Personally, Red Bull Heavy Metal is one of my very favorite snowboard events. Coming of age in the early 2000s, seeing Heavy Metal in magazines and watching it in videos like Mack Dawg’s Game Show emblazoned it in snowboarding’s collective consciousness and gave viewers like myself–far away from the snowboard industry and hubs of its scene–a taste of the barely-controlled chaos (read: excitement) of a pro-level rail contest.
Rail riding, for most, if not nearly all, young snowboarders, is an attainable pursuit. Head to your local mountain or set up a box in the backyard; you don’t need a lot of snow to have fun when sessioning a rail, so it’s a fairly accessible way to fall in love with snowboarding. Ditto goes for watching the best rail riders and their best clips in videos every year, whether on VHS years ago or on Youtube and Instagram nowadays. So for Heavy Metal to showcase those riders in their element (at iconic city spots, to boot) illuminates a part of snowboarding that is not only a pinnacle within the core, it can have broad appeal, bringing folks in to watch and providing an introduction to snowboarding in a unique and authentic way. Case in point, Heavy Metal Detroit.
In 2022, Heavy Metal returned with a ton of anticipation, touching down in Duluth, Minnesota. Benny Milam hosted the event, collaborating with Red Bull, as well as contest director Joe Sexton, to bring Heavy Metal to life. After a triumphant return of the celebrated contest, Benny passed the torch to new Red Bull team rider, Grace Warner, to bring Heavy Metal to her hometown, Detroit, Michigan.
Grace has been on the rise over the past year, snagging clips in last fall’s Hot Coco and coming in second at Red Bull Rail Yard in North Carolina last December. She’s a super proper rider with really clean style, but even more, she’s all about raising up others with her and nowhere else was this more true when she introduced us all to the Michigan snowboard scene at Heavy Metal.
When we think of Midwest snowboarding, Minnesota and Wisconsin are generally the first places that come to mind. But Heavy Metal showed that snowboarding needs to pay attention to the groundswell of riders that are coming up in Michigan right now. Not only do they have plenty of skill, but they’re a tight knit crew that is super hungry. Grace brought in a host of friends, locals to her home resort, Pine Knob, as well as resorts further north and west in The Mitten. The Pine Knob park crew brought the snow and sculpted the transitions, take-offs, and landings–which were all perfect (big thanks to Matt and the whole crew). The home-state talent was out of hand, and the crowd (a few thousand people who packed tightly against the fencing around each zone to get as close to the action as possible) went absolutely wild every time a Michigan rider dropped in.
Over the course of three separate zones (Zone 1 was the wall, famously handplanted by Scott Blum in The Snowboarder Movie: SFD in 2015. Zone 2 was a perfect down-flat-down with multiple transfer options including creepers and a ledge. Zone 3 was a long down rail with a donkey in the center of the Hart Plaza Amphitheater. By the time the contest got to Zone 3, all available viewing locations in the plaza were packed.) forty of the streets’ best boarders put on a show for Detroit. During a hell of a warm-up zone on the 40-foot wall, Luke Winkelmann, Irie Jefferson, Ryan Paul, Denver Orr, Maggie Leon, Lolo Derminio, Zeb Powell, Casey Flipsen, and more impressed the esteemed judges (Jess Kimura, Scott Blum, and Seth Huot). Benny and RP decided to drop in from the top of the wall. Speed was tough, but Zeb was able to stall on the top. Pat Fava landed a McTwist that filled the air with noise. And it was off to Zone 2.
Zone 2 was a perfect down-flat-down rail, installed and overseen by Sexton. All of the zones were all-out throwdowns, but Zone 2 was probably the most intense. The proper set up and multiple transfer options lent itself to plenty of big, technical tricks from Fava, RP, Brent Behm, Grace, Sam Klein, Egan Wint, Luke, Casey, Derek Lemke, and more.
The sun was getting lower in the sky at the start of Zone 3. Everyone had moved over to the Hart Plaza amphitheater for the finale of Heavy Metal. Egan locked in first place with a 50-50 frontside 360 out. Pat Fava just destroyed things, continually upping the ante alongside RP, Winkelmann, Zeb, and Denver. Maggie, Irie, Jaylen Hanson, Drake Warner, Aiden Hascall, and Iris Pham all shined, among others.
As the final minutes of the contest ticked down as announced by event emcees Chris Grenier and Ethan “E-Stone” Fortier, the barely controlled chaos of the 2023 Heavy Metal was the same as nearly twenty years ago, though maybe even more because of the relentless raising of the bar over time. Seth Huot, won Heavy Metal in 2002 when the contest was in Niagara Falls and now was back as a judge two decades later.
“My big contest win was Red Bull Heavy Metal in 2002,” remembered Seth, humbly. “They did winners in Zone 1, Zone 2, and Zone 3. The first winner was Bozung; he won Zone 1. Scotty Arnold won Zone 2, and then I won Zone 3. It kind of went progressively bigger and there was like a creeper ledge and a rail. It was cool. I think I endured longer than anyone else, ha. Everyone was so gassed. I think the footage is in GenPop and Pulse had some footage”
Seth’s contributions to snowboarding are innumerable, from countless beloved video parts in both the streets and the backcountry, to now making incredible videos and shepherding the next generation of professionals. His role on the judging panel of this year’s event is testament to the full-circle community within snowboarding in so many different facets. It’s a testament to what Heavy Metal means in snowboarding and how it brings people together.
“It’s pretty cool to come back full circle and see [everything] twenty-one years later–and we’re still on the border of Canada. It’s really cool,” said Seth. “The riding is crazy. It’s crazy. Back then it was crazy, too. I remember it just being an onslaught of hammers, but now the kids are so good and it’s so hard to keep up with everything they’re doing. Everyone is so good. Mad respect to all the shredders, for sure.”
When I first got to Detroit, stepping foot into Hart Plaza felt like a pilgrimage to a hallowed place that I had seen for years in videos but never experienced in person. Heavy Metal seeks to bring these special places in snowboarding into stark relief from video screen to in-person reality. The contest is also an opportunity for a wider audience to watch snowboarding in a way that is genuine, exposing folks to an arena of riding that is at the center of the core. But while Heavy Metal is strongly rooted in its celebration of place, this year’s event alerted us to the passion that makes that place what it is–not just Hart Plaza, but Michigan, itself. Grace Warner shared her community with everyone and she and her friends put their state on the map in a way it should have already been, but we were all a little slow catching up. All of that is the beauty of Heavy Metal.
1st place – Egan Wint
2nd place – Jaylen Hanson
3rd place – Maggie Leon
1st place – Pat Fava
2nd place – Ryan Paul
3rd place – Luke Winklemann