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Steamboat Magazine

Ride On

12/08/2023 02:26PM ● By Eugene Buchanan
(Cover Photo: With unstable snow conditions on Buffalo Pass, Kurtis and his crew were forced to tone down their plan and build a jump in a low angle zone with decent snow to make the best of an otherwise dangerous snowpack. Courtesy of Kurtis Jackson.)

Featured in Steamboat Magazine Ski Edition 2023-2024

Steamboat Springs, CO - Head out on a powder day in Steamboat Springs and you’re just about as likely to share a chair and the slopes with a snowboarder as you are a skier. Yep, Ski Town USAⓇ is slowly but surely sharing its moniker with snowboarding, thanks to its board-friendly terrain, snowfall and rider-friendly culture.
But in such a ski-centric town, it didn’t start out that way. Even though the resort first allowed snowboarding way back in 1987 – with longtime local and surfer-turned-snowboarder Dave Winters riding the first chair, and the resort hiring Tom Barr as its first snowboard instructor two years later – it’s been an uphill battle for those sliding downhill on boards.
The problem is that skiing, both Nordic and Alpine, is so ingrained here that it’s been hard for snowboarding to get its softer boot in the door. “Ironically, Steamboat has a sort of sneaky history when it comes to snowboard grace,” says Chad Oliver, 35, a World Cup halfpipe and slopestyle competitor who was born and raised in Steamboat. “The resort never double-downed on promoting snowboarding. It’s always had such a culture of Nordic and Alpine racing that snowboarding was hard to take hold. The sport had to earn its stripes.”
Two or three generations of riders changed all that, he adds.
“There were two or three rounds of athletes who were able to put snowboarding in the limelight here,” he says, rattling off pioneer riders like Justin Reiter, Spencer Tamblyn, Robbie Dapper, Grant Glenn, Kurtis Jackson and more (not including himself). “Then things got real when riders like Matt Ladley and Taylor and Arielle Gold took it to the next level and were comfortable at the top. That did a lot for the street-cred of snowboarding here.”
Indeed, the Golds are arguably the posterchilds of the snowboarding movement in Steamboat. Born and raised here and now in her second year of vet school at Colorado State University, Arielle, 27, is a two-time U.S. Olympian (Sochi 2014,PyeongChang 2018) and a bronze medalist in halfpipe; she put Steamboat on the snowboard stage by winning the 2013 World Championship in halfpipe at 16 – the second-youngest world champion ever. Brother Taylor, 29, is also a two-time Olympian in halfpipe, in Sochi and Beijing, and now living in Breckenridge, focused on filmmaking.

(Kurtis Jackson at the top of the ridge near Soda Mountain on Buffalo Pass. “One of my favorite lines to get the blood flowing,” Kurtis says. “This day lined up nicely with cold temps, good snow and sunshine.” Photo courtesy of Kurtis Jackson.)

“Steamboat has a super cool, almost sneaky snowboard culture,” Chad says. “There are other places where the culture is loud and obvious, but in Steamboat it’s more subdued and everyone’s super passionate about it. And the snowboard shop Powder Tools is a big part of fostering that.”

Dave Winters’ two sons, Bill and Cody, have also made names for themselves riding, with Cody spending three years on the U.S. team and now eyeing a spot at the 2026 Olympics in Italy. Seven-year U.S. Halfpipe Team member and current Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club freestyle snowboard coach Maddy Schaffrick, who has placed as high as second on the coveted Dew Tour, has also helped cement Steamboat’s stripes when it comes to snowboarding. Even former pro rider and commentator Luke "the Dingo" Trembath spent time riding in Routt County.
“The snowboard scene here is hard to define because we have so many different types of riders,” says Maddy. “But the shared love of the sport allows a great respect between all of them, no matter their background or personality. There are the "old dogs" who have been snowboarding since its inception, young kids and locals who are just learning, and visitors who come from all over to ride. Alpine riders come to train with Thedo Remmelink, one of the sport’s pioneers, and young freestyle jibbers and powder hunters call Powder Tools a second home. The best part is there’s a large overlap between everyone, and snowboarding is what brings us together.”
And the mountain, she says, fosters all these different types of riding. “It offers something for everyone – bunny hills for beginners, cliffs for advanced riders, and trees, cruisy groomers, terrain parks and a pipe in between,” she says, adding that where she rides depends on the weather: "If it’s snowed, I’ll go where the powder takes me; if not, you'll probably find me lapping Rabbit Ears Park or in the pipe.”
Indeed, it’s the mountain and its riders that have put Steamboat on the snowboarding map. “A lot of really strong riders came out of this valley, at a time when it wasn’t known or marketed as a snowboard culture,” says Chad. “The resort never really recognized the potential its terrain has for freestyle features, so the snowboard team had to prove itself. But the culture now is really strong.”
(Chad Oliver launches off of a boulder in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness burn zone. Photo courtesy of Chad Oliver.)

Another thing that helped was hosting the 2021 Visa Big Air Contest at the Park Smalley Freestyle Complex, the year’s only big air event of the four snowboard qualifiers for slopestyle and big air athletes. “That was huge for Steamboat’s snowboarding scene,” says Oliver. “It drew a lot of big air riders here and showed we have the capability to provide features for the sport’s best. It also showed that the resort can get it done if they want to.”

Kurtis Jackson, 39, who grew up competing in U.S. Grand Prix and Triple Crown events (now the Dew Tour) and has worked at Powder Tools since 2008, credits slope maintenance workers Corey Peterson and Jake Ingle for helping the resort get on the snowboard competition map (Jake used to cut halfpipes for U.S. Grand Prix events). “They both spearheaded the Big Air event and have gotten the resort to say yes to a lot of things that have helped grow snowboarding here,” he says. “Resorts like Breckenridge and Copper Mountain have always made the big features and produced big events, but Steamboat is now offering more than it ever has and is way more open-minded to snowboarding.”
Kurtis, who always marvels at how many riders come through Powder Tools’ doors, also credits everything from Steamboat’s terrain to Colorado Mountain College for the boom in boarders. “The snow is so consistent here that you can always find someplace to ride,” he says. “It’s a great mountain for progression, with a lot of different riding options. I debated moving to Mt. Baker, Jackson or Tahoe, but decided to stay here because of that. There’s something here no matter what level rider you are.”
“And having CMC here brings in more young people and a younger snowboard culture every year,” he adds. “The audience for it is much wider than it used to be, with a lot more different types of riding.”
While the resort doesn’t track actual user days, one barometer is its snowsports school, whose percentages are split roughly 70 percent skiing to 30 percent snowboarding, says resort spokesperson Maren Franciosi. “And a lot of people do both, choosing skis for groomer days and their snowboards for powder,” she says.

(Chad Oliver rides the Continental Divide. Photo courtesy of Chad Oliver.)

Indeed, bucking the stigma of baggy pants and counter-culture, snowboarding has hit its stride in Steamboat, with its followers traipsing the resort in search of powder, tree shots, grinds, airs, slashes and more – helping our well-rounded mountains become, well, more well-rounded.

“Steamboat’s always been more ski focused, with snowboarding as a kind of the annoying little brother,” says Kurtis. “But now they’re both grown adults and snowboarding is bigger here than it’s ever been. Look at the Olympians we’ve produced…for a long time it’s been primarily Nordic and Alpine athletes, but now snowboarding’s numbers have started to grow. I’m super proud of where snowboarding is in Steamboat.”