us. With photographer Tom “T. Bird” Monterosso and videographer Mia Lambson mid-slope and focused and the diffused sun just starting to reveal itself, it was go time.

Regular-footer, Tahoe loc, and tiny house homeowner Tim Eddy was strapped in and ready to lay down a trench. With a crank of his neck the tail of his rainbow jester hat was swept over his shoulder and two hops later he was descending. Tim’s posi-posi stance, knock-kneed gait and high degree of forward lean give him a sleek profile as he swings from toe to heel with his arms amplifying his every lunge.

It was an unfortunate turn of events that led Tim to a life on the edge. According to Eddy, “I had a few knee surgeries and then I adapted my snowboard stance to the way I stand on a skateboard and surfboard to keep it consistent on every board. Once I narrowed it up and put my angles forward I wasn’t fighting the turn anymore. That was a revelation. Turning came easy and it was ten times better than I imagined it could be.”

Tim is a poser in a positive sense, in that every moment he is on snow is a photo op and no one is having, or looks like they are having more fun than him. This jovial approach betrays the skill he puts forth but it aids his role in evangelizing his approach to riding. As Tim explains, “If you see it you can relate to it. Then you can do it at your home mountain.”

At this premature hour there is a stillness and silence above the Bow Valley. This vacancy is only disturbed by our own voices, the occasional braaap of the lapping sleds and dissonant tones produced by a board in conflict with the crisp snowpack. Gray Thompson’s self-designed United Shapes Space Cadet deck, featuring a semi-wide 25cm waist creates more noise than most as it makes its way across the corduroy. “I prefer a directional board that is aggressive and stiff in the right places,” is how Gray describes his model. “I like a deep sidecut and I don’t detune my edges. It’s important for me to have as responsive of a setup as possible. Your board needs to feel alive. Definitely not damp like a noodle.”

No matter how much community service Alex Lopez does, he should still get nominted for Rotarian of the Year. Norquay.

Simon says Carve. Simon says raise your left hand. Grab your toe edge. Desiree is out. We didn’t say “Simon says.” Sunshine Village.

This Bay Area native eschewed his given first name of Dylan soon after finding that sideways fix and moving to Truckee, California. The idea was to keep from getting confused with the other Dylan Thompson in an SEO-conscious era. Of course, all it takes is one glimpse of an episode of Warp Wave—a slash-and-turn-centric online series Gray produces in conjunction with Eric Messier—that the comparisons to the other Dylan Thompson cease. Gray’s outlook on boarding is a throwback to the fundamental freeriding power and finesse of Craig Kelly, where the back leg drives the sidecut into the snow on heelside slashes and wheelies. The need for a platform that can handle this type of input is what drove Gray to create United Shapes. “These boards can be intimidating,” Gray acknowledges of the Space Cadet’s specs. “You definitely have to feel up to riding the board and not letting the board ride you.”

You can say that standing sideways is second nature to Alex Lopez. As the progeny of surfing royalty Gerry Lopez, Alex—or A-Lo as his friends know him—is a real son of a beach. Yet to describe his on-snow style as being “surf” inspired is to betray the subtle traits that distinguish his talent. The biomechanics of carving manifests differently with each individual. It all comes down to how one coaxes their sidecut into helping them achieve the desired result. To that end, Alex is a contradiction. He has a decidedly stand-up style yet it is how he rolls his ankles that gets him on edge and consequently allows the inward radius of his board to be revealed. Here at Sunshine Village, Alex’s technique rebounds him across the trail, spontaneously arcing regular, and at times switch, semi-circles in unison with the gradient. The latter feat is even more compelling given the lack of a pronounced kicktail on the Gnu he rides.

A-Lo grew up as the Menehune of Mt. Bachelor, Oregon where the wide open, above tree line terrain made way to the contoured trails below. This eclectic mix lent itself to countless lines, where pumping transitions and dodging white bark pine trees became second nature. Alex elaborates on this circumstance: “Finding a good groomer while growing up was a lot easier than finding a good park feature. It became more about enjoying the run down, using your edges, and everything else that comes along with that.”

Erik sure knows how to Leon into his turns. Lake Louise.

Unlike A-Lo, Erik Leon had ample access to all the manmade freeride features he could ever want as a grom in Southern California. The all-mountain terrain parks of Mountain High and Bear Mountain were riddled with the best jibs and jumps on earth, yet the goofy footer found his leanings in a different direction. Though immersed in the cutting edge freestyle scene, Leon took his cues from a different generation. Erik observes that, “In the 90s, you could watch ten different riders drop and even though they were all riding the same fucking board you could tell who everybody was from their style. It was the simplicity of it. Noah Salasnek would drop and do a triple poke 180 and you just knew that was Salas.” Erik has taken this same individualistic ideal to how he sees the turners of today. “Carving can dictate people’s style. You can look and know Tim Eddy is coming down the mountain whether he is silhouetted or not. You can tell when A-Lo is coming down because it looks like with every turn he is dropping into a wave. You watch Dylan Gamache ride and you’re like, ‘That’s Gamache.’” As he descends Lookout Mountain there is no mistaking the light-footed grace that Erik brings to his line, be it while he is committed to a sweeping toeside lunge and grabbing heelside or rapidly slaloming to keep both edges involved.

More than merely another lanky lass, Desiree Melancon has produced some of the most celebrated women’s video parts of recent times and perhaps the only thing edgier than her numerous award speeches is how she chooses to turn her board. Though unafraid to open it up and let her sidecut set the line, Desiree is quick-footed and able to use her full frame to manipulate her trajectory. Evidence of this is on display at Sunshine Village as Des gets on her toes and throws her Salomon sideways, sending up a squall of snow only to emerge from the pale flume edging on her heels with a new course already plotted. Maneuvers like this are from an entirely different bag than those Melancon routinely stomps in the streets. Desiree admits that, “Compared to how it feels to hit a street spot or go through a park aggressively hitting every feature, the act of carving is kinda like taking a step back,” adding, “But after withdrawing yourself from that mindset you can connect to your snowboard on a more basic level. Then things actually become more complex because you get really excited to start understanding how a snowboard turns because every snowboard is different. Then the whole concept of carving makes your brain turn a bit.”

For most, making upper body contact with the snow on a heelside turn is a precursor to disaster, yet for some, it is just another way of broadcasting your mastery of balance and control. As Bend, Oregon’s Gus Warbington, the youngest member of our clique, efficiently zigs and zags seamlessly down this groomer—his dark outline contrasting the alpenglow in the distant background—there is no favoring a side or a stance. Gus instinctively shies away from an incongruent line as if guided by an unseen Etch-A-Sketch, leaving a cascading symmetry of rounded trenches in his wake.

Equally adroit on either edge, Warbington is emblematic of carving’s next generation, where a rider’s worth isn’t merely measured by what happens between a lip and a landing. Gus sees the resurgence of this outlet as being borne out of necessity. He points out that, “There can almost be no progression beyond where we are currently at with corks and spins. Snowboarding has kind of reached a tipping point in that regard. It’s left everyone collectively feeling like there needs to be another way to express yourself. Carving has given those of us coming up in snowboarding something to look to besides the insanity of progression.”

What makes this sequence of Gus Warbington even crazier is that Canada is on the metric system, so technically this is a 30.48cm carve. Lake Louise.

Alex Lopez helps Gray Thompson find a little shade at Sunshine Village in Banff, Alberta, Canada.

We wanted to get ELO to go on this trip because anyone who’s heard the song “Hold On Tight To Your Dreams” knows that they speak French. But since they mainly speak English in Alberta, we invited A-Lo instead. Sunshine Village.

Well Groomed

In the early to mid 80s, Calgary and Banff were widely regarded as the epicenter of the Canadian shred scene. While British Columbia and Quebec would usurp Alberta’s influence for future generations of North Of The Border boarders, this part of the Canadian Rockies will forever be cemented in our sport’s canon as home to the first dedicated snowboard store with Calgary’s The Snoboard Shop, which was founded by the Achenbach brothers, Ken, Carl and Dave. Beyond the retail realm, Sunshine Village also hosted one of the earliest must-attend international contests with the North American Championships. Further proof of this region’s riding pedigree can be found on the cover of the inaugural issue of TransWorld Snowboarding magazine, which debuted in the Fall of 1987 and showcased future Camp Of Champions founder Dave Achenbach boosting a rocket air high above a natural transition at Sunshine Village.

The Banff our crew arrived at in March of 2015 was little changed from the small alpine burgh that showed hospitality to North American Snowboarding Championships competitors three decades ago. Once you head up the Trans-Canada Highway from Calgary and pass through the eastern entrance of the Banff National Park, the commercial sprawl of an oil rich economy is left at the gate. Harsh development regulations have left this part of Canada in a largely unspoiled state. While nearly 8,500 people have settled in Banff, this number is void of second homeowners because Parks Canada has famously instituted requirements that must be met by all residents in order “To ensure that a broad supply of housing types are available for those who work and raise families in the community.” Among these guidelines is a mandate that anyone looking to rent, lease or own property in Parks Canada and Banff be employed full-time within the park. This provision has alleviated conspicuous development. Nowhere is this more evident than at Banff’s three nearby resorts, Mount Norquay, Sunshine Village and Lake Louise, where there are no base villages, no slopeside condominiums, and perhaps most startling is that there is no mandatory paid parking for visitors.

Equally as endearing as what Banff doesn’t have are the authentic amenities it does possess. Pub style restaurants, steakhouses featuring locally-grown Albertan Beef, a local microbrewery, independent lodging establishments for every budget including the secluded Buffalo Mountain Lodge or the historic Banff Springs, nightclubs like the Hoodoo and Aurora, a half dozen sushi spots and more than enough places to scratch that bloody Caesar itch. While The Snoboard Shop is no longer in business, Rude Boys has taken the torch as the place to go to for all of your riding needs in Banff.

The allure of a town seemingly uncorrupted by the overly-ambitious economic pitfalls that have plasticized other destinations is only part of what drew us to Banff. The idea that a place like Banff—which is a throwback to a time when the high country valued character over commercialization—can be a metaphor to the simple and stylish charms of carving isn’t lost. Nonetheless, the real reason we rallied here is the terrain. What I was looking for was a setting that would be as pure, inspiring and compelling as the riders and action we were here to capture.

Towering above the town to an elevation of 8,040’ is the most accessible and least developed of the Ski Big 3 options. Family run and rustic, Norquay has only four lifts and thirty-eight runs. What this hill lacks in variety it makes up for in challenge as most of its trails are steep and winding with five of them being of the elusive Double Black Diamond grade. Novice riders can still find sanctuary in the base area beginner zone, while the crack-of-five club are able to make turns or go tubing until 10pm on weekends. Our group spent a whole day at Norquay and when we weren’t dodging cones, ollieing picnic tables, backflipping into mogul fields, looking for cellphones on open faces or taking air off of cat tracks we were staring up with our jaws agape at the sheer wall of rock and ice directly across the valley. Unforgettable vistas are common in this part of Canada but at no other resort is the magnitude of these peaks so revealing.

After checking out of the Buffalo Mountain Lodge on the outskirts of Banff, our group set our sights on Sunshine Village. Located a fifteen minute drive west, Sunshine is close to town yet the gondola-only access to the base area gives it a much more exotic feel. The on-mountain lodging provided was posh, with everything you could want or need being available. Staying slopeside at Sunshine is akin to being a guest at a remote heli operation because visitors are sequestered in the alpine once the gondola stops running each day at 5pm. Of course, this proximity to the piste is what made our pre-dawn missions, as described earlier in this feature, possible.

Averaging more than thirty-five feet of snowfall annually, Sunshine Village is the best and possibly biggest resort most American riders have never heard of. A fifteen-minute gondola ride through two sub-stations takes visitors up to the base area proper where more than 3,500 acres of terrain awaits. Twelve lifts including eight quad chairs give riders a choice of virtually half a dozen different peaks with everything from open bowl gate accessed descents to banked gullies separated by loose glades. No two contours are exactly alike at Sunshine Village, allowing for several lifetimes of new lines to be explored and enjoyed. Though we didn’t get a chance to partake in any fresh pow during our time at Sunshine, we could only imagine what the same terrain that we spent two days trenching would be like right after a storm.

Having hosted two of SNOWBOARDER’s Superpark gatherings as well as several other well-documented contests, Lake Louise is the most high-profile of the Ski Big 3 resorts. It is also the furthest from Banff. Situated roughly forty minutes west of Banff, Lake Louise is a rather conventional ski area in that it climbs consistently from a well-equipped and accommodating base area, with an elongated fall line leading visitors down the well-proportioned slopes. This is at least how it appears from the bottom. Once peering from the top over the backside, an open basin of possibilities and a whole other peak emerges. Lake Louise is deceptively large, with multiple aspects to be experienced. While steep groomers, parks and tight glades are the frontside fare, once entrenched in the outer network of trails, The Lake reveals banks, berms, rollers, sidehits and a myriad of other abstract terrain variables peppered throughout more than 4,200 acres.

When it comes to carving, you could say that Desiree Melancon is well-rounded. Lake Louise.

Seeing as this was shot in Canada, you’d think that Norquay would be spelled “Norqu-eh.” But it’s not. Gray Thompson and Tim Eddy.

Carving Comes Full Circle

Dylan Gamache is an unlikely leader of a snowboarding movement, yet despite being painfully shy and rarely riding outside his home resort of Yawgoo Valley, Rhode Island, he is exactly that. Dylan is at the vanguard of the new school carving movement. Two seasons back he revealed a style of turning on an impractically shaped CAPiTA Spring Break Tree Hunter that literally sent our sport sideways. Alternately called a “Gamache” or a “Yawgoon” Dylan’s trick was to commit to his toe edge at high speed, forcing his arc uphill until he would mysteriously reverse momentum into a fakie toeside carve back down the slope. The fact that this turn is credited as being a trick is what opened up the possibilities. Dylan brought carving into the realm of “low impact snowboarding,” which is the ironic term for any maneuver that isn’t death defying or needs a special type of terrain to be attempted. This includes tailblocks and the like. Let me clarify that I’m not saying that low impact snowboarding is easy—rather, it is just a more democratized form of personal progression.

Unfortunately, Dylan Gamache isn’t with us in Banff, at least not in person. The reason for this is that it is really difficult to get Gamche out of Connecticut. Why? Because he won’t leave Rhode Island. However, Dylan is most definitely here in spirit and his inspiration is felt as our crew flops around the park at Lake Louise, which has been freshly groomed for our own private session. While the tilled takeoffs look nice it is the corduroy between the tabletops that draws our attention our last day in Alberta. For the past week we have been on a learning curve trying to create new “tricks” spawned from carving. Currently, Desiree Melancon is shedding layers and dialing in her toeside carves to switch melon reverts. Gray Thompson is laboring to cork his Euro to backside 540 pop outs. Tim Eddy has figured out a way to hold a line back up the fall line into a ho-ho stall. Alex Lopez has been dabbling with full Cab ollie spins, landing fakie on his toes. Gus Warbington has his front foot unstrapped and has conjured a form of holding his heel cup while doing a one foot Gamache. Then there is Erik Leon who has decided to take advantage of the park crew’s efforts by hitting the biggest lip with the intention of grabbing method before returning to earth perpendicular to the snow in a laid out carve. Low impact snowboarding my ass. As the day wound down our boots were unlaced in the base lodge and we all enjoyed a few more Caesers before packing up and heading on to the next adventure. Together, we vowed to make this sojourn a round trip by returning with the same crew to do the same thing again in the future.

Ironically, mere moments after Erik set down his last and best attempt at his big air to Euro, SNOWBOARDER received an Instagram edit from Norwegian slopestyle phenom Alek Østreng. The fifteen-second, single shot clip shows Alek—a world-renowned triple corker and veteran of the Sochi Olympics—diving into a deep radius arc before vaulting into an inverted misty flip 540. To date, this single post has over 3,000,000 views and 13,000 comments on SNOWBOARDER’s Facebook page.

Whether it is practiced by a fringe group of like-minded riders with their own take on turning or iconic X Games athletes seeking to bring cutting edge on-snow antics to the mainstream, there is no denying that carving has come around again. As for me, I’m contemplating quitting SNOWBOARDER, tuning my board, and moving to Banff to ride every day. The only problem is I can’t figure out how to become a resident there if I don’t have a job.