words and photos: Mary T. Walsh
I may be biased, but the foundation of snowboarding in New England is as strong as they come. The mountains made up of to brick-hard snow and iron-clad community. When you come up snowboarding in New England, your origin story isn’t just inherited, it’s beaten into you by icy snow, near-constant cloud cover, below-zero windchill, and when it finally warms up in spring—rain. It’s often downright challenging to spend winter outside back East, and if you’re up for bell-to-bell “packed powder” laps on a frigid January day, you’re welcomed with unquestioned, lifetime membership into a community that will always have your back.
I don’t get back East to snowboard nearly as much as I want to, but whenever I do, there’s something golden about the familiar that absence sharpens into focus. You pick up with friends right where you left off and embrace the newness of past routine. Going back home always reminds where you came from and why you’re wherever you’ve gotten—namely because of the people who inspired, influenced, and supported you to get there.
So when the ever-increasing momentum of East Street Archives, created by Gary Land and Barry Dugan, announced Homesick, a gathering of culture and community at Stratton Mountain, I booked my ticket. During the pandemic lockdown, Gary revisited his collection of photos taken during the renaissance of 1990s snowboarding in New England and ever since, he and Barry have been pressing the gas on bridging the gap between snowboarding’s history and its present. They’re deftly mixing everything together, adding a fine-tuned and fresh POV to things, first through the East Street Archives tome, then through a series of photo shows and book releases, next via an upcoming book called Witness, and on March 24-26th in-person at Homesick.
It’s been a long time since there was a snowboarding event like this in Vermont—one that beckoned so many people to descend on one place at the same time. For 27 years, the US Open sparked an annual pilgrimage to Stratton and when the contest moved to Colorado in 2013, the reunion-filled spring in New England sputtered. Since then, Eastern Boarder’s Last Call at Loon—which celebrated its 21st year last week—has been the longest-standing contest in the region, keeping the flame alive. In recent years, more fuel has been added to the fire: Jake Blauvelt has a banked slalom at Bolton Valley, while John Murphy’s Side Surfers holds a race at Sugarbush. Rome and Snowboy brought the Sidehit Séance to Waterville this winter (and Sugarbush the season before). And the Red Bull Slide-In Tour has been making the rounds for a few seasons. When Homesick was unveiled, followed by consistent announcements of attending riders like Todd Richards, Tricia Byrnes, Ross Powers, Keir Dillon, Lane and Frank Knaack, Andrew Mutty, Eric Kovall, Jeff and Adam Moran, Jaime MacLeod, Brian Barb, Nick Francke, Dave Spruille, and many more, it was clear from the get-go that this was going to be something special–and much needed.
Homesick’s roots in the early years of competition at Stratton, times when the pipe was at the main base area and racing was on the event schedule. Gary and Barry worked with the crew at Stratton to set up flags for a race on Friday and a proper, 12-foot halfpipe contest, hosted by Ross, on Saturday. In the lead up to the weekend of March 24th, East Street Archives’ Instagram account was plastered with black and white photos of the torchbearers of 80s and 90s: Jeff Brushie, Jim Kelly, Mark Heingartner, Laurie Asperas, Chris Noyes, Chris Copley, Paul Graves, Pat Bridges, Jason Evans, Aimie Cappa, Steve Hayes, Trevor Graves…the list goes on.
That’s only where things start, though—the underpinning of the weekend. More photos were added of confirmed attendees: Zeb Powell, Maggie Leon, Johnny O’Connor—the pacesetters of today. A rail jam, hosted by Zeb, would close out Homesick on Sunday. And all the events were open to everyone. Three age groups, 18 and under, 19-39, and 40-plus (fondly referred to as the “Bengay Division”) brought the timeline together, past, present, and future.
Off hill, a vintage board display was curated by Tim Mackenzie, with additions from the Burton collection provided by Todd Kohlman. A photo show in Syd and Dusty’s Snowboard Shop offered a look at the forthcoming Witness. The stage was set for a weekend unlike any other in Vermont.
Friday was sunny and perfect. The race warmed up the weekend with Scotty Lago, Lucas Magoon, Tricia Byrnes, Keir Dillon, Luke Wynen, and so many more (editor’s note: all lists of a riders are far from comprehensive–the folks that were in attendance ran wicked deep). Todd Richards was posting videos of pipe laps with Lane Knaack. Friday evening, the Green Door, the infamous downstairs haunt of every event at Stratton ever, was packed with familiar faces. A legion of East Coasters who collectively had touched every aspect of the industry reunioned while an unsuspecting bachelorette party dominated the dance floor.
Saturday morning was a true New England spring day because the weather was clearly confused; it was dumping. Classic pipe contest weather. A little powder in the flat bottom wasn’t going to deter anyone and as the youngest division started taking runs, the walls of the pipe filled in with spectators.
I didn’t attend the Open for the first time until I was in college in the early 2000s, so I had never seen the pipe on this side of the resort. Nestled in the trees just a short hike from the base area and with fat snowflakes falling everywhere, the 12-foot pipe was a sight to behold. Its humble walls had beckoned snowboarders of all ages and from every generation to Stratton for Homesick. And the attendee list was loaded with snowboarding pioneers and legends that have contributed so much to the sport, the culture, the ethos. Scotty Lago and Lucas Magoon traded laps with Shaun White in the 19-39 division. A grip of groms followed Richards through the pipe like a trail of really rad ducklings. Zeb Powell poached in his monster Blossom. Luke Wynen’s still got it (of course)! Veda Halen’s on fire. Doubles laps from Ross and Lane were so sick to watch. NH’s Luke Mathison and Nelson Wormstead held it down. Parents took breaks while hiking up the pipe in 6-inch deep snow to hang with their kids. And the most anticipated division to drop was definitely the 40-plus group. As Chris Copley provided commentary on the mic, the crew of legendary boarders packed the drop-in, spilling over the sides as they waited to go. At the bottom, the crowd went wild, filled with the individuals and families that have made the Northeast snowboarding community what it is since snowboarding’s inception, all just having a really good time. The scene was so cool.
On Sunday, the Zebulon Rail Jam capped off the weekend. A fast, creative set up was built a bit above the pipe and a morning that started out gray and windy, broke with sunshine and higher temps. The riding was rad—Zeb found ways to boost off things that physics doesn’t normally allow you to boost off of. Maggie and Joey Leon were riding so well, per usual. Lucas Magoon is the best, always. Dave Spruille and Pat Bridges kept pace on the mic. The crowd along the sides of the course was a definite highlight. Hanging with friends from all over the East Coast–from Vermont, New Hampshire, New Jersey, West Virginia, North Carolina–and just catching up like no time had passed. In the contest, the kids showed up and the 40-plus’ers were still moving quick. And while there were lots of awards given out that day, special shout to Veda Hallen and her dad, Myles, who both won their divisions and put an exclamation mark on just why what East Street Archives is doing is so special.
Snowboarding is a unique thing, in that so many of the people who were there at the very beginning, breaking down the barriers of ski resorts, gear tech, and societal acceptance, are still snowboarding today. They’re still deeply ingrained in the industry and community. Those that we have lost are still honored and remembered deeply. The young age of snowboarding offers a really special opportunity to celebrate its history while embracing its present and future in real time. And this is so important, because the foundation created by snowboarding’s fore-bearers is integral to where we are now, and where we are going. Homesick was a reunion of old friends, an introduction for new ones, a chance for a New England get-together, but even more than that, it was a prime example of the combination of reflection while moving forward that continues to shape snowboarding in the right direction–regardless of where you’re from.
Of course, the places we live, the terrain we like to ride, the mountains we frequent, the time we have to make turns amidst different responsibilities and twists and turns—it all ebbs and flows throughout our lives. But the foundation of what drew us to all this in the first place is really still the same. And if we continue to nurture that and share it with those around us, snowboarding is better for everyone.
Gary and Barry brought this to life last weekend at Stratton in truly special way. At its center, Homesick was born from a celebration of a specific time and place, but that was only the jumping off point. Homesick wasn’t about a nostalgia, it was about taking what makes something meaningful and keeping it going, sharing it with others. The weekend was an opportunity to forge connection and move forward, celebrating past, present, and future. Gary and Barry captured and honored snowboarding’s ever-evolving ethos in a way snowboarding deserves. So many people flocked to Vermont for Homesick, back to where things began for them. They brought their families and their friends. Others, like me, went to experience something we had only seen in magazines at a place we knew from our own upbringing. And still others, in the midst of their own, fresh momentum, added new perspectives and interpretations to a very rich heritage. We all feel a pull, a sense of nostalgia for the places we’re from, but Homesick, through fresh reunion, revved the momentum forward.
Massive thank yous and appreciation to the vision and tireless efforts of Gary Land and Barry Dugan, who brought so many people together for an incredible weekend. Everyone is already looking forward to Homesick next year. Thanks, guys.