Oldest Living Snowpunk Tells All

Chris Pappas takes his "hollow bravado" to the top of his profession.

Along the way, Chris realized that he had become attached to his daughter. Now when he takes off, half the time it's to see her. He thinks about getting her to come back to Boulder. But things are...tumultuous, or whatever.

We suddenly catch up to the present, when a sport that once numbered its participants in the dozens is now everybody's favorite thing to try. The half-pipe competitions are crowded with kids half Chris's age. He's known as a teacher more than as a rider.

"But you're a good teacher," I say, sounding ridiculous. "Remember when you were teaching me and Joanne and you saw that big fat girl just falling down the mountain, and you said you could teach her one thing, and change her day? And you did it!"

No business like snow business: Meet Chris Pappas, chairman of the board.
Anthony Camera
No business like snow business: Meet Chris Pappas, chairman of the board.

"Yeah, I remember her. She just hadn't figured out to set her edge so that -- "

"But that must be so satisfying."

"That's just my acting skill," he says. "And my teaching is all basic stuff. Everything I teach applies to the moguls or the pipe or the green hills or the pro guys who jump and spin, it's the same thing. I keep them in their comfort zone, bring them back to the beginning. I help people out, and they think I'm cool, and then maybe I am. Maybe a person who thinks like this doesn't have other skills in his life and he doesn't have attention, so he teaches. But that's why I keep up the competition. I don't want to be a geek standing on the mountain watching people and telling them what to do and not doing it. I don't want to be that."

It's not yet time to quit. This is why: He got that ninth at the Vegetative last year. Before that, he came close, but always broke a bone. His housepainting boss will give him an advance from time to time, and someone at Eldora just came through with $150. Therefore, he can afford to keep competing.

Besides, he still has sponsors -- K2 for boards and bindings, Anarchy for eyewear, Adidas for clothing. "It comes from the skateboard thing," he explains. "It's real prestigious to be sponsored. In the old days everyone was because there weren't very many of us. Now the only people who will be hooked up are the ones that are good. But the Adidas guy told me, he said you got the attitude. I don't care if you're old. Hey, he just sent me some shoes. Hopefully, I'll go somewhere and get on TV, and I'll be wearing them."

"Yeah, I give Chris boards," says K2's Dave Billinghurst. "Chris was teaching snowboarding to my pro riders when they were kids at Mount Hood. I don't expect him to win medals or anything. But I think he's courageous to get out there, for someone of his age, with all those young kids. And he's a good ambassador, and he loves the sport, and he has fun. As long as you're out there having fun, nothing else matters."

As it turns out, plenty else matters. The riders Billinghurst sponsors -- with six-figure salaries, company-sponsored photo shoots and travel expenses paid -- possess a quality that is hard to describe, but to call it "out there having fun" would be just plain wrong.

"What it comes down to is these pro-rider kids become rock stars," Billinghurst explains. "And not necessarily the guys who win, either. What you gotta do is shoot a lot of pictures and movies, huck yourself off big cliffs, get your coverage, be in front of the camera, that's what we want."

"It sounds more like the music industry than a sport," I say.

"Yeah," Billinghurst agrees. "We sell products to people ages five to fifty, but our core person is fourteen to 21. They're very impressionable. They look at the ads in magazines and they go okay, this guy is riding X board with X binding and wearing X clothes, and they go out and buy the exact same thing. That kid will buy a shitty board because a cool-looking guy is riding it."

"That's fourteen to 21?" I repeat.

"That's the age, and the age is very important. Say you're 25 -- at that point it gets hard. Whatever hasn't happened to you by then probably hasn't happened for a reason."

I put this to Wendy Gould, Chris's boss.

"I used to compete when I was 24," she tells me, "but now I'm too old. I blew out my knee. I'm not the rider I used to be."

"You're how old?"

"Twenty-six. I'm too old for that snowboarding lifestyle -- riding above all else, including money and shelter and food. Trying to do it year-round. I used to go to South America or Mount Hood. Waiting for the next dump or the next season, giving up everything to catch the freshies and catch the air. I can't do that anymore."

"What got into you?" I ask.

"Maturity," she laughs. "Also, I blew out my knee."

Yeah, yeah, maturity. Chris knows the drill.

"I've been offered jobs," he points out. "At academies, coaching good kids, with a good salary and benefits and stuff, and a lot of guys my age have done that: take the job, drop out and get on with the rest of their life. I could just bail on the competition and do that. But me, I can't pull myself away. I just love riding the half-pipe."

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