As the days become shorter and the weather turns cooler, anxious snowboarders and skiers await the first snow of the season. Winter sports in New Mexico are a timeless tradition enjoyed by young and old, according to pro-amateur snowboarder, Chris Oschwald who has been snowboarding since he was seven years old. Oschwald, 34, says, “I’ve been doing this most of my life. I’ve learned more every year, and I’m still learning from other people and that’s probably the best part.” ABQ-Live sat down to learn the odds and ends in the life of a pro-am rider and what it takes to train and compete, including tips on staying as close to the snow as possible while the season comes to a peak.
Oschwald competes regularly throughout New Mexico—predominantly at Red River Ski Area, Taos, and Angel Fire Ski Resort. “They’ve been big supporters of the series; they also put together a lot of different features for us like terrain parks and setting up border cross courses and slope courses,” he adds. “It’s kind of the base platform where most pro-snowboarders that you hear of today actually start as kids. It’s a great stepping-stone and they are great spots to work towards future goals.” His favorite mountain to ride is Red River, one of his local sponsors. “They constantly change it up for us and take suggestions of what we want and what we want to see. It’s a great place to ride and not that expensive. I love their park and staff. It’s got a small town feel where everyone gets along and everyone hangs out,” he says. He is also sponsored by Beyond Waves –a local snow, skate, and retail shop in Santa Fe.
Oschwald rides with the USASA Southwest Free Ride series that is a series throughout the country that comes together to compete at a national even in Copper Mountain during the end of the season. In 2013, he placed first out of 30+ riders in Slopestyle and tenth in Bordercross. They are very different styles, but each makes for an exciting experience. “Slopestyle is your typical park set up; usually at the top they’ve got a rail section with a couple different features. At the end they’ve usually got 2-3 big jumps that progressively get larger—starting roughly around 30-35 feet and go all the way up to 60 feet. Bordercross on the other hand, is more like a downhill motorcross race.
You’ve got gates that you’ve got to stay within, big bank turns, and a “Wu-tang”, which is a similar to a quarter-pipe and racers must jump and roll forward at the same time,” Oschwald explains. “The beginning is the best part—there’s usually bumping and grinding and a little elbow pushing and it makes for a very exciting experience.” When talking about competing Chris says, “I still get nervous. I get this anxious feeling in my gut…it’s like the first time all over again. That’s kind of the thrill of it—where the excitement comes from.”
Oschwald has collected a number of boards throughout his career, saying that, “Out of all the boards, I’ve always ridden a naturalcamber board, which is a much stiffer and kind of an all-mountain board. Over the last few years, doing more freestyle and more park stuff, I’ve gotten into more rocker boards. Last year I rode a DC board which was my first true rocker board and it changed the whole game up for me. It changed my style of riding and the tricks that are possible.” This year, Oschwald tells us he will be riding a Never Summer board, which is another type of rocker/park board. “For me, it’s the progression. You’ve got to stay up with the equipment. Every year the boards get better and every year my favorite board changes.”
Professional riders such as Bryan Igushi and Terie Hakonsen, considered to be legends in the sport, have been huge inspirations to Oschwald. “I grew up in the older era, so for me I’m all about big airs and big stylish stuff. I stick to what I know and what’s safe for me,” he tells us. “At this point, I’d have to say Torstein Horgmo is probably my favorite pro rider to watch. He has a unique style and comes up with his own stuff and variations of tricks. I love his style and watching his combinations,” he added.
Oschwald remembers two of his best moments on the mountain, “The first, was winning the National Championship for Slopestyle two years up in Copper Mountain. It was kind of a dream come true. However the best, for me, is the first time I got to go snowboarding with my son. For me to be able to pass on my passion and do that with my son is the greatest feeling,” he says. However, Oschwald has also seen bad days on the mountain. “I cracked my jaw once and it’s something I’ll never forget. I think one of my buddies got it on film but it’s times like that that are the worst. Every time you break a bone, it makes for a horrible day.”
Within the next 5 years, Oschwald said he’d liked to compete and move up in the ranks to eventually try out for the Olympics in 2018, roughly 4 seasons away. He is also trying to start his own business and clothing line entitled Butter Industries so that he can stay further connected to the snowboarding industry. “It started off with t-shirts and it’s been a slow process but my goals for that is to become a sponsor for young riders. Assassin’s Snowboard sponsored me, as a teenager, and I got a lot of recognition through the company before it closed. I want to be able to give back and give that chance to someone here in New Mexico,” he says.
“Get out there take advantage of all of the mountains we do have here. We have some of the greatest mountains in the country and some of the best snowfall. If you want to progress—ride with other people. You’ll learn more. Always remember to wear your protective gear and be careful,” Oschwald advises to all local riders here in New Mexico. Every snowboarding adventure is unique. A perfect powder day could easily turn into a mountain of slush and fog. “The key to staying consistent and getting better is practice, practice, practice.” Regardless of the conditions, Oschwald told us his favorite thing about snowboarding is “When you get the opportunity….to spray skiers!”
With the season just beginning, whether you board or ski, we’re all hoping for good snow and fresh powder to make for an epic
year of winter riding.
Story by: Heather Nield
Photography by: Vast Action