How Snowmageddon showed a snowboard company there's more to St. John's than snow

·4 min read
How Snowmageddon showed a snowboard company there's more to St. John's than snow

Pro snowboarder Maria Thomsen and photographer Dean (Blotto) Gray found themselves waist-deep in snow on Jan. 17, 2020, in a city a long way from home — but you won't hear any whining about it.

While much of North America lacked snow early in 2020 St. John's had its share and that was before the word Snowmageddon had entered Newfoundland vernacular or pictures of the buried city were flashed around the world.

This resulted in some of the biggest brands in snow sports eyeing the East Coast island for filming locations.

Just over a week into 2020, the Burton snowboarding company sent a team of riders and a crew to St. John's to document their antics — on and off snow — to St. John's.

"There was plenty of snow for us to do what we set out to do, which was snowboard around the city, do a little bit of shovelling, make some unique photo shoot locations," said Burton photographer Gray over the phone from Salt Lake City earlier this month.

Gray, an Arizona-born Vermont-living world-travelling photographer, said they had filmed enough footage for the latest Burton snowboard film, One World, which hit streaming sites in November.

But weather on the northeast Avalon is an ever-changing beast.

"The locals start telling us, 'Hey, there's a big storm coming, maybe grab some extra food from the grocery stores,'" said Gray. "We had no idea what was in store for us."

The 2020 trip was Gray's second to Newfoundland and Labrador but the first for pro snowboarder Maria Thomsen.

The Danish-born boarder who now calls Pemberton (a little north of Whistler, B.C.) home admits St. John's hadn't been on the radar for a snowboarding trip.

But when Burton, arguably the best-known company in snow sports, asks you to fly in with a crew of riders, photographers and filmmakers you don't say no.

"I was a little skeptical but at the same time I was pretty excited. I love going to new places," Thomsen said.

That skepticism lasted about as long as the ride from the airport to a rented house on Colonial Street in downtown St. John's.

"You guys have such a cool scenery, the colourful houses and the harbour," Thomsen said. "It makes for some really cool shots."

Dean Gray
Dean Gray

The Burton team got a lot more than just a few cool shots when hurricane-force winds mixed with nearly 80 centimetres of snow. Thomsen said it was "wild."

"I didn't really understand how much snow was coming until I went outside the door the next day," said Thomsen.

Gray, who spends more time in the snow than most, could only find one other place for comparison purposes.

"The only thing I can equate it to, the amount of snow in that time period, would probably be in northern Japan, where I visit each winter for filming and snowboarding," said Gray.

The only problem is that there was too much snow; cars, trucks and doors along their downtown street were buried.

Jeremy Eaton/CBC
Jeremy Eaton/CBC

"We walked out the door that morning and saw that our neighbours needed help," Gray said, and the Burton crew didn't hesitate to grab some shovels and help our their newfound friends.

"Their reaction was, 'You guys are really good with those shovels,' and we explained to them this is a big part of what we do when making snowboard movies," he said.

"It was our pleasure to help the neighborhood out. I think it's just your duty when there's a situation like that."

The team took to the snow to get a few more additional shots and footage -- including the iconic ones of them riding down the roads in downtown St. John's.

"Us riding through the streets was really fun, kind of like being a kid at a playground," Thomsen said.

Five full minutes of One World feature Gray's photography and Thomsen's tricks. Gray considers himself lucky to have been a part of the trip and to help in filming the St. John's segment, "to come there, help the community, show people snowboarding and maybe inspire people to just go outside and snowboard or ski or do anything outdoors," he said.

"Makes me want to come back there as soon as possible."

He and Thomsen are proud of the work they did in St. John's, but it's the people they remember the most.

Thomsen fondly remembers watching the community came together, helping each other out, and then later music playing and dancing in the streets.

She said the Burton boarders met the neighbours and bonded over shovelfuls of snow.

"It was cool to get to meet people in a different way," she said. "I will never forget that, and I think, honestly, it's one of my best trips ever."

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