(Photo credit: Brian Ishmael)
982 miles. 1 dog. 3 states. 50 tons of snow. Welcome to Mesa, Arizona home of the 5th Annual 2013 Ski Pro "Pro Rider Rail Jam". Shredders from all over this land piled into planes, trains and automobiles to come experience a good 'ol fashioned jib session under the Southwest sky. Indeed this was a unique way to kick-off the "winter" season. While other resorts were opening, including our own beloved Wolf Creek, the decision to attend this unique contest in the Valley of the Sun was declared and the journey began. The set up process was in full swing on the afternoon of the event as we rolled into the massive parking lot. Ski Pro is located at 1924 W Rio Salado Pkwy; a generous size section of the parking lot was fenced off, providing a home for the contest. The fences were lined with bright colored vinyl banners touting the names of all those who sponsored the event. Inside the fence, we stepped into another world. Massive scaffolding provided ample drop in ramps. Ski Pro employees worked feverishly, securing the 3 features. A wooden quarterpipe would provide a bonus trick area as well as an excellent vantage point for the judges, which included guest judge and snowboarding legend Devun Walsh. The next process would involve a large tanker type truck with a beefy snowblowing hose attachment. The company providing the snow was Urban Rail Jam Project. As the crew braced themselves, the entire structure was blasted with gorgeous, cold, white gold. Quickly, the truck unloaded the promised 50 tons of snow and the crew shaped it into perfection. The stage was set. The riders appeared. Instructions were spoken. Using a common surfing format, the riders were split into multiple heats for all out jam sessions. When the names for heat #1 were called the competitors anxiously rushed the sketchy stairs of the scaffolding. Ascending the flights to the highest drop in option, the first rider of the night strapped in and waited for the green light. A talented MC from Ski Pro graciously handled the mic, keeping the rowdy AZ crowd entertained and informed. Connected to the contest area on an elevated platform was a perfectly simple set-up consisting of a DJ and a drum kit who provided the music for the night. Looking out you could see the stoke in the eyes of all those in attendance, after all, it was opening day in the desert! It was beautiful. With the crowd roaring and the music pumping, the MC threw down the universal arm drop signifying "let's do this"! and the first rider dropped into a smooth, timeless nosepress on the DC tube feature followed with a solid air to fakie on the QP and the contest was officially underway. Heat after heat the riders continued to shred into the night under the insanely bright stadium lights. Smiles and friendly encouragement raged as the contestants got busy on the Vitamin Water flat down bar, the DC tube box and the Skull Candy, flat-down-flat combo box, until a select few were chosen for the finals. This elite group of riders duked it out in front of the vivacious crowd and the watchful eyes of the judges. A smorgasbord of tricks were executed all night ranging from solid basics to switch combo everything. Multiple flips were thrown down and riders took various unique approaches to the features. After all the tricks were exhausted and each rider's style examined, the top rider was named. Curtis Hill took home first place and an oversized Happy Gilmore style check for the amount of 500 bones. A respectable 2nd place finish for Eric Eggleston and rounding out the top 3 was Drayden Gardner. Sam Hornett was awarded a first place finish for the skier division. The high ollie contest was dominated by Nick Howser, who finished with a height well over 40 inches and the reward of a new K2 shred stick. October 19th 2013, opening day in Mesa Arizona. Thank you Larry. Thank you for this concept and the extremely capable crew that executed a unique, scintillating start for the 2013/2014 season.