Pivotal Moments: East Coast Soul with Park Guru Tony Chiuchiolo
Tony Chiuchiolo has seen the snowboard industry from almost every perspective. His many titles over the years include sponsored rider, brand developer, marketer, merchandise manager, event coordinator and now, his current post as Terrain Park Manager at Sugarbush Resort, VT. He started riding at Mad River Glen when he was six years old, back before they banned snowboarding. In 1990 he got a job instructing at Sugarbush and hasn’t left Vermont since.
Twenty-four years later, he’s fully invested in giving back to the mountain, the state, and the sport that has made his life what it is. He’s seen a lot of riders move west, but he’s stayed to wave the flag and help bring up the next generation. He’s not only raising his daughter and one-month-old son, but also a whole crew of adopted children —the Sugarbush Parks family.
Tony and the terrain park staff at Sugarbush have cultivated one of the most inclusive, vibrant and friendly terrain parks on the East Coast. Pros, ams, college and high school kids, veterans and youngsters all hang and ride together as friends. If you call the park home, you’re a part of the family. No vibes. No pressure. Just lots of people having fun and shredding. While some terrain parks can be hotbeds for competition and ego, Sugarbush is focused on creativity and good times. Tony’s no-bullshit attitude resonates through the whole scene. His grizzly face and ginger locks can be spotted on any given day with a rake and a shovel, chatting it up at the bottom of the Sunny D chairlift. Ask him about whiskey drinkin’ or UFC fighting and he won’t disappoint. Same goes for talk on the East Coast snowboard scene, from coming up in the early ‘90s to the influential position he holds today.
I was instructing at Sugarbush for a few years in the early ‘90s. My first sponsor was the B-Side, a skate and snowboard shop in Burlington, VT around ’93 or ’94, and then I got on the Sugarbush pro team. It’s always been my home mountain.
Back then American Ski Company [ASC] owned most of the big East Coast resorts and every resort they owned had a pro team. We would travel to this thing called the Boarderfest, which was hosted by every ASC mountain: Sugarloaf [ME], Sunday River [ME], Killington [VT], Mt. Snow [VT], Attitash [NH]. They would put us up at the resort and we would party and shred and compete with the other teams. They would also come to our mountain. So you got to know everybody.
What got you into competing and sponsored riding?
I went to [Burlington snowboard shop] B-Side to buy something and George Covalla [legendary photographer/photo editor] was the manager and said, “Don’t buy that, I’ve got somebody who wants to talk to you about product.”
Once I got that shop sponsorship, all the others came. It was different in the ‘90s. You got one sponsor and other people wanted to put you on their team. If you were good enough to get one sponsor, then you were good enough to have others. It wasn’t so saturated with talent like it is now. There was a core of good riders, and they were on another level.
Does the East Coast community exist now as it did then?
No, not really. Now, the mountains that invest in their teams invest in pros that already have names. They may not be as devoted or legitimately part of those resorts, they’re just big names that they like to have on their list.
When the ASC owned so many resorts it allowed you to go to all the different mountains and build connections. You knew the guys from all these ASC mountains and there was a lot more inter-mingling. You’d think that would be easier now because of social media. Back then it wasn’t that easy to get in touch—it was like, “I know all these dudes are gonna be at this event. I better go ‘cause I wanna see them.” The events themselves were a lot more raw, too. I remember being at Attitash [NH] for a night big air comp and people were throwing beer bottles at you mid-air. It was a little more unruly.
That unruly aspect still exists, but you see it in smaller events. The average event at a terrain park is more family friendly.
Well those run off a different model. Slopestyle events are modeled more off of the corporate, safe, X Games-style model. They’ve got their sponsors and they don’t want to risk anything or shake it up. They’re very bland. But back then it was like, you didn’t get to see these guys all the time so the event was actually in the background. It was more about being with your friends and raging. That was where the 10% rule came from. If you were the guy who was sober enough to win you had to take 10% of your winnings and buy the other guys beer.
Back then they genuinely fostered that environment, whereas now it seems that there are certain events that are geared towards it, like, “Okay this event gets crazy.” But it’s not real genuine because it’s more fabricated for that. In the old days, back when the U.S. Open was wild, everything was wild. It didn’t seem like there was a lot of accountability for the shit that happened. We were definitely taking advantage of the infancy of the sport and the fact that there wasn’t a huge corporate interest. We could get away with it.
I’m not saying that what’s happened to the sport is wrong. It’s just a natural progression. The more popular something gets the more corporate interests are involved. Things change. That’s good. At least we know that what we do is legitimate. But this is what you get.
What was it like riding on the East Coast back then, compared to now?
It’s hard to say, because now I’m on a different side of the industry, but back then there was a lot of support. It was kinda like the Harley Davidson thing, where you ride by somebody on a Harley and you’re on a Harley so you give ‘em that wave. It was that acknowledgement: “Good for you, you figured it out.”
You’ve seen a lot of guys come up through the East, go West, and make it happen. What did they do to make it work?
There’s no real recipe, but you can’t win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket. If you don’t put yourself in that position where you go out West, get a little exposure, meet a filmer, do these comps, then I guarantee that you’re not going to make it. By going out West you’ve got a better chance than if you’re sitting on your couch back East.
There are crews like the Yawgoons who aren’t sitting on the couch back East and are getting lots of attention.
And this is what’s real funny about the Yawgoons. What they’ve done at Yawgoo Valley [RI] is basically what was done in the ‘90s. You didn’t have these multi-million dollar parks and pipes. You had some picnic tables and a bunch of barrels, and you just had fun and got creative.
You can see flashes of the old days in the current crew movement. They’re not sitting around waiting for something to happen. They’re taking initiative, and just having fun with their boys. Everything’s readily available. The technology is so user friendly. You just need three dudes that are gonna have a blast, and a camera.
It’s unfortunate for us old guys because for us it was such a big deal to get a photographer or anybody with a video camera. Our main exposure was at events. That was the only place where it was guaranteed that someone was gonna be there taking photos. You knew there were going to be media people that you could connect with.
Isn’t that one more reason why things can happen more easily on the East Coast now?
Absolutely. Back in the ‘90s everything was about the West, sunny photos of big steeps and drops and pristine pipes. When I was riding for K2, I finally got a photographer and got a bunch of photos together. I sent them to my manager and he sent them back saying, “We don’t publish photos of grey skies.” And I was like, “I’m from the East Coast, man!”
Now, with all these crews with filming capabilities, the East Coast is relevant. These crews and riders have a lot more say in the market because you can’t ignore them anymore.
You can go back to all the magazines from the ‘90s and there was barely any East Coast coverage. That spawned East Coast magazines. That’s where guys like [Snowboarder Magazine Editor] Pat Bridges and [Snowboard Magazine founder] Mark Sullivan came in and started a little magazine called East Infection. It was great because finally you’d open a magazine and see guys that you rode with.
Being at Sugarbush, you’ve seen a whole generation of VT riders come up and break out. How has it been watching guys like Yale Cousino and [Technine Am] Luke Haddock come out of your park?
Well, it’s funny; Yale is the one who ended my snowboard career. It was ‘99, I’d been competing big air circuits, the East Coast Boarderfests, and the Bud Light Air Series for a long time. I was at Bolton Valley [VT] and Yale Cousino, Chris Rotax and Josh Rotax were riding. They were in high school, I was in my upper twenties, and I don’t want to say I gave up, but I was just like, it might be time to look into something else. Then I was riding at Stowe [VT] and I took a run with Travis Kennedy. I’ll never forget it. I walked off the mountain and was like, ‘Yep, I’m done.’ He was doing tricks that I’d never seen before.
There was a point in the early 2000s where you knew it was their time. I remember watching guys like Zach Leach, Charlie Morris, Preston Strout, Kyle Clancy, and you could tell they were young, hungry, had been riding for years—you could tell they were poised to do something, and they did. I’d like to see that happen again, where that shift from West to East happens again.
What would it take?
After 20-something years of in this industry… I have no idea. I’ve been trying to formulate what it takes. Right place, right time, right comp, right photo shoot, right connection—there’s no rhyme or reason. When I was coaching young kids, their parents were saying, “Oh, my kid’s gonna be the next Shaun White.” And it’s like, no, there’s already a Shaun White. There ain’t gonna be any more Shaun Whites. You just hope your kid is who he is and makes it.
But the question comes up a lot: What do I need to do to make it? I can’t tell you, other than being willing to sacrifice everything. I wasn’t willing to sacrifice everything and move out West, live in a house with six other dudes and eat ramen, and I knew it. It wasn’t my goal when I started snowboarding and it never was after.
There was a point in the ‘90s where Jesse and Lukas Huffman were Sugarbush riders—Sugarbush was a freestyle mecca in the ‘90s. Most of the pros were over here. Seth Neary and Seth Miller were on Nitro and had pro decks. Ali Goulet was riding here before he moved out to Utah. Jeff Brushie had a freestyle camp here. And then Lukas and Jessie were moving out West to B.C. and they lived a block away from me in Montpelier. I’ll never forget Lukas being like, “You should come out to B.C. with us.” I was doing the contest series, I had a girlfriend, I had a job, and I didn’t make that move and then six months later Lukas was on the cover of Snowboarder Magazine dropping a cornice in B.C. I wasn’t willing to make that sacrifice, you know? What are you willing to sacrifice?
How do you see the East Coast scene moving forward?
Right now we’re at one of those weird pivotal moments. There are no more big corporate events and there’s a huge opportunity for stuff like Rails 2 Riches, Loon’s Last Call, and local mountains to make our own scene for ourselves. I try to do that with my contact with other park managers. Nashoba Valley [NH], Loon Mountain [NH], Granite Gorge [NH], Bolton Valley [VT], Luke Mathison [Terrain Park Manager, Waterville Valley, NH], Steve Mahon [Terrain Park Manager, Burke Mountain, VT], Kurt Crousse [Terrain Park Manager, Stowe Resort, VT] , these guys go through what I go through. There’s no better people here than those guys. I don’t worry about what they’re doing; I have enough on my plate. But I’d like to see the East Coast community take advantage of the situation that they have.
It’s time. We need to do it. We need to take hold of our scene and get it done.
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