Soda Springs goes retro for Tom Sims
The sound of dozens of shovels scraping against ice and snow could be heard all around Soda Springs Mountain Resort during a sunny morning, March 23.
Legends of snowboarding, pros, a gold medalist, and dozens of youngsters and amateurs had gathered to recreate something special — an event harkening back to the early days of the sport.
Soda Springs is hallowed ground for snowboard halfpipe, having been home to the first competition 35 years ago, and last weekend the mountain honored those days by hosting the annual Tom Sims Retro Worlds.
“It’s a great event in honor of Tom Sims,” said Tom Collins, who’s been with the event for more than a decade. “It was amazing we got snow, it’s been the miracle March.”
Sims, a legendary snowboarder, helped usher in a new age of snowboarding, bringing halfpipe from its adolescence into an Olympic event. His Retro Worlds have been held at Soda Springs and Boreal Mountain Resort for the past 35 years.
Sims died in 2012 at the age of 61 due to complications from cardiac arrest.
“It was awesome,” said snowboarder and Revert Foundation founder Chris Roach on the event. “We get to honor where the sport comes from and I think that’s important to clear the way for a good, solid future.”
The weekend-long event began on Saturday with a slalom race featuring boards from 1989 and older as well as classes for new boards and children.
The following day’s halfpipe contest was unlike anything found in modern events. The pipe was dubbed “the stunt ditch” and featured jagged walls, little jumps, bumps, berms and anything else the builders could think of adding before the competition started up.
“It sounds good — a perfect wall,” said Roach on modern halfpipes. “But there’s something about having it kind of not perfect, and you’re having to deal with situations.”
The unconventional pipe didn’t stop riders from flipping, spinning and throwing down some old-school tricks, all while strapped to retro swallowtail boards. The two days of festivities also attracted pro athletes such as Olympic slopestyle gold medalist Red Gerard and others.
The Tom Sims Retro Worlds benefitted the Revert Foundation, which encourages youth development by sharing mountain and outdoor experiences.
“We help deserving kids and foster youth get up here and experience the mountains with snowboarding,” said Roach. “We should give everybody an opportunity to get up here and experience it.”
History at Soda Springs
Before the first halfpipe competition was ever held, a group of skateboarders were slowly bringing the sport and the West Coast style of riding to prominence.
“Snowboarding was the dream of skateboarders to go ride mountains like skateparks or surfing in powder,” said Andy Berendsen, a local legend and skater from the 1970s.
“Back in the ‘70s there were skateparks all over California, and they were the kind of skateparks where you had to pay money to be a member to go ride all day. Well, insurance rates went up too high, so they couldn’t afford to keep those parks open and they all closed.”
With the closure of the skateparks, Berendsen said skaters turned to the snow.
“A lot of those skateboarders, which a lot of them are right here today, myself included, went what are we going to do next? Then in ’76 through ’81, we’d see pictures of Tom Sims or Jake Burton riding snowboards, and advertising to go buy a snowboard, go riding,” said Berendsen.
“We were like, ‘Nah’, at first because we were skateboarding, but when the parks closed, that’s when a lot of people started snowboarding and that’s really what was the beginning of snowboarding on the West Coast.”
Berendsen said he and a handful of others would make trips to the Tahoe area, and stay with Mike Chantry, because he was “a real hub of information.” Chantry was another local snowboarding pioneer and skateboarder.
That information included knowledge of the hidden location of the Tahoe City Pipe.
Chantry would further expose the idea of snowboard halfpipe to the skateboard community in 1980, according to a 1996 article in TransWorld SNOWboarding, when he took Sims to the fabled pipe in Tahoe City. And soon the likes of Steve Caballero, Scott Foss, and Rob Roskopp began visiting the area.
By 1983 the sport was beginning to flourish and a rivalry exploded between East Coast and West Coast snowboarders, and their preferred style of riding.
“West Coast was all about freestyle, doing halfpipe riding, tricks and airs,” said Berendsen. “On the East Coast it was all about going fast and carving turns, so they had clashed for a lot of years.”
That year Sims, with the help of Chantry, organized the World Snowboarding Championships at Soda Springs, which included the first halfpipe contest. Members of Jake Burton’s East Coast team threatened to boycott the event because of the inclusion of halfpipe, but in the end Sims and his team got their way, forever changing the sport.
“They really developed the snowboarding industry on the West Coast,” said Berendsen. “That’s really what made it all happen.”
Justin Scacco is a reporter for the Truckee Sun. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.