They paid their way—and took home gold
On March 31, the day the members of the Chico Snow Club were to compete in the largest collegiate ski and snowboard competition on the West Coast, they woke up to discover a mountain under assault by Mother Nature.
They were at the summit at Snoqualmie, a ski area near Snoqualmie Pass, east of Seattle and 350 miles north of Chico. They’d car-caravanned all that way to compete against students from 15 universities in the Northwest in what was, for them, the most important competition of the year.
The year before, the Chico State snowboarders placed third in the team competition, and this time they were determined to take gold.
The morning of the competition, which is called Snow Warz and is sponsored by Red Bull, the athletes walked out onto the slopes to find wind, rain and a thick fog blanketing the mountain. The weather left the snow thick and slow, a nightmare for any avid skier. The temperature dropped to about 34 degrees, and team members shivered uncontrollably as they waited their turns.
Brandon Brown, 21, said the weather conditions were the worst he’d ever snowboarded in.
The course comprised three consecutive jumps, a rainbow box, and a junkyard-style rail section. Even a huge van was submerged in the snow, positioned so that, as riders slid off jumps, they were forced to land on top of it.
Club members practice at one of the best parks in the country, North Star at Lake Tahoe. That had well-prepared them for competing on any course with intimidating features. But they’d never experienced conditions like those at this year’s Snow Warz. To Brown, “it felt like riding a bike with flat tires.”
They pushed through the individual competition. Then came the all-important team competition. Five members were chosen to represent Chico: Evan Tuckey, 21; Daniel May, 19; Nick Jacobs, 19; Jeff McCosker, 21, and Kevin Merlander, 20.
“It requires creativity, style and innovation as a team to stand out in the eyes of the judges,” said Tuckey. Apparently they had what it took, because they joined the University of Montana and Western Washington University in the finals.
May, a freshman and first-time competitor, landed a front-side 720 tail grab over the first jump. He also managed to slide up the half-moon rail and complete a front flip off it, a move that had the crowd roaring with excitement.
“I was stoked to make a clean landing in such harsh conditions. I felt like I accomplished my goal for the team run,” May said.
Tuckey and Merlander also performed well. Tuckey killed a backside 720 method, and Merlander spun and landed a rodeo 540, a complete backward spin off the jump.
After the finals, the competitors hiked down the mountain to eat and warm their frozen feet. That evening, 200 people attended the awards ceremony and waited anxiously for the results. The Chico boarders received the 3-foot, 50-pound Snow Warz mortar shell trophy, an authentic 1954 artillery shell engraved with “First Team Red Bull Snow Warz 2007.” Today, it stands proudly in Tuckey and Brown’s living room.
“It was a great accomplishment, and we made our mark in the college snowboarding scene,” Brown said.
They also received an entry to the collegiate national snowboarding competition and an all-expenses-paid trip to any Red Bull event in the country. “It is great to see a company that is doing so much for a collegiate sport that is often overlooked,” Tuckey said.
Unfortunately, Chico State does not recognize skiing and snowboarding as official sports. The club plans all of its own fund-raisers and events.
“People don’t realize how big the snowboarding and skiing scene is in Chico,” said Brown. “You always see several groups of Chico State students when you go boarding in Shasta or Tahoe.”
Despite winning Snow Warz, the Chico team won’t be going to the nationals. Instead it will be sponsoring the previously scheduled Rail Jam on Saturday (April 14), for which it will import tons of snow to Craig Hall to create a slope and landing box. The event will feature live music, a stocked barbeque and $1,000 worth of raffle prizes.
Although team members are disappointed they cannot attend the nationals, they’re planning to go back to Snow Warz. “We plan to train hard and defend the title next year,” said Tuckey proudly.