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When it comes to snow on the Olympic Peninsula, you take what you can get.
Sometimes, that means a little extra effort.
Snowboarding friends Jack and Ted McColl, Brendon Gilles and Ryan Tucker are used to that, climbing up into powder-laden bowls of glistening white snow near Hurricane Ridge. Along with other assembled friends, they shovel and pack mounds of snow for a couple of hours, smooth and carve it to a picture-perfect jump that seems as if it would propel them onto another mountain range, if not another world.
In a sense, it does.
“It’s about how free you are — the creativity you can bring,” says Ted, a junior at Sequim High School.
The culture of snowboarding — replete with its transposed surfing slang and infusion of heavy metal and punk soundtracks — has inspired an entire subculture of amateur video makers and athletes.
This group of local riders is in the thick of that subculture, as they build their own jumps, record themselves and post to youtube.com, compete in various snowboard competitions across the state and have even drawn the eye of Lib Tech, a Carlsborg-based snowboard company with a bevy of sponsored riders.
Jack McColl, a six-year veteran of snowboarding, said he got hooked on snowboarding when his friends were doing it in middle school.
Now a 17-year-old high school senior, he’s taking online classes and spending his days snowboarding for several months in Colorado near Breckenridge and Keystone ski/snowboard areas.
His goal? To see if he can snowboard for a living.
“That’s everyone’s goal (in the crew),” Jack McColl says. “These next two seasons (are) going to determine how far we go. Ever since seventh grade I had plans to move to a mountain. I’ve been wanting to do this since middle school. I figured it’s the next step.”
Considering the uncertain availability of good snow at Hurricane Ridge, the McColl brothers and crew are more likely to make the three-hour-plus trip to Stevens Pass or beyond to get their rides in.
Two seasons ago, the McColls, Gilles and Tucker competed in events at Stevens called “rail jams,” drawing the attention of Lib Tech officials, who called them the “rail kids.”
That, and a connection with Jeff “Hendo” Henderson at Northwest Threads produced a symbiotic relationship: Lib Tech boards for the crew, promotion for the company.
“He’d seen us ride before,” Gilles says, “and went out on a limb and said, ‘Sure, let’s get these kids some boards.’”
Jack McColl filmed a six-minute-plus video dubbed “Lib or Die,” showing off various thrills and spills from adventures at Stevens Pass and Hurricane Ridge.
He then filmed and produced a four-minute clip called “Summer Olympics,” when the crew found small patches of snow near Obstruction Point, one about 150 yards long, and proceeded to work out a rail jam of their own.
“We learned a lot of new tricks that way,” Gilles said.
Though the jumps they build, called “kickers,” send them hurtling through space and dozens of yards down steep terrain, Ted McColl says he’s rarely been hurt.
Part of the reason for that is safety, as each of these snowboarders wears helmets. Secondly, they practice their moves on a trampoline the McColls purchased specifically for attempting and perfecting tricks.
“We definitely enjoy making these huge kickers with friends,” Jack McColl says.
“You kind of have your own style,” says Gilles, a 2009 Sequim High graduate and student at Peninsula College.
“It is fun to progress, to land something you haven’t landed before; pushing your limits is always fun,” says Gilles. “I like being with a good group of guys.”
Gilles, 21, says he’s looking at transferring to the University of Washington and considering a career in structural engineering — only if the snowboarding doesn’t pan out. Until then, he’ll continue to build kickers and get better at his passion: snowboarding.
“I’d love to (do it), but I don’t think it’d be a super realistic option for me,” Gilles says. “(But) it’s 100 percent my favorite pastime and hobby.”
Reach Michael Dashiell at firstname.lastname@example.org.