By Kate Kulow
It’s 5:00 p.m., an hour before the official competition is slated to begin, and Taylor Lawn is bustling with competitors: snowboarders and skiers ranging from high school students to Mountaineer students to Gunnison community members. All are contributing to the epic comeback of Western Colorado’s 13th annual Rail Jam.
For many of the underclassmen at Western, this was their first in-person Rail Jam experience. Due to Covid-19, last year’s event was held virtually, with contestants submitting compilation videos via Instagram. To make up for lost time, the students who organized this year’s event, Jordyn Jimenez and Thomas Mcgregor, went full bore to make this year’s event special. Jimenez and Mcgregor’s efforts were rewarded, with many older students proclaimed that this year may have been the best Rail Jam yet.
Western’s student body had been buzzing about Friday night for the entire week. “Are you going to Rail Jam?” was the new conversation starter in Rare Air Café and Mad Jacks the morning of. Also at 5 p.m: the Escalante Complex and Ute Hall are hosting a drink hot cocoa and meet your future roommate night, with the housing application and roommate selection for Fall Semester 2022 having just gone live on Western’s housing portal.
The Mexican hot chocolate worked wonders to warm the hands (and bellies) of spectators going to watch the event. “I’ve never skied or snowboarded [before], so I’m excited to see it up-close,” remarked Jillian Baker, a freshman and a Student Ambassador this year. Baker stays active in the campus community by giving tours to incoming freshmen and people interested in the school.
Baker, along with other students and spectators around the globe, have been watching the Winter Olympics and building their appreciation for lesser known, more technical winter sports. With a heathy level of anticipation built-up, the action got underway at 6:00 p.m. on the dot. The evening featured “poppin’” music provided by Souled Out Sound. a music and production venture owned by Christopher Whitted, who also owns the popular Gunnison music venue I Bar Ranch.
The snowboarders shined during the first half of competition, with each participant sneaking in as many runs as they could in 45 minutes in order to qualify for the finals later in the competition. Only the five top skiers and snowboarders, along the five women that signed up, would be eligible for another chance to show off their tricks at the finals later in the evening.
Let’s take a moment to dive into the course itself. The snowboarders (and skiers, later in the evening) were provided with two options to drop in. On the left, a triangular snowpack helped the riders accumulate speed. If the competitor decided to drop in on the right, they would instead scale the first low rail of the run. In the center of the run was one rail situated at about 45 degrees to the ground, serving to launch riders into the air, sending them off to the last two rails of the run: one straight and blue, the other red and with a middle bent.
In the first 15 minutes, snowboarders warmed up in front of a large and growing crowd of 200 people. While most riders sought to minimize risk in their warm-up runs, several riders quickly became fan favorites with their attempts at daring feats. The sole female snowboarder, Ellie Orr, shredded the course in a bright purple jacket that dazzled the crowd.
Two other fan favorites were Gunnison locals, the youngest of whom participated at just 9 years old. These two boys, incredibly talented in their own right, massively outperformed crowd expectations. Wyatt Osmundson (12) attempted four front flips off the middle rail, landing the flip successfully on his final run. “The snowboarding was pretty rad,” adds Claire Burianek, a sophomore at Western. After a few more tricks and a few more falls back to earth, the snowboarding group concluded their prelims.
Next up were the skiers of the Gunnison Valley. After a 15-minute intermission, the skiers were given about an hour to squeeze in all the runs they could in a larger field of competitors. By this time, the crowd had grown from about 200 to 300 people. Spectators hugged the orange fences, eager to see what stunts would be pulled in the ski section of the Rail Jam.
The types of skis on display ranged widely, from your standard double with poles, to crazy setups such as a mono-ski and a pair of ski blades, short skis that are roughly the same length as standard ice skates. The crowd had thickened substantially, and spectators continued to trickle into the lawn for the skiing portion of the event. The skiers were incredibly supportive of each other, consistently hyping up their fellow skiers. At one point, three consecutive and incredible backflips were successfully landed by three different competitors.
Finally, at 8:15 p.m., the finals began with five select snowboarders and skiers from each category fighting hard for coveted prizes provided by event sponsors. Among these prizes were: a pair of custom skis provided by Romp Skis, and a variety of contributions from local retailers like Treads ‘N’ Threads and Gene Taylors. Of course, only a select few could take home the big prizes. In the end the winners of the 13th annual Rail Jam were:
Women’s Snowboarding: Ellie Orr
Men’s Snowboarding: Colton Garcia
Women’s Ski: Lila Goddard-Vaughan
Men’s Ski: Miller Jones
Best Trick: Ben Thomson with a switch tails 270 front 450 (look it up).
Congratulations to all competitors that won an award and participated in Western’s 2022 iteration of Rail Jam! This amazing event on campus connected hundreds of Westerners and community members, serving as a much-needed outdoor reprieve from several years of event cancellations, postponements, and lockdowns.
“The best part of Rail Jam this year, besides having music there, was getting a full registration before the event date! I’m looking forward to building on this year and taking it a step-up next year,” adds Jordyn Jimenez, one of Rail Jam’s lead organizers.