It was March 1990, Las Vegas, the snowboarding industry was just beginning to shed its diapers. It was a fledgling sport that was beginning to pick up speed, gain momentum and move forward at an ever increasing rate.
Spring in the desert meant that the SIA (Ski Industries America) Trade show was in play. Anything to do with skiing was there, perennial powerhouses of ski gear, Olympic athletes, Playboy bunnies and famous names where all about. Then there was the section for the bastard children, the dreaded snowboarders. Pop culture, loud music, stickers for every brand flowed down the aisles of the Las Vegas Convention Center. Beer, scantily clad females, and snowboards. Times they were a changing in the industry as snowboarding began to take root.
Down the aisles, way in back, on the back wall there was a display with splattered paint, a big cow with utters in the wrong place, this was the infamous logo for Gnu Snowboards. There was also a large exploding cherry bomb with the word Nitro written in it, a new entry into the market making its debut at the show. There were boards and gear from both brands displayed and highlighted in glass shower door stalls. It was one heck of a trade show booth at the time. No one walking by or in the booth knew that it almost didn’t happen. All the gear in the booth, the booth itself, if it could talk had quite the story to tell.
The drive in the Ryder rental truck from the Ballard section of Seattle, while long was uneventful. All the new gear just chugging along the interstate on the way to Vegas, with a scheduled stop at Utah’s Elk Meadow Ski Resort. The sales team was driving and flying in from various parts of the country, loading up into rental vans and heading to rendezvous with the Ryder truck. Everyone involved was stoked! New gear, a sales meeting and hopefully some snow just before the major trade show would surely pump everyone up.
The sales team arrived first. Checking into the condos, popping open beers, laying out gear for the morning and getting ready for dinner. The snow began to fall. Elk Meadows is a smaller scale resort and is upside down with the lodges atop the runs, you actually ride down first then take a lift up. To get to the resort you actually have to drive to the top of the mountain, no problem when the snow isn’t falling.
As the day turned into night the snow fell at an increasing rate, the Ryder truck finally pulled into Beaver, Utah and as it began to make the ascent failed miserably, so back down to town it went. The crew in the truck were able to grab their gear and hitch a ride on a snow plow up the mountain to join the rest of us. The stories of going sideways with the rental truck, sliding backwards downhill with the brakes on, were pretty horrifying hence the decision to get the truck off the highway and back to town.
When day broke there was an unbelievable sunrise followed by an azure sky, and two feet of fresh powder. There was no one around. It was a week day, no other resort guests at this sleepy little playground. The lift keepers armed with shovels tried to prep as best they could, they eventually gave up clearing every chair, to much snow. A path was cleared to the bull wheel and then every few chairs were cleared of the freshly fallen snow. The wait to get the chair lifts running took almost to lunch time before the first ride. Then the news, there was an avalanche during the night which blocked off the road to town, that meant no one was leaving and no one could get to the hill, making it a private resort. All that was at the resort, crew from Gnu & Nitro, and resort employees were the only humans on the mountain that day. Powder run after powder run, fresh tracks at every turn. The snow was lighter than air. A tumble here meant a struggle to get back up as the snow was bottomless.
A boarder was overheard telling of another that went over the falls and cart wheeled two to three times only to boast that he felt weightless like an astronaut. Two days on the mountain riding in unthinkable epic conditions where every run was first tracks. It was a beautiful thing that avalanche, kept everyone away as the crew started on one side of the mountain and worked its way across to the other side in pure powder hound fashion, eating up the pow pow and laying down the first tracks on every run. The only trip up to the whole gig was that none of the new gear made it to the meeting. No hands on demo rides on the new boards, no one had a clue as to how this new brand was going to perform underfoot. Only those close to the brands inception had ever ridden these boards, and now after being stuck in a truck at the bottom of the hill the sales team had to go sell them. The discussions at the meetings while informative never can top actually riding on the stuff, the life of a snowboard rep is hard work.
The meeting ended on the date as scheduled and by then the road was cleared. There were two days left to get back to Vegas and build the trade show booth, it was going to be all hands on deck. Everyone would be pitching in helping set up for the show. The ride down the mountain to Beaver was uneventful, sure there was the evidence of clearing away three avalanches but that was no big deal. Arriving at the Ryder truck, the expletives began to fly! The f’in keys! Who has the keys? You had them last, no, you had them last!
The whole company was locked inside this truck in little god forsaken Beaver, Utah with no way to get inside, no way to start the thing up. Ideas started flowing to bust the windows, tempers flared, it was getting late the sun was going down, cold weather, and more snow on the way. What to do now, nothing was open, not a gas station in site. Then it happend, an old pick up truck went by, turned around and if in were three of the goofiest looking critters you ever saw. These three young guys pulled up in a truck and had no idea what was going on but they offered to help. They looked so goofy, heck they didn’t even ski, let alone know what a snowboard was, the thing they did know was how to bust into that truck. Out came the slim jim, and these guys unlocked the door to the cab of the truck in seconds flat like professional car thieves. Next, they grabbed their huge lock cutter and did a number on that bullet proof master lock protecting all the gear inside. When the door rolled up these guys were like“what the heck you got in there”, having never seen the likes of what was inside. The one remaining problem was still the fact that the keys were gone so how to fire up the Ryder truck was still an issue. Next thing that happened, one of them dove under the dash and steering wheel reached up pulled down some wires, stripped two of them and tap them together as the truck turned over and started. The steering wheel was locked but a pair of vise grips and a hammer took out the ignition switch. That big old Ryder truck was alive and rumbling. Swag came in to play as these guys loved baseball caps, big old caps with Bombs on them the Nitro logo, a few t-shirts and sweat shirts, these three Beaverites literally saved not only the day but the whole Vegas premier of a new snowboard company that’s still alive and doing well to this day.
For more information about Nitro Snowboards you can visit theire website: www.nitrousa.com