Shredding the Pier: Competition draws friendly contenders during Snow Days at Chicago’s favorite landmark

By Gregory Cappis

What started as a snowboard competition ended as a game of snowball basketball.

Snowboarders of all ages congregated at Navy Pier, 600 E. Grand Ave., on Jan. 29 to compete for the first place prize of $300. The competition was part of the Pier’s Snow Days festival, which also featured a snow sculpting contest, a dog sled demonstration and other family-friendly outdoor events.

The competitors climbed atop a two-story wooden ramp to outdo each other in the “best trick” contest. The course consisted of two down boxes side-by-side on the ramp with another small flat box sitting in the man-made snow at its base.

Three 20-minute qualifying heats took place, in which competitors practiced their tricks for the finals. Because the field had only 16 participants, everyone was invited to the finals under the lights.

It was under these lights that 14-year-old Cooper Slack of West Dundee, Ill. outshined the competition. The young shredder took first place and the $300 after landing his final run trouncing the competition. He stomped a stylish frontside 180 to switch 50-50 with a switch backside 180-degree spin off the down box before spinning 270 degrees onto the flat box. He tried the trick multiple times during the finals and landed it cleanly before his time ran out.

“The competition was fun,” Slack said. “The course was kind of sketchy, but we made do with what we had.”

The snowboarders had to deal with poor conditions, as the man-made snow started to ice up as night fell. Although the conditions and riding were subpar, the snowboarders seemed to be having fun.

Popular songs such as “The Cupid Shuffle” blasted through speakers in the grassy area adjacent to Navy Pier. After completing a run, one competitor chose to dance the Cha-Cha Slide before sprinting up the stairs to the top of the course overlooking snow sculptures.

The dozen huskies in attendance for the dog sled demo were chained at the base of the snowboard course. Riders took turns going over to pet the dogs between runs. At times, the dogs seemed to dance to the music and howled in celebration as the crowd cheered for the snowboarders.

It was the first time many in the audience witnessed snowboarding, which was part of the event’s design, according to Keith Duck of Raging Buffalo Snowboard Park, 19-265 Western Ave., Algonquin, Ill.

“It introduces the sport to a new audience, people who have never seen snowboarding live,” Duck said.

Navy Pier visitors were able to view snowboarding in its truest sense, according to Mike Edwards, Raging Buffalo’s head coach. Audience members witnessed cool tricks, hard falls and one rider front flip off the down box.

The chance to have fun is what motivated Slack to enter the competition. He said he wanted to ride in the city with his friends who were also participating in the event. The lights reflecting off the kids’ toothy grins in the cold night seemed to indicate they were having fun.

After the finals concluded, the competitors banded together to help the folks from Raging Buffalo break down the course as the judges decided who was worthy of the cash. In true Tom Sawyer fashion, the boys and one lone girl competitor turned the work into a game by launching the snow they gathered from atop the jumps into a garbage can at the bottom of the ramp.

At the end of the night it wasn’t about who won or who lost. Instead it was about who could throw a snowball into the garbage can and knock it over—a feat accomplished by many of the competitors.