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One Wild Ride

Marc Frank Montoya brought the inner city to the snow-white world of boarding.

"Do you guys have any weapons or drugs or anything I should know about?"

For Marc Frank Montoya, denial comes instinctively when confronted by law enforcement. He shakes his head. "Nah," he replies. "Nah, we don't got nothin' like that."

"I can smell marijuana," says the officer. "Do you have any marijuana?"

 
John Johnston
 
At the Denver Skatepark, Marc Frank Montoya shows 
off the skills that took him from the mean streets to 
snowboard stardom.
John Johnston
At the Denver Skatepark, Marc Frank Montoya shows off the skills that took him from the mean streets to snowboard stardom.

"No," Montoya responds, like an involuntary reflex -- except he's telling the truth. What the cop smells inside the car isn't weed smoke, but gun smoke. So he stays cool. This is especially important when the law-enforcement official in question is from the Wyoming Highway Patrol and looks about one mustache-twitch away from tossing the out-of-state driver and his passenger into some concrete lockup in Laramie just for the hell of it.

And Montoya does look suspicious speeding east on I-80 in his 2004 silver Range Rover with tinted windows and loc'd-out rims -- the only flash of bling set against the barren backdrop of the Wyoming plains. It's Friday afternoon, and one of his longtime sponsors, Utah-based Tech Nine, is premiering a new video tonight at the Boulder Theater. Not only is pro-snowboarder Montoya scheduled for an autograph session, but he's also the featured DJ on the bill. So he's been blazing across the asphalt at 95 mph, determined not to be late, passing on the right as truckers honk angrily.

Riding shotgun is Aaron Bittner, a 21-year-old up-and-coming amateur snowboarder from Salt Lake City. When Bittner spotted the trooper's car lurking on the median, Montoya immediately thought about the two guns stowed in a black leather bag behind his seat. They aren't loaded -- when he travels, he keeps the bullets in a separate suitcase -- but just thirty minutes earlier, he'd fired one of the guns, a pistol. It wasn't anything dramatic; they'd pulled over to assist another vehicle in the Tech Nine caravan that had broken down. Montoya got bored standing on the side of the road, so he got the gun out and popped off a series of shots into the desolate horizon while his friends watched.

He'd made a strange, split-second decision to bring the guns early that morning. His six-bedroom home in suburban Salt Lake City had been half dark, his wife and two young children still asleep, so he'd packed quickly and quietly. He'd laid his clothes out on the bed, pulled the guns from a high closet shelf. Montoya had been stressed lately. He'd been snowboarding in Argentina for the past two months, filming future video segments and getting photographed for magazines. On his return, he'd expected to close on a newly built second home he had under contract near South Lake Tahoe. Then he learned that his mortgage broker had neglected to file the proper paperwork for the bank loan. That meant Montoya would not only lose the house to the contractor, but also his $25,000 down payment. So he'd stormed into the broker's office with every intention to "cold-cock that fool," but then an apologetic supervisor stepped in and said they were sending the man to rehab that afternoon. "What?!" Montoya screamed. Of all the real-estate agents out there, he had to go and find the one who was a cokehead.

Fortunately, he wasn't carrying a gun that morning. In Utah, violence is virtually non-existent compared to Denver's northwest side, where he was born and raised. But old habits die hard. After the Boulder premiere, he'll be staying a few days in his old neighborhood. That always makes him tense, wary of the beefs and dramas that never die, no matter how long he's been away. So for this trip, he packed his guns.

A missing front license plate -- that's the explanation the trooper initially gave for pulling Montoya over. But that was before he peeked inside the Range Rover and saw the white leather seats, the top-of-the-line sound system, the DVD player and the mini-flat-screen TV installed in the dash and in the ceiling behind the headrests; over $5,000 worth of amps, turntables and other electronic equipment filled the back. And now he looks at Montoya in his baggy clothes, with his blasé posture and the baseball cap cocked just to the right.

Something doesn't add up.

He detains Montoya in the front seat of the cruiser. Even though all of the information on his registration and his Colorado driver's license holds up and a warrant check comes up clear, the officer is unconvinced. "So, that car is yours?" he asks. Did Montoya buy it? Where? How long ago? All these little questions add up to one big mystery for the trooper: How did a guy like this get his hands on such a pricy ride?

It's a fair question; Montoya asks himself the same thing just about every day. In a sport that attracts middle- to upper-class white suburbanites, Montoya, a Mexican-American from the inner city, is an anomaly. But not only is he the best snowboarder to come out of Denver, he's considered one of the best all-around riders in the world.

Set against his professional counterparts, Montoya immediately stands out -- both for his highly stylized skills and his urban, hip-hop credentials. The kid who once stole cars and sold drugs for a living now collects some of the most lucrative sponsorship deals in the sport, earning as much as $350,000 a year representing snowboard-related products, not including sample products themselves and the $60,000 he pulls in annually in contest prize money. But Montoya is an entrepreneur in his own right. He's designed outerwear and hard gear for his sponsors and is currently developing his own snowboard brand. He owns Federal skateboards, named after the street that runs through the heart of Denver's Latino community, and is partners in Biltrite, a company that manufactures snowboards. He's also the principal owner of two snowboarder hotels in California; dubbed "The Block," the concept has been featured on MTV and will soon expand to locations in Colorado, Europe and Japan (see story below).

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