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When it comes to progressing in snowboarding, sometimes all it takes is going for it.
Surrounded by a throng of like-minded riders launching through the terrain park doing exactly that, Deonte Westcott, an 18-year-old Aurora resident, hits his first-ever frontside 180 off a rail. “I just got caught up in the moment,” he says.
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Westcott was one of several local teenagers participating in the Red Bull Slide-In Tour, which made its national debut at Copper Mountain last week. The Tour—masterminded by Winter X Games gold medalist Zeb Powell with a mission to spread the love of snowboarding, increase accessibility to the sport, and diversify the slopes—launched on the East Coast five years ago.
Along with Maggie Leon, Brantley Mullins, Brolin Mawejje and a handful of other competitive snowboarders, Powell spent the day with the teens lapping Copper’s Woodward terrain park as a collective, gleeful pack.
“There’s not much to it,” says Powell, who won a gold medal at the 2020 X Games Knuckle Huck. “We radiate this energy that makes people want to come ride with us. They’re like, ‘Can you do this? Can you teach me this?’ It’s really so simple. It’s just getting together and having fun. They give me the hype, I give it right back. You radiate that energy, it’ll radiate right back to you. It’s contagious.”
The young riders at the Slide-In clinic had already notched some snowboard experience thanks to the Chill Foundation, an organization launched by Burton founders Jake and Donna Carpenter with the goal of introducing snowboarding and other sports to youth who might not otherwise have the resources to get involved. The organization has 22 locations across North America. The teens participating in the Copper Slide-In clinic were members of Chill’s Denver branch.
“Honestly, whether you’re learning how to stop for the first time, hitting your first flat box, or learning now to nollie, everyone has the same energy and excitement,” says Leon, who is a Chill ambassador and Burton-sponsored snowboarder (as well as an engineer for the company, specializing in equipment innovations for adaptive snowboarders).
“With the Chill Foundation, it’s very progression-based,” Leon says. “Everyone is at different skill [levels], but still learns together and pushes each other. Diversifying the mountain is the goal here, showcasing that anyone can get out here and do it. We’re really pushing to get more girls in the park. It can be intimidating. We’re trying to add that sense of security and encourage them.”
Lili Nielsen, a 14-year-old Alameda International High School student, learned to snowboard two years ago with the Chill Foundation. Before the Slide-In clinic, she considered herself an intermediate rider. During the clinic, she started hitting jumps. “I’m learning park right now, focusing on those skills. With Chill, I get to go on these awesome adventures. I’ve made a lot of unexpected friends,” she says.
Westcott also began snowboarding with the Chill Foundation two years ago. Although he grew up a fan of the sport, he never had the chance to try it when he was younger. “It was basically my whole avenue into this sport,” he says. “If I wanted to do this sport without Chill, it would probably take a lot longer, and I’d probably be a lot older when I got there.” He says he used to feel self-conscious about being one of few Black snowboarders on the slopes, but riding with Powell and the diverse crew at the Chill Foundation eliminates any uneasiness.
“It’s getting a lot better because I’m seeing more of us out here,” Westcott said. “It’s not like we’re all uncomfortable because we’re all singled out. I feel like now, with how many people who have gotten into the sport, we’ve gotten a more stable community. It’s like we have a color wheel now. We don’t have a gentrified sport.
A Colorado native, Zach Pierre-Louis recently became the community coordinator for Denver’s Chill Foundation after teaching a group of kids from the program how to snowboard when he was an instructor at Loveland Ski Area. “I grew up in a similar situation,” he says. “I didn’t have the opportunity to go snowboarding. It’s a high cost of entry and my parents couldn’t afford it. I thought this program that found people who were interested in the sport and provided them with all the gear and transportation completely free of cost was really it for me. I was one of the kids and now I get to be that person to help get them on the snow. It’s complete full-circle. I think snowboarding should be for everybody and that everybody should at least try it. You might fall in love with it, like I did.”
Growing up snowboarding in North Carolina, Powell never thought twice about being the first Black snowboarder to reach the highest level of the sport until it happened with his X Games victory. Now, his goal is to spread the love of the sport to one and all.
“I started leaning into the diversity side of it after I won X Games,” Powell says. “It was on such a big stage, a lot of people saw it. I got a lot of people reaching out like, ‘Hey, I didn’t even know Black people snowboarded. You’re such an inspiration to me.’ For me, the way I grew up, I just thought of snowboarding as snowboarding. Anyone can do it. I don’t care what you look like. So, for that to happen to me, I was like, Man, I’ve done everything I need to do. I can keep doing things with all my sponsors, but now I want to switch gears into welcoming diversity into the mountains.
“It’s about cruising and having fun. That’s how it was for me and that’s how I want to make it for everyone else.”