words: Mary Walsh
photos: Ryan “Huggy” Hughes, T. Bird, Mary Walsh, Mark Clavin, and E-Stone
captions: Pat Bridges, Eamon Rubira, and T. Bird
Ten years ago, a few dozen of snowboarding's most promising small-statured savants gathered at Northstar for a week-long photo and video shoot in a large-scale park. By this time, Superpark had been established as an annual gathering of snowboarding's elite and this Lake Tahoe spring session was the first opportunity for the rising generation to take to the hill en masse to showcase their collective and quickly escalating talent. The snowboarders who strapped in at the original iteration of The Launch have since become influencers in their own right, heirs apparent to magazine spreads, contest podiums, Olympic medals and video part enders, individuals like Sage Kotsenburg, Zak Hale, Sam Taxwood, Garrett "Worm" Warnick, Jamie Anderson, Matt Ladley, Kyle Mack, Dylan Alito, Greg Bretz, Trevor Jacob, and Kaitlyn Farrington. Over the past decade, The Launch has cemented itself as the de facto session for the under-18 set to send . And while it may be, in essence, the little brother to the season finale that is Superpark, there is nothing at all diminutive about The Launch. The jumps are big, the rails are consequential, the sunset hip sessions are the stuff of legends, and every up and comer that straps in during the four-day event is testimony to the fact that age has little to do with talent and style.
In the years that have followed that first-ever Launch, the roster of riders that have left their mark at the Northstar, Keystone, Park City, Bear, Seven Springs, and Mammoth volumes of the event has grown to include riders like Sebastien Toutant, Forest Bailey, Stale Sandbech, Markus Kleveland, Ben Ferguson, Hans and Nils Mindnich, Mark McMorris, Jaeger Bailey, Erik Leon, Jesse Paul, Johnny Lazzareschi, Blake Paul, Griffin Siebert, Spencer Schubert, and more, each individual leaving an impression beyond the lines left in the snow. And as one set of rising riders has graduated, the next generation continues to bolster the ranks with fine tuned boarding and amplified style.
So, on March 14th, as the mercury creeped steadily past 60 degrees in the San Bernadino Mountains, The Launch presented by Oakley returned to Southern California for its first foray into double digits. Nearly 200 rookie riders showed up at 9am, eager to fire up the session in the spring snow. The Snow Summit/Bear Mountain Park Crew, led by Ryan Wormsbecker mitigated the high temps with a stock of salt, ensuring that from take off to touch down, open to close, the Launch crew had plenty of speed to send it deep into the California blue sky. And as soon as the ropes dropped at 10am, that's exactly what this pack of park phenoms did. Every year, there's an palpable lack of warm up laps at The Launch, due to the crew's endless energy and voracious tendency to set lines through the set up in order to squeeze as much snowboarding into each day as possible. To this end, the The Launch 2017 build, rife with multi-option transition, facilitates the diverse and dynamic style of the collection of riders. Situated on Snow Summit's Ego Trip, a trail that has been home in the past to Ms Superpark, the Vans Triple Crown, and other seminal events of the early aughts, The Launch Park starts off with a quick, three-hit rhythm section up top, funneling riders into zone filled with both a frontside hip and the backside Popperazi hip, a pair of transferable cheese wedges coined Gunslinger Meets Des-slinger, a massive double roller, and multiple rails, including the California flag Freedom Rail and the Super Kink near the top. Lower down on the trail sits M&M, a massive gap transfer with hips cut into either side, and below that is yet another transferable option, side-by-side quarters with a gap, American flag rail and multiple levels of options to be explored. The diligent diggers of this Southern California resort built a very proper park for the tenth anniversary of The Launch.
The first day of The Launch is an opportunity for the crew to get their bearings in the park, something that comes fairly easily to this talented posse. From the beginning of the morning, Gunslinger Meets Des-slinger was going off. Gabe Ferguson, veteran air-aware Launch attendee and Benny Milam, whose jump game has been on fire this season, wasted no time sending it off the dual take offs. Devin Tubbs and Matt Williams floated doubles off either side, while Brock Crouch initiated threw down on the transfer. Reid Smith, another rail savant whose pop prowess is on point, threw a big Michalchuk on the frontside hip and Southern Vermonter Storm Rowe was mailing it off the backside hip.
The M&M transfer jump started firing mid-day when Benny casually threw a double backie tuck knee over the top of the rider's left side. Milo Malkoski and Justin Phipps, two more seasoned Launch riders, were lofting airs over the same side. Tranny finders abounded on the inner walls of the gap and the frontside hip side was a favorite hit.
The rail section saw the beginning of a week that's sure to be full of heavy mettle. Drayden Gardner was decimating the Freedom rail up top and Valentino Guseli, Miles Fallon and Phipps set their sights on the flag rail at the bottom of the park. Similarly, Brock, Winkel, and Jared Ellston kicked off the first go's on the bottom QP's.
Late in the afternoon, while the California sun was still high in the sky, the M&M transfer was opened up by Gabe, Miles, Storm, Brock and Luke. One of the hallmarks of The Launch is an endless supply of send until the last moment the park is closed and the first day of the week set the bar high with the boys shutting down the jump just as the park closed for the day. The style was heavy in the mountain air as the crew went left-to-right for a bevy of shutters (ie. Check out the photos and stay tuned for the The Launch presented by Oakley Day 1 video dropping on Thursday). Miles Fallon, who, at only fifteen-years-old already has a stockpile of creative tricks stomped a massive one-footer over the transfer and called it a day, specifically only the first day of four, with plenty more action to come from Miles and the entire crew here at Snow Summit for The Launch presented by Oakley.
Stay tuned to Snowboarder.com, @snowboardermag and #TheLaunch2017 for daily photo and video updates from The Launch 2017 presented by Oakley.