As a nineteen-year old coming out of the start at the Mt. Baker Banked Slalom, the shouts from the rag-tag assemblage of snowboarders and interlopers was a cacophony—save for one clear and distinct voice. “MBHC! F—- yeah!” yelled Tom Sims. It was enough to completely rattle me out of the start shack and mess with the crucial first three turns. But it was also an amazing moment. Tom Sims was king of the west coast when it came to snowboarding in the mid-80s and Mt. Baker was an evolving ground zero for his red swallowtails. Carter Turk, Dano Donnelly, Jeff Fulton, Mike Ranquet, Erik Janko and even Craig Kelly (up until about that year, I believe) rode Tom’s boards. Though Ranquet, Dano, Carter and Fulton would soon become early integral team riders for Gnu/Lib founder Mike Olson—and Craig obviously became a critical part of Burton history—in that early era at Mt. Baker, WA it was all red and white.
My first “real” board (the initial craft was a piece of marine plywood with a steamed and pressed rocker/nose) was a Sims 1500 swallowtail emblazoned with said MBHC stickers. Hearing Tom call this out was incredibly jarring as I wasn’t sure I had earned the privilege of being called MBHC. The sticker—homemade diecuts from previous owner Tim Hanowell—had come with the board and were permanently affixed.
But to get a shout out from The King, that was something else.
Tom was an idiosyncratic and iconic dude. He was the coolest cat around when snowboarding was the coolest thing ever. To see him swooping the lines and powder at Mt. Baker in the most garish one-piece suits was a thing of beauty. When he entered the lodge, the music seemed to stop and everyone took note. And although there was no doubt he was fairly aware of his rock star status, Tom never gave off an air that he was above the tribe that looked to him. The smallest grom could approach with a broken binding, question about a heli-coil, or any concern about his boards and Tom would be off to the van, sorting through parts and working to get the kid back on the hill.
When he would arrive at the LBS each year with the parade of giants we’d only see in International Snowboard Magazine (ISM), occasionally in Thrasher and in Sims videos: Shaun Palmer, Keith Kimmel and The Master himself, Terry Kidwell… well, it was simply a more electric event than any concert, party or anything I have experienced since. When Tom brought it, he brought it strong. Sims was so entrenched in Mt. Baker culture I can still recall the Sims board box cut and flattened into a wall separating Ike Donnelly and Jeff Fulton’s “rooms” at the old Lakehouse.
Later, working for the late, great ISM, I would meet, share beers and talk with Tom Sims on several occasions. For all the aura he gave off at those early races, it was clear he was a gentle soul who deeply loved snowboarding, as well as his friends and family. And we shared a common passion for flyfishing, talking at length about green drake hatches we should fish together. I do regret that we never had the opportunity to cast lines on the river, but I know that he was a skilled fisherman.
I also recall being at the Nagano Olympics in 1998 (the zenith or nadir of the era depending on how you look at it), watching the slalom races with Mark Fawcett well in front of the Europeans, only a few gates from claiming gold. In one of the last turns, his binding broke and he skidded to the edge of the course. While in just about any other sport one would expect anguish screams and tossing of gear—and a steamed sponsor, Mark unclipped his board and strode painfully to the fence. Tom Sims, his sponsor, was the first to greet and embrace him. That image, more than any other, remains with me from those games. Tom was there for the good and the bad.
It’s increasingly hard to say goodbye to the guys who shaped the thing that shaped me, and it still seems like Craig is going to give a call one of these days with an itinerary for some insane trip to a faraway mountain. But today I just like to think Craig and Tom are riding again, on the cosmic slopes that surround us all.
Thank you, Tom Sims.