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Twenty Years of Snowboy Productions

Collaborative Events, Cultural Reverberations

Snowboy Productions is a bit like fine wine—at least in the sense that it’s gotten better with age. Back in February 1997, Snowboy’s founder Krush Kulesza was asked to put together a snowboard competition at Mt. Spokane, WA. Despite having no prior experience in building park features, he accepted, and got to work constructing a kicker for what would be known as The Mt. Spokane Big Air Festival. When the build was complete, the jump only went up a few inches past Krush’s hip. “I know, it’s funny,” Krush says. “I really had no clue what I was doing.”

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ABOVE Krush Kulesza (left) and Eric Peterson at the Mt. Spokane Big Air Festival in 1997. Photo by Art Atchkinson.

Krush has come a long way since then. For the past two decades, he’s been collaborating with resorts, riders and brands to create some of snowboarding’s most memorable gatherings. The dozens of people who came came out to celebrate Snowboy’s 20-Year Anniversary in Seattle, WA can attest to that. With the walls of the Piranha Shop art gallery covered in hundreds of artifacts, posters and photos from Snowboy’s various events, it was hard not to feel inspired. Each piece had its own story behind it—a story of pure, communal collaboration and brainstorming being brought to fruition.

“I’ve always claimed that I’m just the conduit,” Krush says. “None of us could do this by ourselves.” And while that may be true, over the past two decades Krush has proven himself to be the perfect spark plug.

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ABOVE Krush Kulesza, all smiles at the 20-year Snowboy Productions Anniversary Gallery in Seattle, WA. Photo: Ben Shanks Kindlon.

FILLING THE VOID (1997 – 2001)

Krush grew up in the small, conservative town of Kettle Falls, WA and made a beeline for Spokane directly after graduating high school. Before ever putting on any snowboard events, Krush says Snowboy Productions technically began as a t-shirt company. “I just thought Snowboy sounded cool. I had been selling these black t-shirts that said ‘Full Bore Powder Whore’ across the front, and along with it they had a little Snowboy Productions logo,” Krush says. “It was my tag.”

At the time Krush was also the frontman of a punk-metal band called Satan in Yellow, and he and his bandmates would regularly host shows at venues around Spokane. The Snowboy Productions tag was thrown onto their events too. By the time that Krush was asked to organize The Mt. Spokane Big Air Festival the name had stuck, and despite a rather small big-air jump the event went well. The following season, Krush was granted permission to put on two more snowboard events at Mt. Spokane.

“It just kept snowballing and next thing you know we’re building boardercross courses for Mt. Spokane, 49 Degrees North, Silver Mountain, Lookout Pass and Schweitzer, and holding events in the area,” Krush says. “That second year was when I started to see that Snowboy could become a real company.”

Krush admits that Snowboy’s earliest events weren’t always worth writing home about, but they were something where there previously was nothing. “If you look back at those first four years of events, they weren’t great. Some of them weren’t even good,” Krush says. “But there was a void in the area, and we started to fill that void. Our events didn’t have cutting-edge construction or anything like that. All we had was the energy.”

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ABOVE Event posters from Snowboy Productions’ Spokane days. Satan in Yellow is the punk-metal band that Krush used to sing for. “Well, I don’t know if I would really call it singing,” he says.

The energy started to resonate, but slowly. In 1999 Snowboy presented the Kan Fest at Mt. Spokane, and to Krush’s surprise, snowboarders from across the state showed up to ride in it. “My buddy Jeff Hambleton—or Hambone—ended up grabbing two younger kids from Mt. Baker and drove from all the way from Bellingham for the event. It blew my mind, and was the most flattering and humbling thing. Again, the event wasn’t amazing, but the energy was rad and the camaraderie was cool. That was huge, a pivotal point for Snowboy.”

Among the most rambunctious Snowboy events that Krush threw in his Spokane days were on his birthdays—a series of parties known as Krush’s All-Star Summer Bash. The party for his 31st birthday was set to be the biggest yet, with more time and money invested than any bash that had come before. But while the bands showed, crowds didn’t. It was a total flop.

Krush felt it was time for a change of pace. Hosting snowboard events on his own dollar was becoming too risky, and the punk-metal shows weren’t faring as well as they needed to make a living off of. “I either had to put the fork in Snowboy and get a regular job, or try to take it somewhere other than Spokane.” And Krush wasn’t about to settle for a regular job.

AN ACTUAL BUDGET (2001-2010)

Just as Krush was starting to explore other options, The Summit at Snoqualmie was on the hunt for a new Snowboard Coordinator who could help boost the resort’s reputation—especially with the fast-growing terrain park scene sweeping the States in the early 2000s. The resort had just partnered with Snowpark Technologies and shifted a greater focus of their marketing towards younger riders, and saw Krush a perfect fit for the position. “At that time people loved going to the nearby Alpental for its terrain Krush says. “But nobody ever claimed Snoqualmie. Everybody had been there and whatnot, but it just didn’t have any real reputation. There was no park scene, no nothing.”

In the early 2000s, Mervin Mfg. was manufacturing snowskates and The Summit at Snoqualmie was at the forefront of allowing them on the lifts. Krush says that he hit it off with the company’s founder, Pete Saari, and collaborated with him and the resort to create Snowboy’s first event at Snoqualmie: Shut Up and Snowskate. He said the resort’s backing opened his eyes to possibilities that he had only ever dreamed of before.

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ABOVE Views from a powdery Shut Up and Snow Skate event in the early 2000s. Snowskater: Jake Tomlinson. Photo: Patrick Kennedy.

“They were like, ‘Okay sweet, this is your budget for the band,’” Krush says. “I was used to running events off $500 budgets out of pocket, then suddenly I have an actual budget allotted to me from the resort. Until then I hadn’t felt entirely comfortable working directly with resorts. For those first four years, it was like I had tried to make changes from the outside and was unsuccessful. But I thought if I could get on the inside and work from there, then I’d probably have better luck. And that’s exactly what ended up happening with Snoqualmie.”

The success of Krush’s first year led to a full-time position as Snoqualmie’s Youth Marketing Manager. Former pro and longtime Snoqualmie local, Austin Hironaka, says that Krush’s presence resonated quickly across the mountain. “When Krush came to Snoqualmie, things totally changed,” Austin says. “It was the start of an era. He brought a totally different environment, park and events, and this whole new core flavor along with them.”

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ABOVE Krush Kulesza and Austin Hironaka recreate a photo from the 2010 Holy Oly Revival (zoom in to see the original). Austen won the whole thing and took home The Holiest of the Oly trophy that year. Photo: Ben Shanks Kindlon.

Although Krush threw dozens of events in his time at Snoqualmie, arguably the most memorable were Snowboy Productions’ Holy Oly Revivals. In the summer of 2002, Krush and a crew of friends painted the now iconic Summit water tower—a massive drum that’s been bomb-dropped by Travis Rice, wallridden by Austen Sweetin, and served as the backdrop for the first few Holy Oly Revivals. The zone surrounding the water tower was home to some of Washington’s earliest freestyle events–the Rudy Tudy jams–and Krush wanted to pay homage to the history there with a quarterpipe event of his own. With the help of Joe McGuire and Peter Line, he set one up.

“It was scary as hell,” Krush says. “We essentially used bamboo and zip-ties like rebar, trying to create this sketchy tombstone quarterpipe so that it could stand up to a six-hour session. Peter ended up flying over it at one point and missed the one tower pad that we had behind it. I was worried I’d killed Peter Line at that first Holy Oly.”

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ABOVE Peter Line at the first Holy Oly Revival in 2004. Krush and his friends repainted the Summit water tower in the same color scheme as the Olympia can that had come before it. Photo: Patrick Kennedy.

Peter was fine, and the event was a hit. It was fast, loose and spontaneous. The winner of the first few Holy Oly Revivals won nothing more than a case of Olympia beer. There were no heats or divisions, and there certainly wasn’t much structure. In unprecedented fashion, groms dropped alongside pros. Everyone hiked, and everyone had fun. It went on for eight years. “The Holy Oly was an ode to the past and a nod to the future, all happening in the present,” Krush says.

On top of the Holy Oly Revivals, Tube Cities and other resort based events at Snoqualmie, Snowboy Productions started to branch into urban environs. Boarderline Snowboard Shop in Bellevue, WA wanted to have an early season rail jam in their parking lot and asked Krush if he put it on. “I’d never done any urban stuff and really had no idea what to do,” he says. “We ended up just getting some ice-rink snow, set up some makeshift scaffolding and just figured it out. Then the structures started evolving.”

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ABOVE Photos and posters from the Downtown Throwdown days.

After a few years of rail jamming in Bellevue he brought the operation to Seattle and created the first Downtown Throwdown. “In the mid-2000s, rail jams were a big thing. There were guys who made a living off just doing rail jams,” he says. “With help from sponsors we came up with about $4,000 in prize money, but that wasn’t enough to get guys like Eddie Wall, Marc Frank Montoya or Mike Casanova to come through. But through working a lot with Jesse Burtner and Think Thank at Snoqualmie, we had all these hungry up-and-comers on their crew who were ready to put on a show.”

Prior to meeting Krush, Jesse had already participated in dozens of contests. But he says he had never been asked for his input on creating any of the course setups. “I’d run up against a lot of resorts who didn’t know what was going on, and wouldn’t work with us, but right off the bat Snowboy’s events were about collaboration,” Jesse says. “No one does it like Krush in snowboarding, period. He combines the stoke of a grimy session with the organization of a contest, finds the perfect middle ground, and puts some shine on some really spectacular snowboarding in the process. The stages that Krush has set for so many people have all had reason to exist, and they’ve all been quality.”

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ABOVE Jesse Burtner (left) and Krush Kulesza. Photo: Ben Shanks Kindlon.

GOING GLOBAL (2010-2014)

By the dawn of 2010, Krush was ready for another change. “I’d started to feel the ceiling at Snoqualmie, and felt that there was only so much I could do if I stuck to one resort,” Krush says. “So, I put my notice in, and then called up Pete Saari to pitch to him that Mervin should hire me. I said we bring what Snowboy was doing around Washington State globally, and scored a position at Mervin as the Global Events Manager.”

Snowboy and Mervin kept the Downtown Throwdown going, expanding its reach with Throwdowns in San Francisco, CA, Minneapolis, MN and Boston, MA. As the buzz around Snowboy grew throughout America they started hosting snowboard events at various resorts across the country—Bear Mountain, Waterville Valley, Boreal and beyond—and even started branching out into skateboarding with events like Lords of Seatown at Marginal Way Skatepark in Seattle.

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ABOVE Pika and Ollie Burtner draw inspiration from a wall dedicated to Snowboy Production’s skateboard events at the 20-year anniversary gallery in Seattle. Photo: Ben Shanks Kindlon.

In 2012 Snowboy traveled overseas to host its first international snowboard event, a Boxes for Days competition in Japan. “My friend Kenji Kato used to work at Snowboard Connection in Seattle, and we decided that we had to bring some of the northwest vibes out there. Kind of how we did it in the States, we started out with a small, no-big-deal event, just to generate some buzz. Once we started to establish ourselves there with the small stuff, then we brought in something big. That’s what we did with the Holy Bowly.”

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ABOVE “This gallery pulls in from every aspect of our culture,” Jesse Burtner says. “Nick Russian doing art for the Holy Oly Revival, Jamie Lynn doing art for the Holy Bowly, Zeachman doing art for Kinko De Mayo, Geno doing art and creating an event, Scott Stevens creating an event—all of these super-primo cultural tie-ins that the kids love, and that we love too.” Cole Taylor took this Ethan Stone of Mark “Deadlung” Edlund from the Holy Bowly and transferred it onto wood using an emulsion process. Beautiful stuff.

Krush had experimented with snow bowls at Snoqualmie, but saw that some park builders such as Hayato “Bubbles” Maruyama in Japan were already ahead of the curve. “At the time, the ones I went to were smaller scale, mostly done by hand and was very much surf and slash focused,” Krush says. “When I was thinking about creating the Holy Bowly, I wanted it to be more skate focused. I appreciated the slashy, surfy vibes, but wanted to involve airs also.”

He got to work putting together the first Holy Bowly with a focus on unlimited line choices. “The idea is that nothing can obstruct your line, no matter how unlikely that line may be for taking,” Krush says. “It’s clean. Anything you want to do: Go nuts.” Another important aspect of the Holy Bowly, like all Snowboy events, is the essence of easily accessible fun. “It’s not this 80-foot jump. It’s not the X Games, it’s not the Olympics—it’s obtainable snowboarding,” Krush says. “Anyone can session it. Sure, you may not be able to do the tricks that Forest Bailey just hit on it, but you can still ride it. That’s what really separates the Holy Bowly. It’s so rad to see Jamie Lynn, Chris Roach and those guys riding alongside the younger riders. When you put the best O.G.-style guys in the world next to the new, up-and-comers and take away the pressure, it’s insane. I honestly think that style progresses during the week of the Holy Bowly.”

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ABOVE David McKinnon at the 2016 Holy Bowly at Mammoth Mountain, CA. Photo: Pascal Shirley.

Snowboy brought the Bowly back to the States, and last year to Canada for the Holy Bowl-Eh. This upcoming season Krush plans to bring it back to Japan, and keep it circulating for as long as it stays relevant. The event attracts riders of all ages and backgrounds, and has without doubt helped to define snowboarding’s current state of style over the past few years.

With the success of the Holy Bowly and other Snowboy events, Krush was started to feel the ceiling again. Fortunately, change is a constant he doesn’t mind embracing.

NO STRINGS ATTACHED (2014-PRESENT)

Despite the amicable relationship between Mervin and Snowboy, in 2014 Krush decided to take things in a new direction. “I thought it was time to start working with a bunch of brands on top of what I do with Mervin,” Krush says. “It’s awesome, they’ve stayed involved with a lot of events but now I can work with anyone in snowboarding.”

Since then Snowboy has partnered with brands like Dinosaurs Will Die and Airblaster to create Barrely an Event and Trench Fest, respectively, and with Loon, NH and Trollhaugen, WI to put on The Projects. “The Projects is like a Holy Bowly with jibs on it, focusing on endless lines,” Krush says. “But we don’t advertise The Projects leading up to the it, it’s more like a flash mob event.”

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ABOVE Ryan Paul (left) and Krush in front of The Projects’ wall at the Snowboy Productions 20-year anniversary gallery in Seattle.

Ryan Paul says it was a blast having Snowboy Productions in the Midwest for last season’s Troll Project. “It’s crazy, some of Krush’s earlier events I can only remember hearing about when I was a kid,” Ryan says. “I go to go to seven Downtown Throwdowns, and they were always my favorite rail jam series–way more about the vibe than anything else. And nowadays he’s still putting on legendary events. That’s actually the one word I’d put on Krush at this point: Legendary.”

Jesse Burtner describes Krush’s success as a product of his diligence, and says that Snowboy Productions’ events have deeply influenced snowboarding as he knows it. “The amount of cultural reverberations that have come from these gatherings that Krush has created is huge in our community,” Jesse says. “To him, it’s not just about singular events, they’re all part of a bigger story. And Krush is so committed to the narrative that sometimes he’ll put blinders on to the reality of what’s going on around him. Sometimes that’s what gets him into sticky situations, but those same blinders and that same commitment is what also sees him through.”

Twenty years deep, Krush feels humbled by the gratitude that snowboarders around the globe have shown for Snowboy Productions and its events. “With the timing of this 20-year anniversary, it’s been fun to look back and revisit everything. Some things we just stumbled into, other things we orchestrated, and to see how many people I’ve gotten to collaborate with over the years has been crazy,” he says. “Years ago, I just wouldn’t believe you if you told me that this is what I’d come to do for a living.

“I’ve got more things that I want to do now than I even have time for. I’m 46-years-old, and 20 years strong into this company, and I’m geeking out harder on it today than I was when I was 26.”

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ABOVE Krush and his wife, Smiley, daughter, Juliana and son, Ronin.

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