Some of the most fierce snowboarding competitors in the world crowded around the starting gates Thursday morning at the top of the Jeep King of the Mountain boardercross course at Squaw Valley.
Taking their first training laps, racers whipped down and around the course, which was resurrected on the face of Siberia over the previous three days and nights.
Most of their runs looked solid, but a few athletes spun out on the fast and sharp turns. The falls didn’t matter Thursday, but they will this weekend when the athletes have their eyes on the podium.
And between today and Sunday, thousands of people will have their eyes on Squaw Valley and Lake Tahoe when the Jeep King of the Mountain tour and 48Straight, known as “the loudest show on snow,” are fully underway. The event will be nationally televised on CBS and event coordinators expect the four-day extravaganza to sell out.
Incorporating music, fashion and culture into the snowboarding and skiing competition, 48Straight aims to expose the mountain lifestyle and culture to a diverse array of people, said Troy Ballard, who oversees the event’s branding and marketing.
“We’re actually trying to celebrate what you guys are and know and love,” Ballard said. “Hopefully we’ll be more and more valuable to [Tahoe] as we bring more people to Squaw Valley.”
Ballard said marketing efforts have drenched countless publications and Web sites in both the Tahoe area and the San Francisco region. They also spread the word nationally through the likes of Outside magazine, Snowboarding magazine and CBS sports, among other media venues.
“[The televised coverage] is something that can really leverage Squaw on that hour of airtime,” said Savannah Cowley, Squaw Valley spokesperson. “Because it is such a photogenic mountain that really loves the camera.”
Beyond Squaw’s reputation as an iconic world-class resort, Ballard said the event’s founders chose Squaw Valley for personal reasons. Founder Kipp Nelson spent his teenage years skiing at Squaw and attending Squaw Valley Academy.
“Squaw Valley is the birthplace of [Kipp Nelson’s] passion for the mountain lifestyle,” Ballard said.
Last year, Nelson brought the Honda Ski Tour to Squaw. This year, the ski tour combined with the Jeep King of the Mountain Tour to create 48straight.
Squaw is enthusiastic about hosting the event, Cowley said.
“You see what the Xgames have done for Aspen, and you definitely jump at the opportunity to have that kind of world-class event come to your mountain,” she said.
But 48Straight isn’t the only major ski and snowboard event attracted to Tahoe’s appeal. Sugar Bowl Ski Resort usually hosts the Xgames qualifiers, though they were canceled this year. And for its fourth year in a row, Northstar will host the Vans Tahoe Cup later this month.
“It’s just the level of the destination,” said Justin Broglio, general manager of Snowbomb, which hosts the Sick and Twisted Tour. “48Straight has to come somewhere where it’s not just a ski resort. It’s a community. It’s a town. It’s people involved in every aspect of the lifestyle here.”
And for what Tahoe gives to the 48Straight event, it will also benefit.
“There are so many people in this country that think of California as Disneyland and beaches. They just don’t ever think about it as mountains,” said Dave Wilderotter, Tahoe City business owner and president of the Tahoe City Downtown Association board. “[48Straight] is huge. It’s huge for our recognition.”
The event will bring people into the area who will spend money at local businesses, Wilderotter said. But the competition also gives locals an opportunity to get out and participate.
“It can really spur you from jumpin’ off the couch,” Wilderotter said, noting that he hopes to come out to watch, although the weekend’s business might keep him in his ski shop.