Retrofitted: ‘Snow Beach’ gets back to the retro roots of a multi-billion dollar snowboard industry
“Snow Beach,” by Alex Dymond, with an intro by Jesse Huffman, is a full-color retrospective of snowboarding style, culture and progression from 1986 to 1996, featuring the biggest riders, photographers and brands during the sport’s first explosion. Featured pros include Jeff Brushie, Terje Haakonsen, Shaun Palmer, Craig Kelly, John Cardiel, Jeff Anderson, Janna Meyen and Shannon Dunn-Downing, with photographers Bud Fawcett, Dano Pendygrasse, Jon Foster, Trevor Graves, Vianney Tisseau and more. The book is 9 inches by 11 inches, with 176 pages and more than 250 photos. The book sells for $40 on Amazon.
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It’s like browsing through stills from an old-school MTV broadcast, if snowboarders had been famous enough for music videos back then.
There’s Jeffy Anderson in 1991 looking forever young and devious with buckteeth and a mottled Bula cycling cap. There’s Daniel Franck, the first Olympic snowboard silver medalist, in 1997 with gelled hair painted like leopard skin. There’s immortal Terje Haakonsen, the first superstar to say “f*** you” to the Olympics, in 1992 wearing Matrix-style Oakleys (nearly a decade before “The Matrix” was released). There’s fellow immortal Shaun Palmer, the first superstar who hated his sport’s popularity enough to leave it for good, sneering all over snow and skate ramps with ratty blonde locks in the ‘80s, even rattier blonde locks in the ‘90s, and then something that looks like a cross between Fat Mike and Bozo the Clown, with a Bic’d dome and bright-pink ring of ratty hair, in 1993.
Those vivid images are the main characters in “Snow Beach,” a recently released photo retrospective from editor Alex Dymond. It documents the delirious style and underground culture of a sport on the rise, from long-forgotten pros (remember Russell Winfield?) to legitimate legends who paved the way for guys like Shaun White and gals like Jamie Anderson. The one thing they shared: snowboarding, back when it was more of a statement than a sport.
“Shaun Palmer and Jamie Lynn were awesome individuals that did their own thing, but really all of the riders were,” Dymond said. “That’s why they were all so special.”
At 176 pages, the book features more than 200 vintage photos from snowboarding’s first big boom between 1986 and 1996, when industry brands like Burton and Sims were exploding, and outside brands like Oakley were cashing in on the gritty, grimy, grungy image of outcast Generation Xers. The book is light on words — it’s a glorified magazine spread in hardback form — but the intro by former pro Jesse Huffman says it all in just two pages.
“To be a rider was to be part of a counterculture movement,” writes Huffman, who even mentions the (slight) debt early snowboarding gear owed to the ski industry. “Snowboarding in the ‘80s emerged from backyards, mountains and golf courses, spreading like a raw, neon-tinged rash at ski resorts nationwide.”
The very first photo page starts with a bang: Terry Kidwell on one side tweaking a nasty nose grab out of a 1989-era pipe — it puts dizzying 1440s to shame — and Palmer on the other side baring his teeth from beneath jet-black goggles in ‘87. That fist page is a thesis statement for the book. Snowboarding was “closer to ground level” 15 years ago, Huffman writes, with shocking images made for the culture itself and not a catch-all outlet like the Internet, where creativity tends to get lost in a sea of content.
Then, there are the photographers. Jon Foster shot the Kidwell photo and Bud Fawcett shot the Palmer mug, and it makes sense to begin with their lenses. Together, those two created more than half of the images in the book, and “Snow Beach” is as much about the guys behind the camera as the guys and gals in front of it. Think of them as the supporting actors of the snowboard industry: the unsung professionals who are always in the right place at the right time when the superstars are doing the unthinkable.
The photogs captured the pros, but they also captured the homemade feel of old-school snowboarding. The book charts one of Dymond’s favorite trends, the binding high back, and how riders rigged their own to make slashing in Sorels and high-top skate shoes easier.
“It’s mostly about the skate influence on snowboarding, and when snowboarding left the neon ski culture behind and became its own,” Dymond said of his book. “There is a great shot of Janna Meyen in the pipe, shot by Jon Foster, that shows her cut-down high backs.”
“Snow Beach” is vintage snow porn at its finest, and just about the only thing missing are shot locations. I kept wondering: Where is Mike Ranquet slashing powder at night with a Budweiser? What icy cliff drop is Randy Gaetano throwing an Indy over? How have I never before seen the snow graffiti ramp Mike Basich is slaying with Bud Fawcett?
But those are small qualms. The book is straightforward and raw, a lot like the culture it documents, and anything more would be too much.
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.