By Krissy Mallette – As the sun set behind a pink and purple sky, the biggest crowd of the weekend gathered at the Carinthia base area for the Men's Snowboarding Superpipe Final. Although the view was gorgeous, it was colder than the night before. Hoping to catch a good view of the pipe, people packed together, no doubt enjoying the crowd's double-function of amassing precious body heat. Kids were holding up cheer signs that read, "Mason is the man", and "Kevin is my FREND". One teenage girl even held up a homemade cardboard sign that read "Kevin Sign My Diary!" with little hearts scribbled all over it.
Just when I thought the level of fandom had peaked at an all-time weekend high, the crowd went berserk when it was announced that one of snowboarding' biggest icons, Shaun White, was ready to drop in for his first run. The crowd began to shout-chant his name, momentarily oblivious to the same cold that had kept them quiet for most of Women's Final, just an hour earlier. You could feel a wave of enthusiasm strike the crowd like lightening.
There's just something about Shaun White. The people love to love him. Maybe they still remember him as the pre-pubescent who was too young to drive the car he won at his very first X Games. Or maybe it's that sincere smile and down to Earth attitude you'll notice in talking with him. Even with millions of dollars in the bank, he's still the same Shaun White we fell for years ago: an ambitious kid who just loves to snowboard.
We've watched this entire group of competitors grow up as they've compete in countless regional and national competitions... then onto the X Games, and then going global with the Olympics. Shaun. Danny. Kevin. Scotty. Andreas. All of these riders were 16- or 17-years-old when they stepped into the spotlight. Many of them, now in their twenties, have become world-famous stars of their sport. This weekend, we saw that all those years in the winners circle has awarded them true fame: hundreds of fans pushing to get near the start gates to slap fives as they pass through to catch that next sled ride to the top.
"Shaun! Kevin! Danny! Scotty! Hannah!!!" It was an incredible sight that spoke to what the snowboard media has done for the greater industry. The video side of the snowboarding industry is making films with budgets in the million-dollar range. The athletes are signing multi-million-dollar deals. And the demand to see these athletes perform has spread throughout mainstream media; hence the live NBC Winter Dew Tour broadcast on primetime this weekend, airing throughout millions of homes. Viewers were surely not all hardcore snowboarders themselves...but now the level of skill and risk these athletes are capable of putting into these nationally broadcast competitions has made it an exciting spectacle that taps on universals most people recognize.
The crowd clearly shared in Shaun White's euphoria in having dominated the Pipe Final. When he had wrapped up a dozen television interviews at the base of the pipe, hundreds of kids (who probably can't sit still through a 45 minute class period in school), were still watching him with every bit of attention they could muster. They had their sharpie markers in hand along with their lift tickets, sweatshirts, helmets, and any bit of notebook paper they could find ready for his autograph. Anything to prove they were there. (Check the photo gallery for further evidence.)
Shaun signed autographs for an hour. He had no choice. His fans had the same drive to catch his signature as he had for winning the competition. At first, we felt bad for him because he seemed their prisoner. But a ways into it, Shaun was still smiling and posing for photos. He got a little kick out of the girls who managed to sneak past security to his side of the pipe fencing. As security escorted them away, he smiled at them, slapped one of them a last high five, and said, "uh oh!" like he was busted right along with them. The night belonged to Shaun White, yet he was more than happy to share it with his fans. It was completely endearing and exactly what you want to see in of one of your heroes.