April 21, 2021 / Comments (73)

Who’s Afraid of Change in The Cascade Range?

By Shralper McShredenstein

Like most mornings in 1988, a freight train roars past my mom’s trailer in Aloha at 3:29 AM, horns blasting for the 185th Ave crossing, even louder than the rain hammering on our tin roof. I throw back the covers with all the energy of a frothing 15-year-old. I’m on a mission to Mt. Hood to ride the kind of powder I see in Transworld Snowboarding. 

Mom turns the heater off at night to save money we don’t have, so I slept in my thermals. I pull on oversized logging pants, Sorel boots, a quilted flannel, hunting beanie, and my prized Rebel Skates hoodie. As the freight cars clickety-clack away, I stuff duct-taped ski gloves and gas station sunglasses in my sweatshirt pocket, and sneak out my bedroom window with my board under my arm. Mom manages a school cafeteria by day and a shelter for victims of domestic abuse by night. Waking her at any hour is tantamount to murder. As for snowboarding, we emigrated from Scotland’s desolate North Coast seven years prior. She has no point of reference for my obsession and—like anything else she can’t begin to afford—little interest in gaining one.

Only crosstown buses run at this hour, so I slip through a hole in the fence and hurry east down the tracks. Because snowboard boots aren’t really a thing yet, I’ve jammed Goodwill ski-boot liners into my Sorels and sanded the heels down in order to ride flat. While these modifications greatly improve the hairball-handling of sketchy-ass ‘80s snowboards, they do litte to enhance one’s ability to walk rainy railroad ties in the dark.

Three miles and 45 plodding minutes later, I reach TV Highway and Bus 57 splashes up out of the dark. I jangle 85¢ into the coin box and huddle above the heater. The articulated coach is empty, and I’m spared the usual ignorance and curiosity: Is that a monoboard? Did you see James Bond ‘boarding in “View to Kill?” Can you stop or turn? Why don’t you ski? Isn’t snowboarding just for skater-queers?

It’s close to 5:45 when the bus groans to a stop at Pioneer Square. I hurry out and wait for the MAX, clutching my board to my chest. I’ve washed too many dishes to get my hands on this stick and I’m all too aware of who’s still awake at this desperate hour. The timing is perfect though, and in minutes I’m aboard a train whizzing across the Willamette.

Dawn is breaking when the doors open at the end of the line in Gresham. I hustle a few blocks over to Burnside, stick out my thumb, and start walking east through the sea of strip malls. And by 7:30 I’m posted up on the edge of town where mountain-bound drivers can see me.

“Faggot snowboarder!” a guy screams from a passing Subaru with skis clamped to the roof-rack. I don’t wanna fight but I flip him the finger and stand proud. Damn right I’m a snowboarder. But the Sub’ keeps going and I thumb it for another 15 rainy minutes before a big red Chevy 4X4 stops, exhaust burbling as traffic hisses by. A scraggly dude in his twenties with a dirty blonde mullet leans out the passenger window, a cigarette drooping under his wispy mustache, “Hey skate-puke!” he grins, his tone both taunting and beckoning. “We’re going to Meadows if you’re man enough to ride in back?”

I glance in the bed and see discarded beer cans, three sets of skis, a cooler, and their boot-bags. Mötley Crüe’s “Shout at The Devil” pumps from the cab, both passengers look hungover, and the driver’s sporting ski-goggles despite the wet, grey morning.

“Fuck yeah!” I yell, throwing up the horned hand. I toss my board in and sit back against the cab. As sketchy as an open pickup bed might be, it’ll still beat the church group who preached for my lost snowboarder-soul all the way to T-Line a few weeks prior.

By the time we hit Rhody, I’m thinking I’ve made the right choice. Sure, they’re drinking beers and sharing key-bumps as we blaze up the highway. But I know pro-level partiers when I see them. And it’s dry behind the cab and the rain’s turned to heavy snow. There’s gotta be two feet of new—more than I’ve ever ridden—weighing down the firs flashing past the truck, and I’m shivering with excitement despite the mufflers under the bed warming my soggy hide. Just before Silent Rock I respectfully pull off my hat and hope the mountain isn’t offended by Vince Neil at full volume.

And that’s when the rear slider opens and the mulletheaded passenger tosses a handful of empty Weinhard cans into the bed. “Time to skate or die, pussy!” he jeers, as the driver stands on the fuel. The back wheels break traction immediately and the truck drifts nauseatingly into the blizzard.

We’re doing 70 as we hit Gov’y a few minutes later and I’m convinced these assholes are trying to kill me. The truck skitters carelessly through traffic, the driver throwing the wheel from side to side in an attempt to bounce me around the bed as uproarious laughter echoes from the cab. Near Snow Bunny, he randomly stuffs the brakes and I whack my head against the back window. They laugh even louder, and I consider driving a ski pole through the back of their skulls.

But three coked-up jocks versus one twiggy teenager sounds like suicide. Nothing to do but white-knuckle the bed rail and wait. Meanwhile Mötley Crüe mutilates The Beatles’ “Helter Skelter,” and a southbound snowplow misses us by inches, high decibel air horns reminiscent of the freight that woke me from sleep, where I wish I’d stayed.

Mercifully we make it to the Meadows Lot in one piece. I grab my board and leap from the truck almost before we stop, overflowing with relief and fury.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?!” I roar, tears streaking my cheeks as I shake with barely contained violence.

“You skate pretty good, duuude!” jeers the passenger, stepping from the cab and tossing me a full beer.

“FUCK YOU!” I bellow, as I explode the can against the side of the truck, soaking his purple parka in suds.

“You’re fucking dead,” he breathes. And then I am running as fast as my sketchy boots can go, zigging and zagging between cars and trucks as he huffs and puffs behind me.

I lose him in the lodge by lowering my head and ducking into an empty stall in the women’s restroom. I catch my breath for a few, hide my hoodie under my flannel, and flip my beanie from camo to orange. Time to cruise over to the concierge while the tears are still fresh on my face. I need a lift ticket and it’s the perfect time for the stolen jacket trick: “Yes ma’am (sniffle, sniffle), I clipped my ticket to my purple Columbia jacket just before the blonde-haired guy stole it. I think he’s in a big red Chevy…”

I still have a visceral reaction to the memory of that encounter. And while most snowboard trips in the late ‘80s didn’t feature bullies and brawlers, grown men regularly spat off the lifts at us, Ski Patrol would pull our passes for the slightest infraction, and if you turned your back on your board it wound up in the woods or the dumpster. It would be another decade before the Olympics legitimized our existence.

Flash forward to the present day and a trip to the mountain is as easy as loading up the 4Runner and leaving at the time of my choice. I own appropriate gear and write off my season pass as a business expense. I can customize the temperature of my butt with the push of a button. Sure, I had it rough as kid—both at home and on the hill—but it built character and it’s been years since anyone’s taunted me because I snowboard. The casual hate-speech and supremacist attitudes of the ‘80s are a thing of the past, right?

Wrong. Dead fucking wrong, actually. Here’s the thing: Then as now, I’m your standard-edition straight white snow-bro. And while I understand the tiniest fraction about being ‘other’ due to immigration, dire economic circumstances, and the mountain culture wars of my youth, I’m not going to begin to equate my experiences with those of people who’ve suffered racism, sexism, misogyny, or homophobia. The voices of inescapable bigotry do not need mine for validation.

I offer the old school anecdote above as the preface for a question: How much harder would my quest to ride powder have been if I were anyone but a white cisgender male? Would it be any easier nowadays? Would I dare hide in a stall in the women’s restroom as young male of color? Or try and hustle a ski resort for a free lift ticket? Would I even consider thumbing it to a mountain in rural Oregon?

My race, gender, and sexuality have never once hurt me. As for the horrid hitchhiking incident in ‘88, my status likely saved me from an ugly beating, or something far, far more horrific.

Speaking of, I haven’t seen the pricks in the Chevy since that day, though you can bet I’m looking. Odds are they drive a bigger truck now. And lament the fact they can no longer drop their chosen slurs with impunity. They probably switched over to snowboarding in the late ‘90s, too. But only because their friends did. And I’ll wager they still suck at it. I’ll spare you the rest of the resort stereotypes, but men like that are a dime a dozen, exhibiting boorish behavior everywhere from the lift line to the barstool. And people like me are everywhere too. Not being harassed or singled out over our appearances. Mindlessly enjoying our privilege.

If this topic is making you uncomfortable, perhaps it high time to remind yourself how obscenely lucky you are to ride a moving chair up a stunning stratovolcano and slide back down it for no other reason than sheer life-affirming glee. And it’s beyond high time that privilege is extended to everyone—regardless of who they are, what they look like, who they love, where they were born, the neighborhood they live in, or any other arbitrary differences that amount to no reason to exclude anybody, ever. The resorts already welcome everyone. So why isn’t everyone here?

The 2020/2021 season brought huge changes to Mt. Hood and even bigger changes to world around it. People are demanding that the rights they have on paper exist in practice. And we can support them when they visit the mountain. It’s as easy as sharing your pro-tips, gear-hacks, and secret spots. Helping folks find lessons, affordable gear, and rides to the hill. Passing on no-trace ethics, teaching somebody how to wax boards, and telling them about Silent Rock. Saying hello and asking how the snow is today? Being a decent human isn’t hard and who knows what you might be taught in return.

Remember, snowboarding revolutionized the resort industry 30 years ago. And in turn, skiing lent snowboarding everything from metal edges to P-tex bases. Nowadays, two-plankers rip park-rails on their fat skis and knuckle-draggers lay deep carves and huck huge, freestyle ski-inspired airs. Everyone learns from each other, we all love a powder day, and our mountain family is stronger together than we ever were apart. If there’s a home here for a dirtbag trailer-kid from Northern Scotland, there’s a home here for everyone.

Imagine what’ll be possible when we all get a pass.

Editor’s note: Payment for this article has been donated to Burton’s Chill Foundation.

Last modified: April 28, 2021

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Who’s Afraid of Change in The Cascade Range?

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