Where are they now? Four powder pioneers who helped put snowboarding on the map at Lake Tahoe
Special to the Sun
Read more in Tahoe Magazine
This article is adapted from the winter 2016-17 edition of Tahoe Magazine, a joint publication of the Sierra Sun, North Lake Tahoe Bonanza, Tahoe Daily Tribune and Lake Tahoe Action. The magazine, which features loads of features and advertisements about all that the Tahoe winter has to offer, is on newsstands now across Lake Tahoe, Truckee and Reno. Go to bit.ly/2ig2Qys to read it online, and be sure to pick up a copy today!
TAHOE-TRUCKEE — These days, snowboarding is commonplace at “ski” resorts across the United States.
But a few decades ago, the world of skiing was taken back by this newfangled approach to the slopes, and many scoffed at the sport of snowboarding and the younger folks who preferred one piece of wood instead of two.
Tahoe was no different. But, thanks to a slew of change-embracing outdoor enthusiasts, snowboarding grew in popularity here in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Below is a look at what some of those folks are up to now.
A large framed poster in the Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe base lodge displays the 1987 winners of one of the first Slide Mountain snowboard competitions in Lake Tahoe.
Damian Sanders, Tom Burt and Jim Zellers proudly stand with their Avalanche boards in the photo. Still residing in Truckee/Lake Tahoe, Zellers and Burt are considered a couple of the original founding fathers of snowboarding.
Originally from the Bay Area, Zellers met fellow snowboarder Tom Burt going to college at University of Nevada, Reno, and they scheduled their classes to be able to ride at Slide Mountain six days a week. Hosting one of the first halfpipes in Tahoe, Slide Mountain started hosting snowboard-specific competitions and was supposedly featured on the first cover of a major snowboard magazine.
“Mt. Rose didn’t allow us to snowboard there, so we only rode Slide Mountain,” Zellers says about the two separate mountains before they were combined in 1987. “Slide Mountain and Donner Ski Ranch were the only two resorts that allowed snowboarding in Tahoe. We would go and get on the lifts at Alpine Meadows, and they would stop the chair and kick us off.”
To enter a Slide Mountain competition back in the day, the ski resort required that snowboarders pass a test to prove that you could get on and off the lift.
“It was such a steep drop from the top, like 40-50 feet,” Zellers said.
And who did the certification? Other snowboarders. One of the first snowboard companies, Avalanche, helped out with the certifications in an attempt to get more snow enthusiasts on their boards.
“Most ski resorts irrationally hated us,” Zellers adds. “Everyone was telling us that it was wrong and bad. I think that’s what caused us to act out.”
Zellers admits the big change in snowboarding didn’t come until the mid-1990s when the rest of the big resorts started to allow it.
“The equipment was good enough that snowboarding was rivaling skiing and the skiers started paying attention to what the snowboarders were doing,” he says.
Zellers thinks that the major turning point in snowboarding was in 1994 when there were hundreds of snowboarding-specific companies.
“Burton had the majority of the market; they ruled everything,” he said. “Skiers grabbed our boards and made fat skis. Then we got in a weird period where someone could walk into a shopping mall and walk out with a board, then make $100K a year riding professionally.”
Still residing in the Truckee/Tahoe area, Zellers mostly rides at Squaw/Alpine but likes to go into the backcountry.
“We’re still in the Roman sandal days of boots and bindings, but I have to give Jeremy Jones credit for how he’s progressed split boarding,” he says.
Where is Zellers now? “I’ve got a really cool company that works with other companies on culture building by getting them outside, traveling locally. It’s pretty darn fun,” he says.
Growing up in New England and snowboarding at Stowe Mountain in Vermont, Jeremy Jones was very in tune with what professionals were doing at Lake Tahoe. Witnessing a Juicy Fruit commercial with snowboarders ripping up the mountains in Lake Tahoe on TV had him hooked, and he started figuring out a way to make it over to the West Coast to be part of snowboarding’s evolution.
“I started paying rent in Tahoe when I was 16,” Jones says of his first home at Donner Lake. His friends, Adam Hostetter and John Percy (co-owner of Olympic Bike Shop in Tahoe City), moved to Lake Tahoe around the same time and they competed in snowboard competitions together.
“At my first pro snowboard competition I got third in the race and around 50th in the halfpipe,” Jones says. “So that was the last halfpipe competition I ever did; entry fees were expensive and I was always much stronger at racing.”
But Jones knew early on that he was an all-mountain rider, and says that racing was just a means to an end.
“From the get-go, I loved riding the whole mountain top to bottom, finding the secret stashes and tree runs,” Jones says. “When I wasn’t race training, I was freeriding the mountain.”
Soon enough, he realized that March and April were the prime months and started spending his spring seasons to ride the big mountains in Alaska.
“My trophy case is all of the mountains I rode,” Jones says about the 200-plus ski resorts he’s visited. “I realized early on that I wanted to snowboard the best places in the best conditions. I saw guys riding six days a week and I wanted to do that.”
Back in the day, Jones saw that the Tahoe snowboard competitions were bringing out all of the best guys, so he knew that’s where he needed to be.
“Donner Ski Ranch for sure opened their arms to snowboarding, which was very apparent when I got here in 1991-92,” Jones says.
However, he added that most all of the resorts allowed snowboarding in the early ‘90s and that you could find more snowboarders riding Squaw Valley than skiers.
“I met Tom Burt, Jim Zellers and the Hatchett brothers in the KT-22 lift line,” he said. Jones says that the early guys really laid the groundwork for the progression of snowboarding. “My heroes are now my friends,” Jones adds.
“I was really a second generation snowboarder,” says Jones. But for all of the places a professional snowboarder could live, Jones chose to stay in Lake Tahoe.
Where is he now? Still residing in Truckee, Jeremy Jones runs a snowboard company called Jones Snowboards and acts as executive director for the nonprofit environmental organization Protect Our Winters.
Once called the Queen of Extreme, 63-year-old South Lake Tahoe resident Donna Vano began her career in Park City, Utah, skiing moguls and dropping off cliffs in the winter and cross-training by rollerblading in the summertime.
But then she moved to South Lake Tahoe and got a license in selling timeshares with Ridge Tahoe, where she made most of her money.
“I wore my one-piece race suit under my business suit and skied Heavenly on all of my breaks,” Vano said. “I didn’t feel the pressure and stress that other salespeople did because I was out skiing all of the time, so I would always come back to the office in a great mood.”
Although the money was nice, her heart was clearly in mogul skiing so she started doing it fulltime. But in the mid-1990s, when she blew her ACL and then subsequently broke her tibia/fibula, she decided to change sports altogether.
“Breaking my leg and blowing my ACL was the best thing to happen to me,” Vano said, since it opened up the doors to her snowboarding/skateboarding career.
Riding a Bun Buster skateboard in the early years before Tony Hawk hooked her up with a Birdhouse deck, Vano calls Hawk one of her best friends.
“(Hawk and pro snowboarder Tara Dakides) were always so supportive and wonderful; I can’t say enough for everything they’ve done for me,” she said.
In 1991, Vano began snowboarding in the USASA competitions that she later started running in South Lake Tahoe. Although there were only 6-10 women competing in her division, she mostly remembers the young kids who later turned Olympians, like the Teters, Elena Hight, Maddie Bowman and Jamie Anderson, and even Shaun White.
“I picked Jamie up every day and took her to the mountain. She wanted to ride like her best friend Tara Dakides,” Vano said. “I would stay on it with her; we would hike rails and I would give her little pointers that would help my progression as well.”
“When Shaun White was a little kid, he begged me to talk to his parents to let him snowboard,” says Vano.
She helped convince his parents that snowboarding was easier than skateboarding. White later went on to dominate both sports.
After getting into snowboarding, Vano said she would just go into the backcountry because most resorts didn’t allow it. She thinks that the turning point for snowboarding was when ski resorts began building terrain parks.
“Tahoe gives such a wonderful opportunity with its amazing resorts and Woodward,” says Vano.
Vano currently holds three Guinness World Records for:
being the oldest female snowboarder competing in Superpipe in pro tours.
holding the most USASA gold medals in all five disciplines of snowboarding; and
being the oldest inline vert skater.
And even at 63 years old, there is no indication of her slowing down.
“I’m going to shred ‘til I’m dead,” she says.
Where is she now? Vano still skates on the former X-Games vert pipe she keeps in her backyard (when it’s functional) and you can easily find her shredding the slopes of Sierra-at-Tahoe in the winter. She just won a California Games snowboard competition last winter and recently starred in a YouTube video with Suzanne Somers on aging well.
Growing up in Fair Oaks, California, only a couple of hours away from Lake Tahoe, Tina Basich’s mom found a snowboard in a local ski shop and suggested that Tina and her younger brother Michael take it out.
“Our parents encouraged us to follow our hearts,” Tina Basich said. “We hung out with artist/skateboard kids and were going up to Tahoe all the time and our group just grew and grew.”
“We rented a 140cm Burton Elite and took it to Soda Springs,” she added.
Since they were all Sacramento skateboard kids, they took to the sport immediately and began going up to Donner Ski Ranch more often, one of the only ski resorts that allowed snowboarding in 1988.
Snowboarding was so rare at the time that whenever they saw other snowboarders, they banded together. She said that the group never really tried to ride other ski resorts because they would refuse to sell them a lift ticket.
“I think Squaw Valley opened its lifts to snowboarders one day a week at that time,” Basich recalls.
Graduating high school with a scholarship to art school, Basich coincidently started picking up snowboard sponsors. So unlike most university students, she rode all winter at Donner Ski Ranch and went to art school in the summers.
Basich started competed in local events against other women like Bonnie Zellers, Heather Mills and Amy Roberts before branching out.
She co-founded Boarding for Breast Cancer (B4BC) in 1996, won the 1998 X-Games by landing the first 720 in competition, and then traveled the globe.
“I traveled to Japan, Europe, everywhere worldwide,” Basich says.
Where is she now? Residing in Nevada City, Basich is still snowboarding with her 9-year-old daughter Addison Haller.
“We go up to the bunny runs at Sugar Bowl because it’s close and they support B4BC, so I feel connected there,” she adds.
She will also be featured in an all-women snowboard flick to be released this winter called “Full Moon.”
“I feel fortunate to be a sponsored snowboarder because it’s an expensive sport,” she said. “I’m so thankful to be a part of snowboarding when it was; I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Norm Sayler (former owner of Donner Ski Ranch) was so kind to allow snowboarders there.
“That whole scene wouldn’t have happened without him.”
Kayla Anderson is an Incline Village-based freelance writer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.