For the last three years members of our group have made the drive south to Taos New Mexico for the Solomon Extreme Freeride Championship. We all enjoy the competition and having somebody from the group do well every year adds to the excitement. However, what brings us back is something more permanent than line scores and big hucks. It is the sense of community and shared genuine experience that makes this such a special trip.
Passing the Earth ships, the crazy underground tire and mud homes surrounded by only dirt and sunlight, is when I know I am getting close to a place that still seems to have a little magic. Going over the bridge spanning a 700 foot gorge that was rent apart not by water but by tectonic forces feels like crossing the threshold into another world. Last year Joey jumped off of it with his BASE rig, this year we threw off a poopa-troopa in his place. Bartering over turquoise jewelry with native Indians reminds me that this land holds the legends of an old and local population. On arrival to the ski valley I am greeted by the owner of the private ski hill, the famous Ernie Blake’s son Alejandro, and I feel the love that brings my friends and I back every year.
This year we grew exponentially, the surf gravity crew was bolstered by our friends from aspen who were there to compete, (Eric Angus, Morris Hogan, Jake O’Conner, Dayla Robinson, Patrick Westfeldt and Reuben Sadowsky) as well as those who didn’t make it in but came to support and party (Baker Boyd, Katrina DeVore, Molly Etters, Elena Forchielli). We also had our good friends who I will call the Roam crew (Sam Steen, Johnny and Carrie Rossman and Chad zanka). Together we helped each other choose our lines by assessing risk and reward on the west basin and Kachina slopes. We all finished everyday with a few rounds of drinks at the legendary St. Bernard lodge. This place looks and smells like an old austrian ski lodge, the fire pit in the main room reliably warmed our soles and souls when we plan for the next day. The St. Bernard was built decades ago by John Mayer. John started the lodge decades ago, runs breakfast every morning, ski’s all day, then serves traditional alps style dinner every night Learning from his old ski video’s found in the condo we knew to ask him about anklenation and the finer points of good skiing. He loved it and bought our crew a round of PBR’s for having spirit.
Taos also provides us a unique learning experience because of the host we stay with annually. Moira O’Hanlen is an old friend of my mom, back from their world cup racing days, an olympic athlete at one point. Moira still rips up the slopes almost every day in her pink Julbos. She also has an amazing, completely non-toxic adobe bed and breakfast in Arroyo Seco, the artist community below the ski valley. She has a Mercedes that runs on veggie oil, permaculture gardens that feed her year round, and a negative ion copper coil pool, clean with no chlorine. Each year we learn more about organic eating and building from moira. this year she showed us her Bee colonies where she produces honey and is helping a collective of Bee keepers keep more native Queen Bees alive in order to produce a stronger local breed of honey bees. this honey is also what she uses to trade with other local farmers for meat, dairy, and various products. We always leave Taos feeling refreshed and inspired to pay attention to the way we live and eat.
Having an amazing host and traditions to revisit each day sometimes makes the competition seem less important, certainly not something to stress about. Being in that mindset had a great effect on us. Most everyone did well and those who fell behind the daily cuts didn’t seem to mind. I loved watching Johnny and Sam go HUGE the first day, I laughed when morris and Eric went bigger than any other snowboarders but tomahawked a few times before coming through the finish line. I’m glad I had Baker in my ear on the day of the finals saying,” go big, you want top ten not top twenty.” It took a lot of breath and focus to stay calm that day, because I planned, then executed, an 80 foot backflip of a 35 foot cliff… give or take.Reuben’s Backflip
It is a special thing to have 15 friends come from 15 different places to join together as a team and support each other in competition A big reason why so many of us did well, why so many of us went big while coming away safe, is that we have a multitude of advice and perspective to help guide us into a few moments that take all of our attention and drive. All the green chili, the honey, the beers at the St. Bernard, the big cliff drops, the cruisers under sunny skies and 70 degree weather -All of it will stay locked in my memory along with the faces that shared it with me.