words: Mary Walsh
photos: Mike Yoshida and Peter Morning

There aren’t many times within snowboarding when things are black and white, and in no arena is this more the case than in contests. Most seasoned snowboard competitors are more than familiar with the gray-area that defines contest outcomes. Scoring is dependent on a variety of factors, trick difficulty, amplitude, style, many of which fall into a subjective zone. All of this is accepted protocol in snowboarding and it is this that made Saturday’s West Coast Invitational at Mammoth Mountain an exciting competitive anomaly.

This year’s incarnation of the iconic end-of-season contest at Mammoth Mountain’s annual WCI weekend was the Game of S.N.O.W. World Championships. While S.N.O.W. is a staple at resorts and in backyard parks all over, the model of rider verses rider, trick for trick, hadn’t been brought to the main stage of snowboarding before and what went down in front of the Main Baselodge was a first that will undoubtedly continue to grow in the coming years.

To start with, the list of riders that had travelled to Mammoth Lakes for this event was, to say the very least, heavy. Sixteen pros whose collective litany of video parts and competitive accolades easily make them some of snowboarding’s elite talent, gathered at the Underground on Friday night to draw names and create the bracket for round one. Louif Paradis, Ethan Deiss, Will Lavigne, Brandon Hobush, Johnny Lazzareschi, Bode Merrill, Frank April, Dylan Thompson, Jonah Owen, Zak Hale, Spencer Schubert, Garrett Warnick, Dylan Alito, Joe Sexton, Jake Kuzyk, and Jaeger Bailey. Any kid that replays their favorite video parts over and over would have been stoked to witness this crew all together. And the riders were stoked, too. The camaraderie and level of respect that these guys have for one another was evident at the preparty, where, as drinks were passed around and the brackets were set up, friendly fire was exchanged between would-be competitors.

Come Saturday, the setup was simple, but ideal for the game: two sets of identical rails, so that two matches could go on simultaneously. On each rider’s right, a stock down rail, on rider’s left, a down-flat-down. As would be expected with this collections of snowboarders, there was no warm up period. Round 1, consisting of eight duels, saw immediate hammers, and it was a toss up who would advance through from each match. None of the riders went down easily. Will Lavigne fell victim to Joe Sexton’s proper tricks. Jaeger Bailey gave Big Lou four letters. Lazz beat Hobush, and Bode beat Frank. Garrett Warnick was on fire and took down Zak Hale. Dylan Alito bested Ethan Deiss. Schubert challenged Kuzyk’s aptitude for swivels, Tinas, and zeaches, in addition to more standard maneuvers, but fell to Jake in the end. In on of the most heated match ups of the whole day, friends Jonah Owen and Dylan Thompson went trick for trick for over 40 minutes, until Dylan emerged from the fray to advance to the next round.

As the rounds continued, the level of tricks that continued to go down was pretty unparalleled. Individual rider’s go-to hammers were put down by their competitors, often first try. The spectating was insane. Two sleds carried the dudes up to the drop in for each run, so the momentum was fast. Tricks were called, attempts were made, letters were given out. Repeat.

Round 2 saw Alito take down Jaeger and Jake fall to Johnny. Dylan Thompson beat Joe Sexton. At this point, after so much riding, endurance was coming into play as much as trick selection. Bode and Garrett went toe to toe for the longest match up of the day. Neither man had received even one letter half an hour in. In the end, after both proper tricks and technical ridiculousness (like a boardslide 50-50 boardslide 50-50 frontside 180 out on the down rail), the match timed out and Garrett advanced with one letter to Bode’s three.

Four riders headed into the simultaneous semi-finals. Dylan Alito and Garrett Warnick took one side and Dylan Thompson and Johnny Lazz took the other. Ultimately, Alito and Lazz rode away victorious, and before they even had time to celebrate their victories, the two friends were standing at the top, dropping in against one another.

Johnny and Dylan were well-matched, going back and forth on the offensive. Toward the end of the match, both guys kept throwing tech tricks, but it was a cab hardway 360 to switch 50-50 to switch bs 180 put down by Lazz that Dylan wasn’t able to land in his final two tries. Johnny Lazz walked away $10,000 richer and with a statement heavyweight belt to add to his ensemble.

Congratulations to Johnny and a huge thank you to all of the riders that competed in the first annual Game of S.N.O.W. World Championships. Check out the photos and the video, which tell the best story of the contest and if you missed this one, make sure to get to Mammoth next year. There’s no other place you can see this many mental tricks go down in a single day. Thanks to Mammoth and the Unbound crew, Monster, Oakley, Mophie, and Beats by Dre, ThirtyTwo, Etnies, Neff, Giro, and Quiksilver for making this event happen.