The Bounce-Back Kid

Professional snowboarder Chris Klug carves his way back to the top of the mountain.

Warren ran an inn on the road leading to the Mt. Bachelor ski area, surrounded by millions of acres of forest and jagged volcanic peaks. The boys hiked, camped, and rode their bikes and skateboards, practicing tricks on the quarter-pipe ramp that they helped their father build.

Chris was naturally gifted. Agile. Strong. Fearless. He insisted on being perfect at everything he did, practicing over and over. With his asthma, he worked twice as hard as anybody else to be better.

He worked especially hard at skiing. Chris loved to race and did well enough, but in the fourth grade, he found what he really wanted to do on snow.

This board's for you: Surfing keeps Chris in shape in the off-season.
Melissa April
This board's for you: Surfing keeps Chris in shape in the off-season.
After winning the Grand Prix in Oregon, Chris was the first pick for the U.S. Olympic snowboard team.
Melissa April
After winning the Grand Prix in Oregon, Chris was the first pick for the U.S. Olympic snowboard team.

He had seen some newcomers on the slopes of Mt. Bachelor, cruising through the powder on what looked like a fat water ski with a leash attached to the front. Chris thought it looked like great fun. And in December 1983, the first Burton Performer snowboard came to a sports shop in Bend. The board was made of wood, with plastic straps for bindings and a "skag" (a sort of rudder) on the base for turning, but lacking metal edges. Chris begged his dad to rent him one.

With his rented board, Chris headed straight for the highest, most difficult slope on Mt. Bachelor. He was sure he'd have no difficulty, but he discovered that he couldn't traverse steep slopes without metal edges. He kept falling. Frustrated, he pointed the thing straight down the hill and learned to fly. The board gave him a sense of freedom and connection with the snow's surface that he'd never felt on skis. As soon as he got home, he began pleading with his parents to get him a Burton Performer for Christmas.

His mother thought the contraption looked dangerous, so she was flabbergasted when "Santa" put one under the tree on Christmas morning. "Santa" avoided her glare whenever the subject came up.

Mt. Bachelor was one of the first resorts in the country to allow snowboards. But in those early years, only Chris and five of his buddies were "shredding" the slopes.

Other resorts were not so hospitable, as Chris found out in early 1984 when the family went on a vacation to Sun Valley, Idaho. In the lift line, Chris was told by the lift operator that he couldn't get on with his new board. Kathy told Chris to go back to the condo where they were staying and get his skis; she was still against the board and hoped he'd give it up.

Chris refused. "I'll go find a hill," he suggested. "They don't own all the mountains, Mom."

Before his mother could reply, Warren sided with young adventurer. "Let him go find a hill of his own," his dad said. "What could it hurt?" Chris smiled and took off.

Later, from the lift, Warren and Kathy recognized their eleven-year-old son -- they could see his red pants -- a half-mile away, laboring up a mountain through the waist-deep snow. At first, they were gripped by fear -- what if there was an avalanche? But then they saw him reach the top, strap on his board and take off through the pristine powder, carving a long, graceful turn like an author signing his book.

When he reached the bottom, Chris unstrapped his board and walked back to the path he'd created on his first climb. To his parents' amazement, he started back up, willing his body to plow through the snow for another ride. Kathy felt a whole new appreciation for the depth of her son's spirit. Never again would she argue against the snowboard.

"Do you drink a lot?" the woman on the telephone asked.

The question caught Chris off guard. He knew that the public's perception of boarders was one of pot-smoking, beer-swilling party animals in baggy clothes. In some cases, it wasn't far from the truth. Plenty smoked pot and drank themselves stupid. There were even racers on the tour who smoked between every run. And the after-race party often started before the race was over.

For Chris, the rebel roots of snowboard racing were part of the fun; it was a laid-back group, especially compared to those in the cutthroat world of ski racing. He didn't care if anyone else smoked, but it wasn't for him. A couple of beers was about his limit, and then only on a rare occasion. He was one of those guys who loved life sober and loved getting paid to race. He had a quick, bright smile for his friends, of which he had many, and a goofy laugh that sounded like a loon on a misty lake.

It was 1994, and a lot had changed in the ten years since he'd cut up that hillside at Sun Valley. Chris was 6' 2" and 210 pounds of lean muscle. His asthma rarely bothered him anymore, though he still carried his inhaler everywhere. And he made his living as a professional snowboard racer with sponsors that included Burton boards, Bolle sunglasses and the Aspen Skiing Company, the big cheese in the town where his family had moved in 1992 and his father managed an upscale hotel/condominium.

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