Josh Malay is a nice guy … and other exciting revelations
VAIL — Minnesota is home to a lot of things — ice fishing, “Prairie Home Companion,” its own “Predator” star to win the governor’s seat — but the North Star State has recently garnered a new distinction that seems to stand out like a “which one of these doesn’t fit” multiple choice question.
That question would hypothetically go like this: Which of these does not conjure up images of Minnesota?
A. Curling capital B. Hockey hotbed C. Snowmobiling wonderland D. Snowboarder factory.
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It’s a trick question, though, because the land of 10,000 Lakes has subtly established itself as an incubator for some of the world’s best riders — a holding tank of sorts where native sons reared on icy, flat slopes and substandard terrain parks have gone on to make tracks in the pro ranks.
Riders such as Breckenridge’s Chad Otterstrom, runner-up in both the slopestyle and railjam at this year’s The Session at Vail, and Steve Fisher, another Breck rider and winner of the 2004 Winter X Games VIII Superpipe final, have proven that the great state of Minnes-O-ta produces more than just blue-chip hockey players.
Otterstrom and Fisher, who hail from Shoreview and St. Louis Park, Minnesota, are both big names, but by no means are they only ones on the radar.
Which brings us to Josh Malay, 23, of Prior Lake, Minn — Vail’s very own snowboarding black belt.
Malay has lived in Avon for the last four-and-a-half years, after graduating a semester early from high school and leaving home at just 17 to pursue a career in snowriding.
But he’s only recently established himself as a household name in the sport, moving past the infantry line of the pro ranks and into the limelight.
Malay’s newfound fame came largely as a result of a cover shot this fall in Snowboarder magazine, a stunt which also appeared in the locally produced Ryan Conway video “Bronanza.”
The photo, which shows Malay doing a backside boardslide down a fire escape in the old abandoned mining town of Gilman, did more than just give him street credibility among the sport’s core following — it also earned him a new board sponsor with Santa Cruz and a string of high-profile opportunities.
One of those breaks is a trip set up by Transworld Snowboarding Magazine to the Pyrenees for an editorial piece, for which Malay will depart this coming Tuesday.
The Avon local, who also rides for Oakley, Nixon, grenade, Vail, and The Otherside Snowboard Shop, still found time, though, to squeeze in a morning of riding with me recently and chat about all things snowboarding, along with a few things on the side.
Watching Malay in videos, you get the feeling that he has an untouchable persona — part rockstar, part daredevil, all adrenaline.
In truth, though, he is as approachable as your first-grade teacher, a smiling, receptive guy who doesn’t seem to mind that you dragged him out of bed at 9 in the morning.
We shake hands and hop on the chairlift on what is a crisp, sun-soaked morning to head up to the halfpipe on Golden Peak.
Among other things, Malay talks about fishing in Northern Minnesota, his second calling as an artist and the travails of the business side of riding.
I ask him how his parents felt when he told him he was leaving home not to go to college, but to be a professional snowboarder.
“Everyone in my family thought I was crazy,” he says. “What can you say to a kid who is 17 and says, ‘I want to be a pro snowboarder?’ There was definitely some conflict in what I wanted to do because I had so much talent with the art stuff. They just thought that I was throwing that away, but you can always do art.”
He pauses for a second and then continues.
“I’ve learned more from this than I think I would have sitting in a classroom. I’ve been traveling, I’ve met so many people. There’s always time for school. I know people that are super old who go back to school and come out on top. They were pissed dude, though, at first. Now they’re happy, though. Everybody thinks it’s cool now, but I still don’t think they understand it. My grandma thinks I’m a snowmobiler.”
Malay first got the itch to ride in first grade after one of his friends in the neighborhood got a snowboard for Christmas.
“His name’s Matt, he got a snowboard for Christmas and I was so pissed,” Malay says. “I was so jealous. When you’re little, those things are huge, you know? Somebody in your neighborhood gets something like that, you’re like “Oh, I need that.” So, I hounded my parents, forever.”
When young Josh finally got his own shred stick, there was no getting him off it. He and his friends would build picnic-table jibs in his backyard, jumps, anything to get the blood flowing in the cold winter air.
When the local resorts Buck Hill and Hyland Hills finally opened up their slopes to riders, Malay became a regular, feeding his addiction whenever he could.
He also says he “skated his brains out” and did some BMX, straying away from the mainstream crowds to hang with his small group of outcast friends.
“I hated all those kids,” Malay says of the jock crowd. “There were five or six of us who were all skaters. We’d go into Minneapolis and we’d skate. That’s what I think led to the way I feel about snowboarding. It was just a lot of fun.”
A walk in the park
Going snowboarding with Josh Malay has got to be like riding a bike with Lance Armstrong or dancing with Michael Jackson — you just try and keep up and not look stupid.
You also ask as many questions as possible, since Malay has tried to do things on his snowboard that would fall under the category of certifiably insane.
He’s got the hospital bill receipts to prove it, too.
“I’ve walked myself to the emergency room so many times,” Malay says, “They know me by my first name. They’re like, “Hey, what’s up?'”
On our first run, Josh rides the halfpipe almost as if it’s tedious, effortlessly cycling through spins and grabs before capping off the run with a huge frontside rodeo.
“The first run’s always the worst run,” he yells as he drops down a transition before hopping up onto a f4-foot tall flat rail and 50-50ing across.
In between other jaw-dropping tricks, Josh tells me to try to ride box rails on either one side or the other, so that I’ll feel more comfortable when I hit skinnier rails. It’s a tip well recieved, although I feel like Mandy Moore to Malay’s Britney as I clunk along.
Even though Josh is about the most affable person I’ve ever met, the other riders in the park prefer to gawk at him from afar and stay muted while up close.
I tell him about the refrains of “Holy (expletives)” and “Did you just see thats,” at the top of one of the jump ramps, and he laughs, saying, “Yeah but when they get around me, all they do is vibe me.”
He then preceeds to stick his chin out and give a head nod, mimicking the typical response he gets from his admiring onlookers.
All you need is fun
In a morning where Josh and I lap the park about four times and do one freeriding jaunt, one clear thing emerges — Malay is a good novel, with too many chapters to read in just two hours.
He’s got his funny querks, like his obsession with black leather mittens or his pension for collecting snowboards.
“I’ve got about 50 decks lined up in my living room,” he says. “I cleaned them all up, repainted the spots where the paint chipped off and coated them all.”
He says he doesn’t have a problem with skiiers, only the guys in the one-pieces who motor down the middle of the halfpipe. He loves to draw and isn’t worried about anything other than having fun.
“I do have to be somewhat careful, because there are little kids watching you all the time, but there’s no trying to put off an image,” he says. “It’s all about just having fun. That’s it.”
He’s loyal to the people that helped him along the way, most notably The Otherside shop in Beaver Creek whose team he now manages, and local riders like Todd Richards and “Ninja” Jay Isaacs who pushed him along.
Another thing that stands out is that he says, “I love you” to his girlfriend on the phone, even in the presence of another guy.
He’s not trying be anyone other than himself. When he ollies over the seat of an unoccupied ski-patrol snowmobile or a ski-patrol banner, it’s not to be a jerk, it’s just because someone parked it there and it looked good to try.
As I say goodbye to him around noon, he says thanks for coming to ride, even though it’s I who should be thanking him, and then slaps me a high-five.
As I slide away, he also yells back, “Give me a call sometime. We’ll go riding again.”
I know he means it too, that he’s not just saying it to be nice.
Josh Malay may not only be the best snowboarder in the valley, he might also be the most authentic.
Contact sports writer Nate Peterson at 949-0555 ext. 608 or via e-mail at email@example.com