Rail Jam Takes Snowboarding to New Heights
DULUTH - Modern snowboarding has been around since the 1960's, but it wasn't until 1998 when it became an official Olympic sport when the sport's popularity began to soar.
Since then, snowboarding has continued growing at an alarming rate, developing new styles and competitions.
"They're definitely progressing at a level as well as skateboarding and even skiing, which has been around a lot longer," said Dan Arbellera, a judge with the Midwest Alt Series.
One of the most recent additions to the sport is rail jam.
"They have 15 minutes to hit one feature repeatedly and progress. So, they do one trick and the next time they should do something different," said Arbellera.
Riders perform tricks on rails, boxes, pipes, wall rides and other creative features in an effort to impress the judges.
"The number one thing is to have fun, because the more fun you are having the better you'll ride. Second, the bigger and more unique tricks you do the more the judges will like it. Then the third, the cleaner your trick, you go all the way down the rail or you land it really clean, that's what they really like to," said Matt Chase, of Chanhassen, Minnesota.
Competitions like rail jam are often a stepping stone for young riders looking to pursue a career in the sport.
The sport also offers the unique opportunity to see both boys and girls competing together.
"If you look at the Olympics or the X–Games most of the guys are way ahead of the girls but snowboarding with other guys makes it easier to learn and it's just more motivation," said Bree Simonson, of Duluth.
Rail jam doesn't offer the same type of speed or amplitude as in competitions such as slopestyle but the risk for injury is still there.
Chase said, "It's a calculated risk. It's not stupid because we do develop skills in order to do the tricks that we do, but there is danger involved and that's a part of our sport."
But riders say when it comes to landing that big trick, the risk is well worth the reward.
"If you land a 360 you're super happy and you want to go and land a 540. Then you land a 540 and you want to land a 720 and then you want to put a flip in that. It just keeps progressing and there are really no limits to what you can do as long as you have speed and a jump," said Chris Stingle, of Duluth.
Rail jam is brand new event at Spirit Mountain. Last year, it was just an exhibition.
The top three finishers from the competition receive an invite to the National Championships in Copper Mountain, Colorado in April.