In the family: Couple help run snowboard association
The Mertl family home sits inconspicuously concealed in the hills above Donner Lake, but it looms large in the world of snowboarding.
Out of offices in their Truckee homestead, Fred Mertl, a.k.a. “Freddog,” and his wife Karen head different sections of the United States of America Snowboard Association, a non-profit organization and the largest amateur grassroots snowboarding organization in the United States.
Fred is director of the North Tahoe Series, one of 36 series that currently exist in the United States. Along with Executive Director Tom Collins, who also has an office in his Truckee home, Karen helps run the national office as the executive assistant and National Championship Coordinator.
The Mertls are originals when it comes to the sport of snowboarding.
“I started on a banana board out at Prosser Lake about 22 years ago,” Fred said. “I was always a skier, but I’ve been involved in serious snowboarding for about 11 or 12 years.”
Karen used to compete with Fred in snowboarding races, and that is how they met Don Bostick.
Bostick, a friend of the Mertls, started the North Tahoe Series in the early ’90s. As he became busy with other projects, Bostick passed the torch to Fred and Karen in 1997.
“Don and his wife got too busy with ESPN and the X-Games, and they gave the series to us six years ago,” Karen said. “I then got involved in the head office putting on the championship.”
The USASA was originally started in 1988 in Southern California by Chuck Allen, who at the time was known mostly for his surfing.
“He started with about $200 and no sponsorship,” Fred said. “Here we are in 2003 with 36 series.”
The North Tahoe series is the oldest on the West Coast. With more than 250 members, from all over California and Nevada, it is one of the largest series in the country.
The first event was held last weekend at the Boreal Mountain Playground. After each event, the awards ceremony is followed by a product raffle for all competitors.
The North Tahoe Series holds 13 events each winter season, culminating with a national championship, which is known as the world’s largest snowboard event, Fred said. Karen is involved in most of the organization of it.
It is comprised of 25 events in five days and more than 1,200 competing riders. The March 2004 championship will be held at Angel Fire Resort in New Mexico, a resort community near Taos.
Each year the North Tahoe Series sends about 20 of its best riders to the USASA National Championships, Fred said.
The USASA holds more than 400 local and regional grassroots snowboarding events nationwide at more than 200 resorts in the United States.
With an annual membership base of over 4,000 boarders from the ages of 5 to 70 years old in all abilities, the groups are broken down into 14 categories based on age. A special open class designation allows the most confident riders to compete against riders from any age group.
The North Tahoe Series organizes boardercross, slopestyle, halfpipe and alpine events for men, women, boys and girls, averaging 120 competitors per event day.
North Tahoe’s judges and technical supervisors are trained and certified on how to run safe, fair and fun events.
Fred and Karen’s son Randy Mertl, also an avid snowboarder, is the head judge locally and certified by the Swiss government International Judging Commission at a national and regional basis. He is Fred’s technical supervisor, setting the courses in the North Tahoe Series.
Randy is only 20 years old and also lives in the Mertl household. He has already been judging for about five years.
“He’s one of the youngest judges in the world,” Karen said.
In a couple years, Randy will take over Fred’s position as director of the North Tahoe Series.
“You have to keep new blood,” Fred said. “You can’t let these old guys keep on it. Let these new guys come in and make whatever changes they think are needed.”
All sponsorships enable the North Tahoe Series and staff to continue to promote the sport and the riders.
Annually, USASA and its sponsors donate over $15,000 to riders of all ages for scholarships. Plus, winning in nationals can be a springboard for riders to bigger sponsorships and professional deals.
Fred and Karen said that competitive skiing is also welcomed in the USASA, but it is only split into two groups: 15 and under, and 16 and over.
Fred is also an IJC judge and a board of director for the World Snowboarding Federation. He has definitely made his best effort to help spread his passion for snowboarding around the world. He is currently trying to organize a grassroots snowboarding organization in Europe similar to USASA.
“I’m probably one of the most traveled people in Truckee,” Fred said. “I probably fly around 100,000 miles a year. I really enjoy working in the WSF because I meet people from Russia, Japan, Korea, Britain and Germany.”
The full 2003-04 season schedule for the North Tahoe USASA is online at
http://www.usasa.org “Competition Regions-North Tahoe.”
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