Mountains are humbling mounds of rock. They incite awe and set dreams afire. They hold a magnetism of life-altering allure. Those who seek them on a higher-level enter a bond with the natural world. For legendary snowboarder Bryan “Guch” Iguchi, life revolves around this affinity and appreciation of the snowy serrations along the skyline. But it wasn’t always this way and it’s a tough attraction to stay true to. Guch’s classic tale is one of turning riding into a prosperous career then leaving sponsorship behind to pursue a love of mountains in one of North America’s most iconic mountain hideouts—Jackson, Wyoming. His course came with struggles, yet turned full circle as snowboarding returned in time to support his endeavors. All the while he remained bound to the peaks, a process of adaptation and emulation that’s molded his life and soul as a snowboarder.
“I started with this goal to ride and that’s all it’s ever been”
Growing up in the southern California skate punk scene in the late eighties was a deep disparity from the rural western, Teton Valley way of life. But the warm asphalt and concrete of Los Angeles began shaping his riding skills. When he was fifteen he discovered snowboarding. “A buddy of mine that I grew up skateboarding with had started snowboarding,” he remembers. “I went to his house after school one day and saw a snowboarding video and I was just blown away. He and some other buddies invited me to go ride a week later.” The passion for snow progressed and he eventually moved up to Big Bear after high school. “I got a job on the park crew there. It was like the first park in the country or in the world I suppose where they were fully committed to building a snowboard park. While I was there working and riding I was approached by Burton and Volcom. I just fell into sponsorship and the pro world really. Later that year I jumped in the car with Mack Dawg and just hit the road for the rest of the season. That gave me the opportunity to film a part for The Hard, The Hungry and The Homeless. That was the beginning of my career as a professional snowboarder.” Guch got ender in that video with a mix of raw skate and snow tricks.
That simple video part propelled Guch into the pro world and quickly took him beyond the San Bernardino Mountains, exposing him to new ranges of rock and snow around the country. But long before his career took off, a seed was planted in Jackson. “The first time I went to Jackson I was a senior in high school and I came up on a bus trip,” he recalls. “I just remember pulling into the parking lot and looking up just thinking how do you get down the mountain without flying off a cliff? It was like nothing I’d ever seen. I just felt this really strong sense of freedom and lawlessness and Wild West spirit. It left a pretty big impression on me.” Those feelings continued to stew. “After a few years of travelling and snowboarding and competing I got the chance to see a lot of different mountains and areas, but I felt like Jackson was a place I wanted to explore. So I ended up moving here when I was twenty-one.” It was a bold move and a gamble that cost Guch most of his sponsor support, but the pull of the mountains was stronger than financial ties. It was a moved that defined his career and life as a snowboarder. Guch has lived in Jackson Hole ever since.
Simply moving to a renowned mountain town isn’t easy. One needs to be ready to find housing and employment where they can be somewhat limited. But the snow consistency and terrain that the tram accesses, both the resort and backcountry is unparalleled, and that simple fact outweighs the struggle for so many die-hard riders past and present. Beneath the glitz and flow of private jets, there is a true conscious community of those who live normal lives near these wild lands. “You know as my professional snowboard career transitioned I worked at a few different restaurants, I apprenticed with a sushi chef. That was my career for a while,” he recalls. He rode the line as a professional rider and snowboard bum for many years. He still filmed, competed, and travelled, but on his own terms. “I spent a lot of time snowboarding and working at the restaurant—I just did whatever I could to get by. Looking back, those were actually some of the best times I spent here.” Amidst the change the one constant was that he stayed in the Jackson, learning and growing as a big mountain rider and sharing that passion with legends and mentors like Craig Kelly and Noah Salasnek.
The raw terrain, unforgiving weather and massive vertical presented a new challenge. Looking back at the beginning Guch says, “I guess Jackson changed the way I ride because of the access it offered.” His riding unfolded in the new environment over many years, and still continues to. “I’ve been able to explore and ride steep terrain and slowly become more comfortable in the mountains. After twenty-one consecutive winters here I suppose my riding continues to evolve, not in a physical way, but in a deeper appreciation and love for it.” As a youth he could have never fathomed riding off the top of the highest peak in the range, The Grand Teton, yet years later would accomplish this feat alongside Jeremy Jones. Living in Jackson pushed Guch to become highly adept in big mountain exploration and riding. The mountains here simply demand it. He’s been tapped to guide the most prolific riders that pass through the Tetons and join them for journeys across the globe for countless years. His maturity, experience, wisdom and genuine passion for snowboarding as an elder in a world of youth has kept him connected all the while. Whether it’s a bluebird pow day or short laps off the Teewinot Chair with his son Milo you can see the stoke emanating through his puffy cheeks and gray beard.
“Knowledge is freedom in the mountains, but luck helps,”
Guch’s affinity for the outside is a grounding force in his life. It’s the center where art, riding and life sprout and it’s burgeoned in the Tetons. It’s a never-ending path where experience is education and growth is time, for euphoria comes with tragedy and hostility with peace. “There is so much to learn from spending time in the mountains and it’s very important to me to continue to be open to it and humbled by it,” he affirms. “I’ve experienced the most amazing, blissful feelings from riding, and I’ve suffered the worst physical and mental pain from injury, and the loss of life. It’s a stark contrast.” Guch has scored the best conditions hundreds of times, but he’s also weathered nights lost in the backcountry. He’s ridden pristine lines in the backyard and around the world, yet he’s lost friends to the mountains from afar and witnessed it firsthand. “Knowledge is freedom in the mountains, but luck helps,” he says. “I feel like I got lucky in my early days and I’ve been trying to gain knowledge and become more responsible when I’m in the mountains. I started down the road to become a guide, but realized I just wasn’t cut out for the career. I still want to develop my skills to become a good backcountry partner for recreation, not vocation.”
“The more I spend time in the mountains the more connected I feel to it all”
At just over forty years, snowboarding and Bryan are nearly the same age. The pool of those who’ve been snowboarding for two, three or four decades is very small. It’s extremely rare to have a rider who’s stayed true to snowboarding through thick and thin all these years. “I’ve seen many friends leave snowboarding and the mountain lifestyle and I totally understand why,” he says. “It’s not the easiest or most practical way of life. You’re dealing with shitty weather all the time, you suffer and sacrifice in a lot of ways.” For many the feeling fades, the sacrifice can’t be justified, priorities overpower the Peter Pan life. Drugs, alcohol, injuries, family or career intervene and take one away from the life of edges, lifts, powdery mornings and sodden clothes. “It’s a difficult sport to participate in when it requires a considerable investment of time and money,” he suggests. “It’s a luxury that often has to be sacrificed for growing needs and responsibilities. I keep riding because I feel like I need it to be healthy, both mentally and physically. That reward for me is so worth it. I grow and I feel alive. It wakes me up and it keeps me conscious. In the bigger picture for me personally, it’s really all about falling in love with the mountains and the environment. The more I spend time in the mountains the more connected I feel to it all, the more appreciation I have for every session and every opportunity on snow and in the mountains.” Rather than dissolving, his pursuit of riding is thriving. It’s become engrained in his mind, body and soul. It’s a “spiritual intoxication” he’d claim. It’s something he strives to pass on, too, raising two kids, Milo and Silas, in the heart of the Tetons. It’s a decision although not easy, he and his wife know the unique landscape and community will shape their boys in profound ways.
Beyond riding, Guch has become known for dreamy, drippy mountainscapes inked on canvas in bold colors. It’s his reflection of place, a perception of habitat in another form that developed in Jackson. “I’ve enjoyed drawing and making art for as long as I can remember, but I really got into painting when I met Mike Parillo and Jamie Lynn when I was around eighteen,” he reminisces. His works often contain a strong contour shape to them, sprinkled with spray paint spatter and water like dribbles. They’re space-like, but grounded on earth and truly Teton in aesthetic. “My artwork is a tribute to the surreal landscapes, an exploration of curiosities found in the processes of the natural world, the life they create, sustain and inspire. Spending time and living here in Jackson I’ve had these incredible landscapes to explore. These views with the way the seasons change and how time passes, it’s all become ingrained in my soul and it’s something that I try to project in my artwork. The emotions these places bring me and the feeling it evokes.”
The melding of riding and art endure as Guch scours western Wyoming’s alpine ranges and beyond, season after season for inspiration. Fueling it all is a fundamental feeling of gratitude and commitment towards snowboarding. You can see it as he watches his son Milo link turns at the resort. It’s present in his eyes on every powder day. It’s there in an older and wiser form each time he explores the backcountry. “The intention has always been to ride by any and all means necessary,” he claims. “When I left home I had six-hundred dollars in my bank account and I was just going to ride and figure it out from there, just get to the mountains, get a job and do whatever it took. My professional career kind off took off quick and I was able to do a lot of things. But when I stepped away from that I did whatever I could to sustain riding. It’s nice to be a professional snowboarder for sure, but my perspective has changed over the years. I want to be a recreational snowboarder. I started with this goal to ride and that’s all it’s ever been.”