Among close-knit snowboarding circles the GT Memorial Noboard race is a no-miss affair. This legendary event brings together local shredders and pros alike to celebrate the life of Canadian snowboarder Greg Todds, the founder of noboarding, for a weekend of epic riding and even more epic partying -- some might say it's the Burning Man of snowboarding.
I'd never been to the GT Memorial before, and had no idea what to expect as I hitchhiked my way to a small town (population 30) in the middle of the Canadian Kootenays. The event occurs in a remote zone outside of Revelstoke, British Columbia. It's a somewhat mythical area with endless powder and technical terrain that is kept hush-hush by all who know and love it. Stories of heavy localism and slashed tires help keep this place off the radar. But this close-knit community opens its arms to one and all for the memorial. It's truly a sight to see, and even more of a wonder to experience.
People from all over the country flooded this winter wonderland crashing couches, floors, truck beds, and campers. With my board and camera gear in tow I wandered up a random driveway and stumbled upon Cholo Burns, one of Greg Todds' best friends. I had no plan, yet within hours Burns had solidified a place for me to stay, a ride to the trailhead, and a snowmobile ride to the event.
Noboarding dates back in the early 2000s. Todds and his crew of close friends left Whistler for the wilds of British Columbia, and it was there, in the land of epic powder, that Todds came up with the idea to create a bindingless snowboard.
"He had this crazy design in his head, with drywall screws in his board, an old rope, and a garbage can lid handle," said Taylor Percey, another one of Todds' close friends. "We thought he was nuts. It wasn't until after he passed that the sport really took off."
Unfortunately, while Todds was an early noboarding pioneer, it is also what took his life when he got caught in an avalanche. That was seven years ago. Close friends and family have rallied together each year since in order to honor and remember his life. The result is inspiring. There is no other event that better illuminates the importance of friendship and the lasting impact an individual can have on many people than the GT Memorial.
"Every year there are more and more people who show up," said Eero Niemela. "Greg was always down for a good time. This is what it is all about."
The event takes place in a clearcut logging zone in the middle of the woods that can only be reached by snowmobiles. I was told this year's race was more difficult than most because the trees have re-grown. So what was once a hill of stumps covered with deep snow now looks more like a Christmas tree farm. And despite the nearly foot of fresh that had dumped the night before, the area is still, like the rest of the continent, experiencing below-average snowfall.
Snowmobiles choked the bottom of the venue, and the day of debauchery started early. Children, dogs, and a mass of partygoers mingled at the base watching the chaos ensue in the race. But the snow-covered faces that emerged from the maze of tree branches at the finish line were all smiles. The race day ended with the "Asian Canadian Downhill" consisting of free-for-all dash to the bottom, followed by the shotgunning of a beer -- the first to the end of both wins.
After the race, riders trickled back to the lawless town, and into the one-room community center where the award ceremony and auction took place. Death metal served as the background music for the night as snowboards and artwork were auctioned off to raise money for Todds' children's trust fund. It was incredible to see this community of riders from all over the world dedicated to keeping Todds' flame alive, and supporting the next generation of noboarding as the sport continues to grow worldwide. As yet another one of Todds' closest friends put it: "The GT Memorial is the best way to commemorate the life of someone who came up with something beautiful."