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Park & Play

Tom Boyd

It’s the morning of Jan. 16 at Vail Mountain and there’s a buzz in the air: professional snowboarders from around the nation and the world are pulling up in decked-out vans, painted motor homes and souped-up station wagons.It will be a little more than 24 hours until they compete for the $110,000 in cash money at The Session, but with 6 inches of fresh snow and plenty of time to kill, almost all of them hit the hill for some Back Bowl freeriding.Except Stephen Laterra.Our valley’s own pride and joy, the man who designs our highly-ranked and truly rippin’ terrain park, the man who was the first to design natural log slides in a park, and the man who rides professionally in his time off from park design, was working his butt off building the rail course while his buddy JJ Thomas was out playing in 6 inches of fresh.How’s that going, Stephen?”This sucks,” he says.”I’m fading, I’m trying to fight off a cold, but I feel OK. You don’t want to go out the day of the event and ride your ass off, but I was hoping to get a little riding in beforehand.”When the nighttime rail jam session begins at 6 p.m. on Golden Peak, Friday, Jan. 17, Laterra will be right there along with some of the best riders in the world, but he says designing the rail course won’t give him any kind of advantage over the other riders.The work he does, it seems, is just something he loves to do. And there is the sense that, behind the runny nose and the tired limbs, Laterra digs his job and loves pushing the limits and that’s true for both snowboarding and park design.Laterra also says he has a lot of respect for super-slopestyle designer Pat Malendowski and the Vail Valley Foundation, which is putting on the event.Another Vail rider competing in the event, K2’s Rachel Nelson, says the quality of park design and the jam session format make this a unique snowboarding event. Besides Nelson and Laterra, there are three other Vail riders competing in the event: Josh Malay, Barrett Christy, and Megan Pischke.”They’re not doing halfpipe, which is cool,” says Nelson. “Most big competitions are all about halfpipe, and it seems like with the Olympics it’s blown up but they’re giving people who don’t ride halfpipe a chance to do something different.”And if they do it well, they can win large amounts of cash always a bonus in the gritty world of pro snowboarding.Still, all that cash won’t take away from the riding camaraderie, says Nelson.”The feel is much better (than other events),” she says. “Snowboarding definitely isn’t a competitive, cut-throat sport anyways but with the jam format everyone’s just riding and not worrying about throwing down because it’s the last run.”Session riders will be out and about all weekend long, riding rails from 6-8 p.m. and partying at Club Chelsea Friday, Jan. 17, then hitting super-slopestyle from 6-8 p.m. and partying in some garage somewhere (the Sunbird garage in Lionshead, actually) Saturday, Jan. 18.


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