Maggie Leon and Benny Milam Take the Win at Red Bull Heavy Metal

I went to Newfoundland for a semester in college. It was sort of a spur-of-the-moment decision. A semester abroad in the furthest-place-from-home closest to home—because Newfoundland has its own time zone that’s a half hour off from EST, and more than that, it’s just its very own place. There’s snowboarding there, but not on the side of the island that I was on. I was in St. John’s. It was fall, anyway, so there was time before the snow fell back home. At that point, in the 2000s, internet videos weren’t a thing and all laptops had DVD drives. You had to swing by your shop every few days in September to find out when the new videos dropped. I went to Newfoundland with three movies in hand: Shakedown, The Breakdown on Shakedown, and Game Show.

The opening section in Mack Dawg’s Game Show is from 2003’s Red Bull Heavy Metal. The one that was in Portland. Danny Kass, Hana Beaman, E-Tree, Scotty Arnold, Bjorn Leines–and TJ Schneider winning the whole thing with a 270 on. I remember watching that section over and over again. As a New England kid watching snowboarding while literally on an island far away from where it was happening, Heavy Metal was so cool.

So when Red Bull announced they were bringing the contest back, nearly twenty years later, the teenage snowboard fan inside me was really hyped. The chance to see the event in person that I had admired purely as a fan ignited that excitement about snowboarding that remains the same year after year, no matter if you’re 15 or 50.

For the 2022 edition of Red Bull’s infamous event, Benny Milam was tapped to lead the charge along with fellow Minnesotan and rail legend, Joe Sexton, who would act as the competition director. And so, the second weekend of January, nearly fifty snowboarders descended on Duluth, Minnesota, representing a cross section of regions, styles, and trick proclivities. The Midwest was out in full force. Benny Milam, Justin Fronius, Dan Liedahl, Alexis Roland, Jaylen Hanson, Rob Roethler, Nial Romanek, Mike Liddle, Eli Lamm, Blake Lamb, Sam Klein, Mike Skiba, Kyle Kennedy, Hannah Petersen, Ryan Paul, Grace Warner (and more). Eastcoasters Dylan Okurowski, River Richer, Sam Anderson, Maggie Leon, Nora Beck, Nate Haust, and Zeb Powell. Canadians Marty Vachon and Jadyn Chomlack. Montanans Melissa Riitano and Iris Pham. Austin Visintainer from the PNW. MN transplant Danyale Patterson. Iowa’s Kaleah Opal Driscoll. Utah’s Pat and Joey Fava. Jordan Smalls and Drayden Garnder from Southern California. Fumiya Okamoto from Japan. Plus more. A legion of riders raising the bar in the streets.

The setting for the contest, Cascade Park, is an iconic location on both the literal and metaphorical map of street boarding. (Keenan Cawley breaks it down with the help of Andy Pearson in this story for Torment.) The tower drop at top, the kink rail down below—it’s a heavy spot where Jess Kimura, Mark Wilson, Benny Milam, Jed Anderson, and just a few others have left their mark. (Jess returned for the contest, but this time as a judge alongside Jeremy Jones and Tommy Gesme.)

For the contest, things were broken down into three location-based heats: The Tower, at the top of the park; The Playground, a set-up of picnic tables and rails in the middle of the park; and The Metal, the infamous kinked rail at the bottom of the park. From the moment the competition began, it was a semi-controlled chaos of the best kind. Frankly, this is the thing that makes an event like Heavy Metal what it is: high-energy, constant momentum, and a keep-your-head-on-a-swivel mentality. Standing anywhere in the course to take photos, you had to keep a look out and be ready to pivot out of the way of anyone coming your way. It’s fast and frenetic. The riders feed off one another. Tricks just get gnarlier as the time ticks down. The day began at 10 am and went until 6 pm and felt like it happened in a flash. It’s loud, it’s relentless, it’s hectic. It’s good.

The Bomb Hole’s frontmen, Chris Grenier and Ethan “E-Stone” Fortier were on the mics, calling the contest. Matty Mo was playing music. As a spectator watching the riders up the ante, both personally and collectively, things just continued to escalate throughout the day. The Tower section was just big. Everyone started off immediately throwing down. Ben Bilocq grabbed a shovel right away and became the unofficial head of course maintenance (big thanks to Ben). The Playground section was mayhem. Miles, Zeb, Nate Haust, Rob Roethler, and more were sending the picnic table gap. Alexis Roland, Nial Romanek, Sam Anderson, Iris Pham, Danyale Patterson, Casey Pflipsen, Ryan Paul, Fronius, and Nora Beck did work on the down rail. Maggie Leon and Marty Vachon were ticking off feature after feature. The audience on the sidelines was rapt, getting autographs as riders went by. That was pretty cool to see. By the time the sun was setting, the top of North 1st Avenue was packed along the fence at the bottom of the stairset. The final act of Heavy Metal was on.

If the entire day was heated, the last section was the obvious crescendo. Zeb frontboarded the rail. Iris Pham 50-50’d it. Ryan Paul, Nial, and Mike Liddle were just doing the things they do. Maggie Leon hit the ledge to looker’s left. Marty Vachon and Rob Roethler took the line less traveled and hit the redirect. Benny Milam went in. Switch frontlip. Nearly landed a cab 270 on. It was dark and cold, but not Minnesota-cold, when Grenier and E-Stone called it. When all was said and done, Benny Milam and Maggie Leon took first place on the men’s and women’s sides, respectively. Second went to Jaylen Hanson and Marty Vachon, and third to Alexis Roland and Zeb Powell.

Early on in the morning, I was posted up just below and to looker’s left of the tower, trying to find my footing on the hillside. A filmer was posted up to my right and introduced himself. “Mike, but everyone calls me Dawger.” One of the beautiful things about snowboarding is how things can really come full circle. A video you watched as a kid growing up in a small town in New England can become a reality you take part in years later—albeit a souped-up reality after two-decades of trick evolution. Of course, with Heavy Metal, Red Bull not only resurrected a hallmark event from the early 2000s, they offered an opportunity for riders who spend most of their seasons filming to get all together, feed off one another, and show where things are at to everyone present and everyone watching from afar. Thanks for the good times, Duluth.

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