Chas Guldemond admits that the first time he stood atop a big air ramp, he was nervous.
“I was definitely scared of heights and just nervous about how high I was in the air,” he said. “I was scared that I was going to fall down. That was really nerve-racking. But I’ve gotten really used to this event.”
Now 29 and one of the veterans of the professional snowboarding world, Guldemond retains a youthful enthusiasm for his sport, and when he’s atop a ramp these days, he soaks it all in — the atmosphere, the crowd, the risk — and takes the plunge.
“Now it’s more of a focus on staying in the moment and enjoying the crowd and the whole experience as opposed to being nervous about a jump or the scenario,” he said.
Guldemond, who grew up in Laconia, N.H., but now lives in Nevada, was on the US snowboard team at the Sochi Olympics in 2014, and was a gold medalist at the X Games in Tignes, France, in 2011. He is scheduled to compete in Big Air at Fenway Park, where skiers and snowboarders will perform tricks off a jump towering 140 feet — some 7 feet above the light fixtures on top of the Green Monster.
“It’s an amazing experience,” said Guldemond. “The other day, I made finals at the Dew Tour for, like, the 10th year in a row or something like that, and it’s pretty amazing to still be staying at the top of this sport.”
Guldemond prides himself on his old-school approach to snowboarding.
“I’m a true-and-true snowboarder,” he said. “I have no acrobatic background, no trampoline background, no gymnastics background. It was all learned on the mountain on my board, so that sets my generation apart from the generation that you’ll see at [Fenway] because I’m the oldest guy in the event.
“Not that I’m old or anything, but kids nowadays have access to trampolines, foam pits, air bags, all that stuff, and when I grew up, there was barely a rail to slide on the mountain, nor were there jumps, so it’s just a change of the times.”
Here’s a breakdown of what big air is all about.
“It’s definitely, like, a rush,” said Guldemond. “Like, the first time hitting the jump and trying it out, it’s a definite rush because you don’t know, like, how far you are going to go down the landing, if you’re going to make it, if you are not going to make it. So that first go is always the most fun because there’s so much pressure and consequence as well. That’s what makes that fun.”
In the air
“When I’m in the air, I’m thinking about making sure that my style is on point and I’m executing my tricks correctly,” Guldemond said.
“The landings are probably the second-hardest part,” said Guldemond. “The first-hardest part is the takeoff — that is the most technical part of a trick — and then it’s kind of a flow when you’re in the air. Then the landing is really difficult; you know, the bigger the trick, the harder it is to land and go straight down the landing ramp.
“So that’s the thing that you have to nail the most is the landing because you’ve got to make it look good and put down a solid trip for the judges and the crowd.”
What can go wrong?
“Anything could go wrong,” he said. “It’s a dangerous sport. You could die snowboarding, but when you’re as used to it as we are, it’s really just a fun experience and it’s your job, so you have to be good at it.
“If you have a really slow board, you might not make the landing, or if you don’t have strong legs, you might get G-ed out by the jump, but I don’t really think about that kind of stuff, because it’s not too realistic for the guys that are doing this event.
“All year round you’re training to be the best snowboarder you can be.
“ You don’t really think about the consequences, but in the back of your mind, you always know that they are there.”
The point is not to just hit a big jump and fly as far as you can. Tricks are what separates riders in the eyes of the judges, and all tricks are a combination of five concepts.
Rotation: Measured in degrees, in increments of 180 (a half-spin), rotation is a major part of a rider’s score. Yuki Kadono won the Air + Style event in Los Angeles with a jump that featured 1,620 degrees of rotation — 4.5 spins.
Direction of rotation: Snowboarders initiate their rotation frontside or backside, which simply means they begin spinning toward the side of the board where their toes are (frontside) or the heel side.
Inverts: Riders will add additional acrobatics to their tricks by performing flips or “corks” (short for “corkscrew”) to increase the level of difficulty.
Grabs: Any action in which the rider grabs hold of the equipment. For example, a “method” grab is when a snowboarder bends his knees and raises the board behind his back, then reaches back and clutches the edge. A “tail grab” is when the rider uses his trailing hand to grab the trailing edge of the board.
Stance: There are two stances: regular (left foot forward) and goofy (right foot forward). A “switch” trick is one in which the rider either jumps or lands using the stance they do not normally use, or their “natural” stance. It’s kind of like the difference between being lefthanded and righthanded.
Judges score riders on a 100-point scale based on difficulty, amplitude, execution, and landing. Deductions are made for minor faults such as hand dragging to major faults such as not landing on the board/skis.
Judges consult with riders to learn about the tricks they will be attempting, and also must know what a rider’s natural stance is.