Snowboarding has always been a sport that has dabbled in decadence. While not every snowboarder comes from wealth, the overwhelming majority are young, white suburbanites from upper-middle-class families for whom decadence isn’t all that unfamiliar.
From overpriced lift tickets to expensive gear, snowboarding is a sport for the privileged, even when marketing campaigns tell you otherwise. Snowboarding has always had its anecdotal core, the kids that come from underprivileged broken homes that beg, borrow, and steal to get their fix. But this is the minority, not the majority. Most snowboarders aren’t sleeping in dilapidated homes in impoverished neighborhoods, working menial jobs, and clipping tickets to score laps.
No, most snowboarders understand extravagance. They’ve been to the epicenters of mountain-town wealth. They’ve taken family trips to Park City or North Star, sleeping so close to the meticulously-groomed runs that they could ride through their rented condos’ sliding glass door and onto the couch without unstrapping. When they dream of snowboard heaven it doesn’t look modest or scaled back—it looks grand and immaculate. It looks like the DC Mountain Lab.
If you are unfamiliar with the DC Mountain Lab you are unfamiliar with one of the greatest accomplishments in snowboarding history. For the better part of two decades, snowboarding grew at a clip that was previously unimaginable in the winter sports industry. Attracting primarily younger participants, it was the sport of America’s advantaged youth. Young dreamers sat in classrooms across the country sketching on notebooks and distractedly daydreaming about snowboard Shangri Las.
The sketches had to have rideable features. Maybe a roof you could jib, a deck you could use as a drop in. It definitely needed a heated garage for the sleds, and if you think we aren’t building a jump over the hot tub full of young, beautiful people you are out of your goddamn mind. A whole generation of snowboarders having individual fantasies that were collectively quite similar. Then came along snowboarding’s very own Willy Wonka, Ken Block, the DC Shoes co-founder who, having made a mint off of action sports and the subsequent sale of his company to Quiksilver, built every snowboarders’ fantasy funland.
The DC Mountain Lab wasn’t just an extravagant home, it wasn’t just the physical amalgamation of every snowboarder’s wet dream. It was an ideal. It was a testament to the promise snowboarding made to itself: if we ever make it big we’re going to light this mother f***** up. Snowboarding in that moment was no longer the Sex Pistols. It was Led Zeppelin: no more small, dirty clubs. ‘We play arenas now.’
Ken Block was the perfect provocateur: he was P.T. Barnum with a rally car. His vision for the Mountain Lab would unfold on 22 pristine acres of land nestled in between Park City and Deer Valley in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains. Featuring 10 runs accessed via tow rope, the Mountain Lab became an adult playground adorned with a private terrain park, a crib that Xzibit couldn’t pimp any harder, and a wrap-around deck that was large enough to shotgun a beer while simultaneously shooting an actual shotgun. The neighbors were horrified.
Every snowboarder on the planet was in awe, and young adults dreamed of receiving an invite to party and ride with their favorite DC athletes, which at the time included everyone from Travis Parker to Travis Rice, and a bunch of other uber-pros not named Travis. It was snowboarding’s hottest destination. It was Kelly Slater’s wave pool that would never open to the public, and the exclusivity made it all the more alluring.
The real draw, though, was the private terrain park. The fancy cars, the polished chrome kitchen, and the motorized toys were all well and good, but the park was mouth-watering. It wasn’t a janky one-hit wonder built by some kid’s cool dad. It was a cutting-edge training grounds built by the most celebrated park builder in snowboarding history, Snow Park Technologies, Chris “Gunny” Gunnarson.
SPT has most notably been responsible for designing and building parks for the X-Games, the US Open, Air & Style, The Arctic Challenge, and of course the DC Mountain Lab. The park was always on point and while the Mountain Lab didn’t feature leg-burning vertical, there were always ample features for DC’s elite list of pro riders.
This would be captured and catapulted onto screens worldwide in the release of DC Snowboarding’s 2005 film, DC.MTN.LAB, created by Robot Food mastermind Pierre Wikberg. The film, which opens to a dreamy sequence of an illustrated map of the park and features the riding of Eddie Wall, Travis Parker, Devun Walsh, Todd Richards, Travis Rice, Bjorn Leines, Simon Chamberlin, Priscilla Levac, and more is 30 minutes of titillating, tantric snowboard porn.
The DC Mountain Lab was the pinnacle of snowboarding extravagance. It was the result of two decades of rapid growth in which a small garage industry exploded into a 100-million dollar industry. It was new money opulence. It was gaudy. It was symbolism. It was perfect.
In 2018, snowboarding seems a bit lost. It seems to be awkwardly transitioning into adulthood and frantically searching for an identity and a way forward. The big budgets of the early 2000s have all but dissipated and snowboarders seem to be more interested in hipster vans than mountainside mansions. We have splitboarding mountain men (and women), soulful slashing surf bros, Olympic athletes, and kids who still desperately want to be their favorite skateboarders. But what we don’t have and what we desperately need is a millionaire snowboard tycoon standing above his palace of pleasure, armed with a shotgun and magnum of Cristal, reigning supreme over his kingdom of ostentatious fun.
In 2011 Ken Block sold the Mountain Lab. He was under attack by conservation groups and neighbors, also known as buzzkillers, and he ultimately had to dismantle the park that made the Mountain Lab so great. When the Lab died, so did a piece of snowboarding. Snowboarders are dreamers. We need a kingdom, a mecca, a place that is so widely fantastic that it is at once achievable and untouchable. We need the Mountain Lab. In the last few years a number of small resorts have been available for public purchase and now is the time for DC to open up the coffers and take the Mountain Lab to new heights.
Ken, if you’re reading this, I implore you to do the right thing: show the world that we aren’t dead yet. Hell, team up with Red Bull or Monster if you have to. But please, I beg of you, buy and build something so absurd that it makes the first Mountain Lab look like an outhouse. I can see myself now, hanging out of a helicopter, shooting exploding targets as Travis Rice does 100-foot backside rodeos over the flames. It will be magical. It will be outrageous. It will even be a little stupid. But it will be ours. Yes, it will be ours.