February 11, 2009

Checking in with Slednecks producer/rider Chris Brown




I think Chris Brown is the best rider on the planet. Okay, that’s a pretty massive claim to be making; Chris would definitely disagree.

However, he has got to be one of the most modest, down-to-earth pro athletes out there. He doesn’t really even understand the whole fan thing. He just doesn’t get it. Even when grown women turn bright red after they realize they’re standing in front of the crazy shredder they’ve only ever gawked at with a helmet on, or when grown men ask him to autograph whatever shirt they happen to have on—he doesn’t put it together. People do look up to him and appreciate his talent; he just doesn’t realize it. He really is just a normal guy who has a serious passion for snowmobiling and that is what’s so impressive.
 

For those of you who don’t know who he is, you may have seen the guy jump the freight train in Slednecks 10 or on YouTube. 
That would be Chris Brown. 

It is definitely safe to say he is one of the best riders on the planet. I was out with Chris, Geoff Kyle and Cody Borchers one day and he proved it to me. Not to say that I’d pick favorites out of those three; I’ve personally seen them all do amazing things time and time again. On this particular day, we were all stopped in the bottom of this huge open bowl up one of the drainages between Whistler and Squamish and Geoff pointed out a cliff drop near the top. It was this crazy finger that jutted out of the steep face and curled to the looker’s left.

From where we stood it almost looked like a diving board, and to my ski- and snowboard-oriented mind, it looked absolutely impossible as a snowmobile drop. The three of them ripped up to the top of it, which was actually pretty scary in itself. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not your typical girly-girl who can’t stand to watch the boys do crazy things—I’m certainly not scared to stand on top of most cliffs. But this scared me. Just watching them up there made me nervous because it was so steep and it was all gnarly rocks below. Geoff decided he wasn’t feeling it—not a good sign—and Cody got lured into the sick pow lines farther down the ridge, so it was all Chris. 

He jumped off his sled and started walking down to the take-off, as he always does to ensure it’s ‘relatively’ safe. He checks for a few things, one being the landing. It always seems to look flatter from the top. Then he grabs a chunk of ice and throws it off in the direction he thinks he needs to go to hit the tranny just right. He has someone down below shouting up with advice on whether he needs to go farther, shorter or to one side or the other, based on the trajectory of the snowball and where its little mini bomb-hole ended up. The other key thing to check is that there are no shark fins (rocks) on the take-off that could snag a ski and make for a bad flight. The sketchy thing about this drop (and if you ask Brown, he’ll say this was the scariest drop he’s ever done) was the fact that it was just too steep to walk down to the take-off. He had to just wing it and hope for the best.

After calling for the cameras to start filming, he jumped on his XP and started rolling into it. Even before he got to the lowest of his footprints, he started sliding. He stuck his right ski in his tracks, which led him dangerously close to the edge of the cornice on that side of the finger. Cody thought he might tip off that side of it. He managed to keep it together as he rapidly built up speed, sliding sideways down the face with full brakes on until he sent it off the end of the finger. I thought he was going to get sucked down the fall line and go off where it wasn’t quite vertical and that would have been a big mess. He did clip a rock on the take-off, and you can hear it in the vid, but being as calm in the air as he is, he still stuck it. Definitely one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen. 

My absolute favorite day for the Slednecks crew was up Brandywine in the pro snowboarders’ stomping ground. It was the day after Geoff had done his big chute drop (the one that Slednecks 11 viewers get to hit with him through the VioSport POV) and Chris had done his 180-foot ‘Chin Gap.’ These two pro snowboarders were looking across the valley at their bomb-holes and trying to comprehend what it was that had made those tracks and how. Their filmers were stumped, too. I heard them say they looked like snowmobile tracks but they could not, for the life of them, figure out how these riders had gone straight up and then flipped their sleds around and gone right back down in the exact same tracks. They didn’t even consider the possibility that these tracks were made by Chris and Geoff launching off the cliffs above them. These guys are earning the snowmobilers of the world serious respect around this neck of the woods.
Chris used to ride strictly in Colorado, mainly with Chris Burandt, and he started branching out and spending more time in BC over the past two seasons. What most of you don’t realize is that most of that footage you’ve seen of other riders in the tight, technical trees is shot by Brown. He’s right there with them in the middle of those gnarly woods with no easy line in sight—he’s just never on the other side of the camera. 

The bar has been raised in the filming of the Slednecks series since Chris and Clayton took over production. Chris is out on the scene for all the good filming days and it really makes for an exciting atmosphere. The level of motivation to constantly out-do one another as riders, and as a team effort to out-do each preceding film, is very intense. It seems to me that each rider’s part in the film used to be comprised of a bunch of ‘good’ shots with a few—maybe two or three—really impressive shots. They’d do their two big drops of the season and their segment (or ‘seggy,’ as they call it) would be complete. Not the case anymore. Chris is really good at spotting lines and drops and there’s always an adrenaline junkie who’ll step up to the plate. It just makes sense to have an experienced, ballsy rider in the producer/director’s seat of the industry’s leading snowmobile film. Of course, the ‘leader’ could be a matter of opinion, but I’m basing that tag upon sales volume.

Brown is on the cover of both Slednecks 10 and 11, which, just for the record, was a decision made entirely by Clayton Stassart, John Keegan and Jason Moriarty. Chris refused to be involved after his shots came into consideration. He actually thought they were going to use Cody’s shot (back cover), but the boys at Slednecks liked the magnitude of Chris’ drop, as well as the fact that there was space in the photo for text. Just to clarify, Chris and Clayton’s business is Compound Films, and they produce the Slednecks series under contract with the originators of the Slednecks name, and owners/operators of Slednecks Outerwear, Keegan and Moriarty. Chris is really committed to producing the highest quality film possible, for the love of the sport, and although it really is his baby, Keegan and Moriarty still play a huge role in the major decisions.
Anyway, enough business talk. Let’s find out what Chris has planned for this upcoming season:

McIvor: What sleds are you riding this year, Chris?
Brown: I am SO stoked on my Ski-Doos. My XPs are so light and nimble it feels like a whole new sport in the trees and in the air. Geoff and I were up Sproatt last winter and stumbled upon a little fantasy-like playground. We got lured in by the pillows and untouched pow at the top and once we were pretty much committed to going down the entire drainage it got tighter and tighter, as well as steeper. We were in a dark, old-growth forest where space between trees was rarely wider than a sled, and it was so steep that we’d have to throw our sleds over on their sides to stop. There were mandatory airs all over with tiny little transitions before more giant trees below them. It was one of the sickest adventures of my life. It was a serious mission getting out of there. We went back later in the season with friends and hit it on our skis a bunch of times. You know it’s a burly sled line when it’s steep and gnarly on skis. Those XPs are so sick.

So what mods have you done
to your XP?
Last year my sleds were stock, other than the shocks, skis and bars. There is no way I would ever send it off the drops that I hit without my Fox Shox.


I’ve heard you guys going on and on about how sick those shocks are. I guess that’s how you make it look so smooth on the big landings! But other than that, you’ll leave your sleds stock?

Boondockers is going to set me up with a turbo this year so I can get back into hillclimbing and, of course, do some big mountain boondocking. All I need is a sled now! I’m hoping to get my hands on a 600 E-Tec. Rocky (Boondockers) thinks it will be a little ‘800-killer.’ 

Will you wrap your sleds like you did last year? That seemed to be a big hit. Everywhere I looked I saw kids, and some adults, with similar plaid wraps. Has anything inspired you other than your Pemberton Dinner Jacket (redneck flannel)?
I might just switch up the colors. Not sure yet.

Any big plans for the season?
I would really like to finish the distance jump I started last spring. That’s a long story, but I know I can do it now. I held the record at 246 feet a few years ago. 300 feet will be easy. We lost a very, very good friend up there in the spring and I felt it was more important to support her boyfriend and be there for him than it was to finish jumping. So yeah, that is something I would like to do for her. I plan to be back and forth between Colorado and BC so I can make another ‘best Slednecks yet’ and be with my little girls, Bailey and Andie, as much as possible. I want my segment to cover it all. I aim to showcase huge gaps, massive drops, tight technical tree riding and even some hillclimbs. We might even feature some ‘squirrel riding.’
FYI, squirrel riding is where the girl sits in front of the guy on the sled so that he is free to ride as he normally would on his own. Shelley Arnausch declared it ‘squirrel riding’ up in Bralorne last winter, because the girl assumes the squirrel position with her little fingers curling over the center of the bars right against her chin. I’ve had the privilege of being Chris Brown’s squirrel a few times, which is how I’ve been able to witness his skills firsthand. A lot of the time I’m in a white tunnel throughout the entire descent, struggling for air through the constant face shots!

To keep in the loop as far as what Chris is up to and for the full story on his 180-foot drop—the Chin Gap—check in to his websitewww.slednecksbrown.com. And if you think you’ve got what it takes to be in Slednecks, head to Whistler and tag along with them. That’s how Chris got his start in the films … he just started sending it bigger than the guys they were filming.







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