In surfing culture, after periods of less-than-stellar waves, surfers adhere to the age old mantra, “pray for surf.” Insert “snow,” or just “cold” for that matter, instead and here lies the crying plea from ski resorts here in the high country.
After a month and a half of unusually warm temperatures throughout the high country, it’s finally beginning to feel like winter. With our friend Jack Frost finally gracing our presence, it’s only right we welcome him with open arms in the form of rail slapping, front flipping, ski and snowboard action — oh yeah, and really good beer.
A ski and snowboard contest held in the backyard of a brewery is just the type of party high country snow sport enthusiasts were due, and that’s exactly what director of retail operations Danny Wilcox and the folks over at Appalachian Mountain Brewery delivered.
The AMB Winter Rail Jam 2.0 returned Saturday in front of a crowd Wilcox estimated was five times the size of the inaugural rail jam last year. All proceeds from the event went toward nonprofits.
“I’m super stoked with it,” Wilcox said. “We’re going to try and help out a lot of nonprofits in the area like Purple Hearts Homes.”
At 5 p.m., 70 riders of all skill levels lined the tent in the backyard to register for the event. Open to all age levels, the contest included two skill categories of intermediate to advanced riders. Aside from prizes including Salomon Skis, helmets and AMB gift cards, there was also a raffle for the general public.
Sponsored tents from Salomon, Stzlife Clothing and Appalachia Cookie Co. were set up around the exterior of the yard. The Farm to Flame food truck was set up outside as well as an outdoor bar to expedite beer distribution.
Aside from the sheer size of the operation, this year’s rail jam included significant modifications. They added four feet to the top of the ramp to make the drop less steep, while also adding a side ramp with steps to help riders ascend more quickly to the top. After riders dropped in they were confronted with two different options: a flat rail suited more for intermediate riders, and a more technical rail complete with AMB beer cans encased in the bottom.
As the jam session, a free-for-all practice session, began for the contestants, the usually mellow brewery, situated at 163 Boone Creek Drive, came to life. Inside contest goers were treated to live music from local band Handlebar Betty, while outside DJ Sno Chainz brought the contest to a bass thumping beginning.
While intermediate riders began competing, spectators emerged from inside to line the enclosed area, and some even climbed on top of picnic tables to get better views.
One of those spectators, Appalachian State student Shane Talbot said he was pleasantly surprised by the huge turnout.
“I definitely look forward to going next year,” Talbot said. “It was a great community event and entertainment.”
After the intermediate event ended, Wilcox made the announcement that the advanced competition would begin. With skiers and snowboards mixed in, it was apparent after the first drop that this was a highly advance competition.
As riders dropped in one by one hitting the rail with an array of technical moves, the crowd echoed “oohhs” and “aahhs” over the blaring music. Snapchat video flashes lit up the rails as spectators recorded each riders run.
Snowboarders and skiers both took three runs before they were separated into five finalists on each side.
The crowning moment in the competition came when local Watauga native and skier Berkley Wilcox dropped in for his second run of the finals. As he smoothly slid onto the rail and grinded to the end, he suddenly catapulted himself into a front flip, landing solidly on his skis.
Although others laid down solid runs, including Julien Passajou who won the snowboarding portion, the contest inevitably belonged to Berkley Wilcox. After his performance, he elaborated on not only his victory but the impact this event had on the community.
“I think it’s good to get away from the mountain and do a ski competition because you get a lot more of a fan base than normal,” Berkley Wilcox said. “If you do it at App Ski Mountain or somewhere else you get the same people that go there.”
At the conclusion of the contest Danny Wilcox sat exhausted in his office. Multiple friends and coworkers came in to congratulate him on the awesome night. One might relish the moment and be satisfied with the moment but when pressed about the future, he responded with vigor.
“The next goal is to see it turn into a Boone community effort, a Boone winter fest,” Danny Wilcox said. ”Creating an identity in Boone is what my goal is and bringing the community together in different ways. If with can bring people together with food and craft beer over a good cause, I don’t see what’s better than that.”
Story by: Ben Cogsdale, Sports Reporter
Photos by: Justin Perry, Photo Editor
Video by: Carson Fletcher, Video Editor