Oakley Snowboarders Star Alongside Snow Park Tech in NatGeo's "Mountain Movers"
For the Torstein Horgmos and Mark McMorris’ of the snowboarding world to be able to do what they do, they need to trust the terrain. When they go flying two stories into the sky, they need to know that they have the speed and lift to cover as much as a quarter of a football field on some of these Big Air jumps. That’s the reason you’ve heard Horgmo publicly criticize features after events, calling for more athlete involvement and investment in the right crew to get the job done – and that right crew, according to most snowboarders you talk to, is Snow Park Technologies.
Up at Squaw Valley in March of this year, Torstein and Mark were sitting around a lavish cabin with the likes of Eero Ettala, Heikki Sorsa, Charles Reid and the reigning Queen of Slopestyle, Jamie Anderson. The mission that weekend was to be introduced to two brand new, never-before-seen or ridden features at two separate spots on the mountain.
Up rolled Chris “Gunny” Gunnarson, the president of Snow Park Technologies (SPT) and the rest of his acclaimed crew. High-fives and hugs were exchanged. Many times before SPT had been the molders of features that had garnered medals and glory for various members of this star-studded group of snowboarders. No medals would result from this meeting. Instead, the two crews would be bringing their unique talents to the table for a new project: an episode on a documentary-style, reality TV series on the National Geographic channel about SPT and what they do. A show called “Mountain Movers.”
The episode airs this Thursday, where the world will learn which of team features was deemed the best by the athletes.
In anticipation of the show and because so little is actually known about what goes into creating these impressive and behemoth features, we sat down with Gunny and ran some tape.
How’d you get into the business of building features?
I was working at Snow Summit at the very, very infancy of park and pipes down in Big Bear and it just kind of spiraled from there. That was kind of the hot bed of the very beginning of parks, and 4 or 5 years into it, X Games made the first Winter X at Snow Summit. We’ve been doing X games since year one all the way through today and lots of other stuff inbetween.
What was the genesis of Snow Park Tech?
Me and Mike Binnell, my original partner in crime from Big Bear, we decided to take our show on the road. Sitting in a hotel room in Crested Butte during the second X Games, we said ‘Let’s call it Snow Park Technologies.’ And then we were stuck with it, so we figured out how to make it work.
What was the premise for the show, Mountain Movers?
I had met up with a guy named Jason Carbone, he’s a producer, he’d just come off Ryan Sheckler’s show, “Life of Ryan,” and “Run’s House,” which is about Run-D.M.C., and I’m represented by Wasserman [Media Group] and Steve Astephen, and we just thought we had a cool idea for more of the behind-the-scenes of what goes into some of these big projects and events on snow and took a different approach of less lifestyle and more build; a documentary-type build show. And we kind of lucked out that between some big partners like National Geographic and Chevrolet that they believed in the idea too and the next thing we knew we were making a TV show.
What goes into making a good feature? We have two distinctly different features for the Oakley Challenge, but what’s the behind-the-scenes process of putting a good feature together?
Well, it starts with some creative conceptual planning and design, then you sort of figure out realistically and logistically how you can actually make that happen. Sometimes we go back to the drawing board based on timeframes, the likely amount of snow and what type of set-up you’re going to do. And because we’re dealing with snow, it’s an ever-evolving process because it’s a malleable surface, meaning it’s always subject to change. Plus we’re always staying in tune with what the riders are looking for and what’s going to be fun and what’s lending itself to creativity, fun-factor and flow, and a ton of different things.
So the two features that the Oakley team hit were for a single episode?
Yeah. So there are eight episodes in the show and each one it totally different. We have a pretty strong partnership and friendship with Oakley, our snow cats are all branded Oakley, we all wear Oakley, we’ve even got custom Oakley glasses and goggles that we’ve been doing, and so we decided ‘hey, let’s do something where we can create something for the Oakley team and at the same time use our Oakley snow cats to build it.’ Oakley was holding the Oakley Week here at Squaw and Alpine, so we thought let’s try to package all those things together and try to kill a whole bunch of birds with one stone. That was the original impetus between me and Zack Dalton [Oakley Snowboard Team Manager] and Josh Hoyer.
How’d the two features come to be? Were you involved with overseeing both or did you have two different teams?
So, what we did was we thought it’d be fun to make a little bit of a challenge. Usually we have months and months of planning on practically every big project we’re doing, and I have a hand in all of them deeply, and in this one we split up my two crews between the two mountains and let them go with their own creative juices, given some parameters. We knew Oakley wanted to shoot photo and video, get their team on the stuff, so we didn’t want to have either feature be too similar. We didn’t work in a vacuum, even though that’s the way it’ll come across in the show, because we didn’t want to have two identical jumps in two places, we tried to make something that’d be very different on each and so Chris Castaneda took point on the set-up at Squaw and Corley Howard took point on the project at Alpine and we worked with staffs there and they had a specific amount of time and machinery and resources to get it done.
What were your thoughts on the two features once they were complete?
Well, I was very proud of my guys for coming up with something very different from one another. With Alpine they definitely went this Urban/jib-route that had just a ton of different lines and options. For the feature at Squaw, well, Chis and Torstein have worked together on a lot of stuff and Torstein had been telling us for a good year now that there’s this particular type of jump that he feels that with where snowboarding’s going allows for trick progression that we don’t see in typical park jumps or even some of the big air or slopestyle stuff we’re building – so from a strategy standpoint, I thought it was cool that Chris went for something that Torstein particularly has been looking for in that he has an idea in his mind for certain tricks that haven’t been done yet that he could possibly do on a jump that throws you more up than out and that was the idea there.
What kind of time/variables goes into the construction of these features?
The Squaw set-up had two cats for round-the-clock for five days. A lot of times it depends on how much snow is in the location. So if there is four feet of snow on the ground, it’s going to take less time to farm the snow than if there’s two feet because you’ve got to back up twice as far, so gathering the snow depends on how much natural pack or man-made pack is on the ground in the area that you have to work and there wasn’t as much snow in the Squaw area as years’ past in that spot, so it took them a long time to scrape that together and it is a pretty big-ass feature.
Was there anything in either of those zones when you started?
No, they were empty. And the cool thing is that in the aftermath of this shoot those zones are going to live on as like the Oakley section of the park at Squaw and the Oakley section in the park at Alpine, and that’s just a continuation of the partnership that Oakley has with those two mountains.
What’s the typical relationship or interaction with the athletes going into the construction of an upcoming or future feature?
These are athlete-driven sports and they always have been. We’re trying to either stay as relevant as possible or even try to be a little bit ahead of the curve when we can. But as far as the relationship goes, everyone who was on this shoot, Mark, Torstein, Jamie, Charles, Heikki and Eero, are all good friends of ours, so that made it just that much more fun. But especially with the travel circuit and a lot of these film shoot type things, we see all these riders all the time all year long, so constantly connecting with them and getting feedback and paying attention to what’s happening in the sport is really important for us. We’re literally creating the canvas that these riders are going to work on, and our intention is to showcase the best that they’ve got and so we have to do our job the best we can to make sure that they can shine.
To learn more about Gunny and the Snow Park Tech team, check out their website, snowparktech.com.