WORDS: Erin English
Notes of a surprisingly pretty and on-key version of the national anthem wafted down Crested Butte Mountain Resort's Headwall on Sunday afternoon, as onlookers serenaded a competitor dressed in stars and stripes, waving a flag decorated with marijuana leaves.
The man, who goes by the moniker Max Power, was taking part in Crested Butte's 9th Annual Snowblade Extremes on Sunday. Costumed and mustachioed snowbladers barrel rolled, boogied and otherwise crashed their way down the Headwall in the unofficial competition. Participants are judged on line choice, air, mustache intensity, costume, and overall "bladeness." Power weaved his way down the mountain, making a few attempts at air on his blades and taking an epic crash three quarters of the way to the bottom. In the process he lost his grip on the flag.
"He let the flag touch the ground!" gasped a spectator, apparently appalled at the lack of respect for cannabis nation. Power finished his run with dignity but looked up at the mountain with regret. "I was going for a triple misty flip..." He trailed off, his eyes tracking on the next competitor barreling down the Headwall.
This year, fourteen participants showed up for the Snowblade Extremes, an event started nine years ago by brothers Eric and Vance Schumacher and their buddy Adam Westlake. The three have a passion for snowblades like no one else in this town. Blades are quite scarce in Crested Butte, save for a few pairs at the rental shops, but these friends are on the look out for gear year-round--haggling at yard sales and even dumpster diving to add to their growing collection. The Snowblade Extremes started randomly, an idea blurted out one day by Westlake while he and Vance were skiing together. It was never intended to be more than a one or two time thing, but Vance said the competitors simply "keep coming back." In other snowblade news, Sunday was also the Fourth Annual Pain McShlonkey Classic at Squaw Valley, California, where snowbladers and snowlerboarders clawed and shredded their way down the Chinese Downhill and then showed off grace and finesse in the Snowblade Ballet.
Sunday's group at Crested Butte included a mix of veterans and newbies, including Crested Butte's newly crowned "King of Soul" from the town's legendary Soul Train dance competition two nights before, a young woman who had only been on regular skis (let alone snowblades) for two weeks before the event, and two guys dressed in full hockey gear.
A beer-swilling crowd gathered at the bottom of the venue, and yelled words of encouragement as each competitor approached the Headwall's handrail, assessing opportunities for air: "Huck your meat!" they called out good naturedly. "Send it!"
One by one, men and women displayed creativity and finesse on their blades, while never looking too polished. In fact, the Snowblade Extremes strictly forbid any form of practice on the day of the event, or anytime during the year for that matter. The venue is kept top secret until the morning of the comp to deter cheaters, as practicing is grounds for disqualification and "public ridicule." It's one of the many rules, along with not being blatantly drunk (although a minor buzz is assumed).
Later on, the group reconvened at a base area bar for awards. The brothers distributed nonsensical prizes to each participant, including shot glasses, a lab specimen cup, and a dated ladies handbag containing an expired First Response pregnancy test. In past years they have distributed old cassette tapes, broken bindings, and moldy vegetables.
"Everyone goes home with something," says Eric Schumacher, with unabashed pride about the junk he has assembled year after year.
Slightly more appealing awards were bestowed upon the three top finalists, including sexy swimwear from longtime event sponsor Spedini. It was a surprise to no one that four-time winner Ben Blackwood would hold onto his championship belt, after he wowed the judges with pillow drops, a daffy, and a front flip at the bottom of the run.
"I think what clinched it was the cartwheel at the top of the handrail. It was extremely challenging and I stomped it," Blackwood said. "I've never bladed as hard as that."
As the brief ceremony wrapped up, a guy in a onesie rocking a thin mustache yelled, "Who wants to go downtown and get drunk?"
A plan was hatched to jump on the town bus and hit the watering holes on Elk Ave. Someone threw out a dare: whoever took off their snowblades first was obligated to buy the whole group a round of shots. Everyone was game.
And so with a renewed sense of purpose after a long afternoon of blading, the motley crew--some with Sharpied mustaches and most with a solid buzz--awkwardly clomped through the bar and headed out to refuel. The comp was far from over.