words: Mary T. Walsh
WHEN I WAS 20 YEARS OLD, I sent a cold email to a generic info address I found on Rome Snowboards’ website, asking if I could be an intern for the summer. At the time, I had only recently even heard the term “intern” and was attending a small liberal arts college in Massachusetts—i.e. a place you go to study theory instead of application and graduate wondering what the hell you’re going to do with your anthropology degree and student loan debt. I had designed my own major based in writing, watching movies (something I learned was called “film studies”), and snowboarding. In short, I had no applicable professional skills and no specific direction I knew to take. I just wanted to be around people that shared my obsession with snowboarding. I wanted to just sit in the real office of a real snowboard company and listen to what real snowboarders talked about. Because I had read about real snowboarders in magazines. I knew they existed. And they definitely weren’t walking around the campus where I was spending most of my time.
In my email I specifically said I would get people coffee and stuff envelopes (with what, I have no idea)—whatever they needed an extra set of hands to do. I appealed to the recipient by explaining I had purchased my first Rome board the fall prior from a small shop on the coast of Maine where I grew up. A 148 Agent. The shop kid introduced me to Rome, explaining that they were a small company out of Vermont that had just started. They were kind of the underdog among the big brands, disrupting the expected, doing everything DIY, and that everyone who worked there really loved snowboarding. I was sold. I started pouring through magazines looking for their riders, their ads, and soon was enamored of their anti-establishment, of-the-people ethos. The “any means necessary” attitude appealed to my East Coast sensibility, growing up in freezing temps and packed powder conditions. From where I stood, Rome exuded a sense of belonging, a place for the unconventional and the passionate who questioned the status quo. Rome felt counterculture within a niche that was already moving against the current. The energy was contagious, even from afar. I received an email back. “That sounds great. When can you be here?”
THE ROME OFFICE IS LOCATED just off Interstate 89 in Northern Vermont in the quiet hamlet of Waterbury. Get off the exit, turn left, and drive down the main street, past houses, the Resevoir, and an old-timey drugstore, then make a left turn onto Derby Lane. If you go over a bridge or reach the town recycling center, you’ve gone too far.
1 Derby Lane, Rome’s headquarters, is an unassuming red building with a dirt parking lot. It was originally a factory that made baseball bats, starting in the 1920s. Later, skis were made there. Since 2001, it’s been home to the Snowboard Design Syndicate. The building’s quiet, classically New England exterior belies the frenzy of energy that has been housed in its walls for the past two decades. Energy, that in the early aughts, shook things up in snowboarding in way that could have only happened back then. Energy that today hums with the same discerning philosophy from that time but that is imbued with twenty years of experience, accolades, humility, and an ability to continually adapt and look at things in different ways. There aren’t many snowboard companies that have weathered multiple decades successfully and Rome has continued to evolve its products, its marketing, and its place in the industry—and because of all of this, the resonance of the brand is alive and well.
For Rome, embedded in the past twenty years is an unwavering ideology that is rooted so much in where the office sits. “This humble building is the spiritual home of the brand, as it embodies what we stand for: Riding is paramount, above all else,” says Matt Stillman, Rome marketing and team manager. “We’re just outside of Burlington, between three major resorts, Stowe, Sugarbush, and Bolton Valley. All winter long, snowboarding is priority number one.” The location allows the crew to ride every day before work and some days after. “This enables us to create the best product that we can,” explains Stillman, “based on the simple notion of the design loop: conceive it, build it, ride it, test it, tweak it, and repeat accordingly.”
Rome, of course, isn’t the only company that believes in this dedicated, on hill process, but the thing that makes their product design and test operation unique is that they’re doing it in New England, one of the more endearingly erratic and often unforgiving places to weather winters. The only thing consistent about winter in the Northeast is how unpredictable it is—oh, and how cold. Rome’s backyard testing grounds are perfect examples of what has created a mythology about snowboarders that are raised on the East Coast. Northern Vermont, in particular, has the parks, the groomers, the tree runs, and the lift- and splitboard-accessible backcountry to give new product a proper going-over. Between the lines, the location and its variable conditions breeds a resolute appreciation for days in the mountains (and underlines the commitment to the craft) because to be blunt, on the East Coast you have to work for it in a way that you don’t in the more powder-choked, sun-drenched ranges out West.
When I first arrived at the Rome office as an intern, it was only a portion of the red building. When you opened the front door, you walked into a multi- purpose space, filled with boxes and shipping supplies in the fall, warranty and parts in the winter, screen-printing all-year round. It was an area for meetings, for making things, for packing things, for sharing drinks after work. In an adjacent bathroom, emails from customers were regularly pinned up on the wall, a reminder of who the people in the building were reaching.
The offices were up a set of steep, wooden stairs that announced anyone coming or going with their echoing creaks. If you grew up in an old New England farmhouse, you know the sounds. Everyone worked out of one space. Rome’s founders, Josh Reid and Paul Maravetz, had offices on one side with always-open doors. Dan “Sully” Sullivan, Rome North American sales director; Dennis Healy, art director; Mike Waldert, sales assistant; J Hawk and then Tim Breault, customer service/warranty; and Mike Paddock, team manager and staff photographer, worked in the main space together.
From this relatively small area, snowboards were designed, art was created, product was refined, catalogs pieced together, wheat paste posters were printed, and tradeshow booths were detailed. Marketing plans, movie concepts, print ads, and rider trips were all incubated in this room. And whiskey was passed around when it was time to celebrate. From a small couch against one wall, I sat as an intern and took it all in, deeply inhaling what dedicating oneself to snowboarding could look like from a humble place of belonging. Watching the relentless dedication of this group of people, a group that would continue to grow that summer to include filmer (and later team manager) John Cavan, I was amazed by how much they believed in what they were doing. By how much they believed in snowboarding. It brought the movies and the magazines and everything into stark relief in that tiny red building at 1 Derby Lane. “We were a start-up here,” reflects Sully. “We have always had the start-up mentality and that has never left in the twenty years.”
I HADN’T BEEN BACK TO VERMONT IN ten years until this past spring. Time will do that. One day you know the bonus topography of the trails of Mt. Ellen and the next day you can’t remember which turn you take to get to the park chair. But last winter, she beckoned me back. Just before the pandemic, Stillman had collaborated with Krush Kulesza of Snowboy Productions on an event at Sugarbush and it, of course, had been postponed. Almost two years to the day after the week-long event was originally scheduled, the Side Hit Séance was officially a go.
It was early March when I arrived and picked up Ozzy Henning, Jeff Hopkins, and an all-wheel drive rental at the airport. The weather had been a bit warm in New England and while I had originally booked the AWD vehicle in case there was ice on the roads, it ended up navigating the deep, muddy ruts of rural Vermont backroads instead. Spring in the Northeast is fickle thing. It’s less of a bloom and more of a thaw that leaves everything in tones of brown and gray. There had been a snowstorm the week before we got into town and now the temperatures were unseasonably high—nice to snowboard in but a too-early harbinger of the end of the winter.
We arrived at the office in the early evening, just in time to meet nearly the entirety of the Rome team who had come to the Green Mountains for the Séance. It’s a rare thing to get a whole team together, so this was something special. Borders were open and the boarders had arrived. Ståle Sandbech, Len Jørgensen, and Ivika Jurgensen from across the pond. Kayli Hendricks from BC. Ozzy, Jeff, and Madison Blackley from Utah. Nate Haust from Tahoe, Hunter Knoll from Mt. Baker. Drake Warner from Michigan. Green Mountain locals Ralph Kucharek and Casey Savage. The gang was (nearly) all here, and the few that weren’t in town were missed.
The master of ceremonies for the week of the Séance was Stillman. If you’ve never met Stillman, I can’t recommend doing so highly enough. He’s a curator of enjoyment, a purveyor of good times, a linchpin of amusement. He is also driven and tireless in his work to continually move Rome forward in innovation and clever ways. Of course, if you’re going to meet Stillman, you’ve got to meet Sully and Paddock, too. Sully was the first person brought into the company and Paddock followed shortly thereafter. Sully is vivacious. The mayor of Sugarbush, a library of knowledge and stories of snowboarding, one of the funniest humans on the planet, and with a vernacular all his own that peppers conversation with colorful phrases. His legacy in snowboarding precedes him and keeps growing with every season. Paddock is the artistic visionary. Biting wit, critical eye, and Michelin-star taste are his North stars and he has curated all facets of the aesthetic of the brand for years. Together, Sully, Stillman, and Paddock are a triumvirate of worthy sea captains navigating snowboarding’s waters, commanding the realms of sales, marketing, and creative direction, respectively.
Along with their cohorts in the office, Justin Frappier and Josh “Ricky” Haines on the product design side, filmer Devin Bernard, graphic designer Portia Wassick, and team-rider-turned-marketing coordinator Max Lyons, they have brought ideas and inside jokes to life and to market alongside legitimately progressive product, a combination that harkens back to the company’s roots but is firmly planted in the future.
Stillman had arranged a Vermont country palace with Scarface-meets-ski-house vibes just a stone’s throw from Sugarbush as homebase for the week. The Mad River babbled next to the deck on its way from the mighty Winooski. Sully ran the BBQ out back while Paddock and Max made magic in the kitchen. The crew settled in with good company and a favorable weather outlook. On hill, the Rome team was joined by a collection of riders from all over the East Coast and beyond who spent the entirety of the event finding lines that wove thoughtfully in and out of the trees. Each day was an opportunity to find new hits and pick apart the set up. After riding, the Sugarbush parking lot was the spot and we soaked it all in before hanging back at the Scarface Country Chalet. The opportunity to have so much of the Rome family in Vermont felt significant—one of those times that you feel almost nostalgic for while it’s still happening.
SINCE ITS INCEPTION, ROME HAS contributed so much to snowboarding. If their hardgoods are the tangible foundation of what they have constructed, then it is the movies, the graphics, the grassroots contests, ROTY wins, tradeshow legends, infamous houses in mountain towns, and all the things that make up the brand’s mythology that have created a sense of belonging for anyone who steps onto a Rome snowboard. And all of this stems from Vermont, so to share the heart from which everything comes through the Séance was truly something special. “I think the whole snowboarding community in the state of Vermont, and beyond in New England, needed an event like this, coming out of what we have dealt with for the last two years,” commented Sully. “It is exciting to bring the Side Hit Séance to the masses and to get the community back together to enjoy snowboarding.” But on top of that, it was a celebration of what Rome has always offered in so many forms, a place to come together with others propelled by the same love of making turns.
Over the years, the office have, of course, expanded. When you arrive there now, you enter through a different door, but the results when you step inside are the same as they were in the early 2000s. You’re met with a warm welcome by people that believe unwaveringly in snowboarding and want you to believe in it, too. Rome is a thing of momentum through sheer grit and time-tested dedication, and the reverberations of this are felt far beyond the building’s walls.
I STAYED IN TOWN FOR A FEW DAYS after the Séance wrapped. One afternoon the sky was clear and the sun came out, so we all headed to Sugarbush for top-to-bottom laps. We rode until the lifts closed and then headed to the taproom of the local suds provider, Lawson’s Finest Liquids. We drank Little Sips and ate pretzels as we talked about the day’s turns. At one point, a man in his thirties approached and explained that he had bought his first Rome board a few years ago and been riding Romes ever since. He was visiting from out West on vacation with his family and just wanted to thank everyone for the boards that enabled him to enjoy the mountains.
It wasn’t an hour later that the man and his family were in Waterbury as Sully gave them a tour of the office and handed the kids some stickers. For the man, it was his first time at the real office of a real snowboard brand. I headed up the stairs and sat down on a small couch in the corner of the marketing room, next to a shelf filled with books and mags and old catalogs, a treasure trove of long-tailed snowboard ephemera. It’s been almost two decades since I first sat in the office, and while it may not be the same couch, the feeling of being that 20-year-old just wanting to belong, rushed me. It truly was there, in Waterbury, Vermont, that I found my sodality. I am far from the only one.
And Rome keeps pushing, providing a place, both literal and metaphorical, that lets people know they’re part of something bigger. Nestled in the trees and mountains of Northern Vermont, Sully, Paddock, Stillman, Frap, Ricky, Max, Portia, and Devin keep doing what they do best, because it means something to them and because of that, means something to the rest of us.
This story originally appeared in issue 19.1 released in October 2022.