Chris "Gunny" Gunnarson: Building on Progression

Chris "Gunny" Gunnarson: Building on Progression

Tom Kelly

By Tom Kelly \ November 22 2023

Head to any Woodward Mountain Center and you’ll immediately be drawn to the kids in the Jib Park and Peace Park pushing themselves to new heights. Since Woodward’s humble beginning over 50 years ago as a gymnastics camp in Pennsylvania, progression has been central to its mission. Today, Woodward centers span the globe including Utah’s Woodward Park City. In this episode of Last Chair, we catch up with a legend in action sports, Chris “Gunny” Gunnarson. Now the president of Woodward globally, Gunny’s three decades in action sports has paralleled the dramatic growth from surf to skateboard to snowboard to ski.

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Chris Gunnarson poses early season with the sign at Woodward Park City

Beginning at Snow Summit and Big Bear in southern California, Gunnarson quickly became a leader in the sport from building snow terrain for the X-Games beginning in year one, to crafting private training venues that sent athletes like Shaun White on to olympic gold. Along the way, he built a reputation as a leader in progression with his company Snow Park Technologies and a capable partner with resorts, ultimately helping the world’s greatest athletes achieve pinnacles of success in their career.


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And while his career has been marked by relationships with the greatest athletes, Gunnarson is quick to point out that what’s central to his own mission is to bring that experience to enthusiasts of all ages and ability levels. Today, he leads Woodward on a global journey to provide fun and progression for all.

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(Left to right) Chris Gunnarson, Jeremy Jones and Ken Block at Woodward Park City

As a boy growing up in SoCal in the ‘60s and ‘70s, he was immersed in the cultural revolution of action sports. His life was centered around skateboarding and a little surfing. But when he discovered snowboarding at 13, he used every angle to get up to the mountains and ride on snow.

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Jamie Anderson and Chris Gunnarson

Here’s teaser of Gunny’s Last Chair interview, which takes you back into the origin years of the culture of snowboarding and tracks you through the impact Woodward is making with people of all ages.


Let’s go back to the beginning – YOUR beginning!

Oh man, how I got involved in the sport. I mean, I think I was around five when I got on a surfboard. I know I was seven when I got on a skateboard and I had a bike like every other kid in the neighborhood. And I heard about snowboarding when I was 13. In fact, for my 13th birthday, my dad took us up. I lived in San Diego, so I grew up in the southern California hotbed of board sports. And it was funny. My mom and dad were like, oh, snowboarding? You know, we used to ski before you were born and I didn't even know what skiing was, really. And so we get up to the local mountain and they were like, ‘no snowboarding allowed.’ We had rented some boards from the local surf shop. I rented a Chuck Barfoot board and they were like, ‘no snowboards allowed.’ My dad got so angry and he's like, ‘I used to ski here all the time. What do you mean no snowboards allowed?’ And so we ended up just … we had rented a cabin with a couple of my buddies for my 13th birthday to go snowboarding, trying to figure it out, you know, falling a lot just on this back hill. And I knew right then and there, like, I have got to figure out a way to do this for the rest of my life. And somehow I lucked out.

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Chris Gunnarson at Snowbird Peace Park

So you must have had some good skateboarding roots in SoCal?

Well, it was kind of all I knew. And, you know, sort of in my high school teen years, I was living up in the outskirts of LA, so I was skating in swimming pools. There was a big earthquake in Northridge, and there were lots of empty swimming pools. We had maps of pools from condemned buildings and houses. And so we'd show up with buckets, mops, and we would skate all these different pools. I think we skated Tom Petty's pool at one point. It was like a condemned house that he'd owned or something like that. But that was my whole life and culture was skating and a little bit of surfing, but mostly skateboarding and trying to find as many pathways to get up to the mountains as possible.

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Chris Gunnarson speaking at Woodward Park City

Were your business wheels turning yet in your mind?

Honestly, not even a little bit. At that point, it was just living life, having fun, and trying to skate as much as possible.


What was your first job in the industry?

I've had a lot of jobs in my lifetime, but my first job in the industry was at Snow Summit in Big Bear Lake. I was fresh out of high school, and I was going to try and make it as a pro snowboarder, get whatever job I could on the mountain, and, funny enough, I got a job with the patrol at Snow Summit at the time. Being based right in Southern California obviously was right in the middle of what I'll call boardsport Mecca, except they weren't quite there yet. And so I get this job as a snowboarder, but on patrol, thinking, ‘Oh, I'm just going to, you know, snowboard a lot.’ But I actually ended up really loving patrol and really loving resort operations – becoming a sponge and learning everything I could. They were a very progressive thinking resort ski resort, and they were just starting to launch terrain parks, and none of the other patrol guys wanted to deal with the terrain parks.

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Danny Davis and Chris Gunnarson at Peace Park Bachelor 2022

Was there a turning point for you when you saw your career as a terrain park developer come to light?

Over time, that was a real paradigm shift. The terrain park movement, which really was born out of Big Bear, also was a paradigm shift in the entire world of winter sports in the sense that right there in Southern California, it was meeting a market need. But as it became a broader national interest of how do we deal with these rowdy snowboarders and contain them? And now there's freestyle skiers that want to do the same kind of stuff – like we should just give them their own venue to do that kind of stuff and keep them in a little contained area so they don't screw with the rest of the mountain operations. But who knows how to do this kind of stuff? And that is actually when I saw a business opportunity.


Gunny, what was it that motivated you to bring your lifelong action sports skills and knowledge to Woodward, now serving as global president?

I've known of Woodward virtually my entire career – I mean, you can't be in this in the action sports universe without knowing what Woodward is. You know, it's got a 53-year legacy. I was super intrigued when I learned that Powdr, a ski resort company, had bought Woodward because, you know, everybody knew Woodward as a camp out in Pennsylvania. And it was the Holy Land. Like, if you were going to be a competing skateboarder, BMX athlete, that's where you went. And so when Powdr bought Woodward, I was certainly paying attention from afar. But to answer your question – there I was, life was good, I owned my own company, I had my own TV show. And the folks at Powdr came and said, ‘hey, we want to talk to you about you coming in and helping us figure out how to best propel Woodward from where it currently is.’ And I left it all. I moved to Park City, Utah from Truckee.

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Woodward Sydney rendering

Talk about progression and why it’s important to Woodward?

Humans want to fly. They want to move. They want to move their bodies. They want to challenge themselves. All the way from the youngest ages – you can hear the kid right behind me. He's jumping on the trampoline. He's figuring out how to move his body in the air, whether he's doing a backflip or just monkeying around. We have zone coaches. We have an entire array of different types of programming, from casual, easy, fun all the way to very focused clinics and training so that people can get better. It's human nature to want to get better, whether you're a golfer or a swimmer or whatever your thing is. And our thing is action sports. And this is where you can do it. And we've got the right people and the right tools and environments to do it.


What does it mean to you to be involved with a program like this that just means so much for kids?

It means so much because we were all kids at one point and some of us are still kids at heart. I'm looking at you, Tom. I consider you one. I'd like to believe I'm one. And to go back to that sort of joy that you had as a kid when, you know, life was sort of carefree and innocent. We all want that, right? And so here at Woodward, yes, there's a huge focus on kids, but there's also a big focus on kids and families – you know, just sort of what it's like growing up in today's era. I'm glad we can be a bright spot in that way. It's nice to have a spot where you're feeling a part of something, you're learning skills and you're doing something besides sitting on your couch, looking at your phone or looking at the TV. And so as a parent, that means a lot to me for my kids, but also in my role with Woodward means a lot to know that we're the kind of place that can really help shape lives. I have so many parents come to me and tell me how Woodward literally changed their kids' lives. Just last week someone told me that Woodward literally changed the way his daughter approached college, how she got into college, how she's developed a career path, and that she's gunning for my job someday, which I'm like, ‘bring it on.’ 

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Portrait of Chris Gunnarson at Woodward Park City

Listen to the interview to learn more about one of action sports’ most interesting and influential figures. Like how many times he’s been backstage for Nirvana, what he loves to drive in the Utah desert sand and the skateboarding heroes who helped forge his childhood in Southern California. He shares his personal background with stars like Shaun White, Danny Davis and Jamie Anderson. And he is emotional about the death of his friend and action sports legend Ken Block earlier this year. This hour with Gunny truly captures the spirit and culture of action sports and the passion his Woodward team has to bring it to guests of all ages. Let’s dig into this episode of Last Chair.


“It's human nature to want to get better, whether you're a golfer or a swimmer or whatever your thing is. And our thing is action sports. And this is where you can do it.”


Put Woodward on your Utah Schedule

Whether you’re a local with a membership or you’re visiting Utah for a ski or snowboard vacation, it’s worth spending a few days at Woodward Park City. Conveniently located right on I-80 between Salt Lake City and Park City, anyone is welcome to drop in to Woodward for a day on the mountain sliding through the parks or bouncing around on trampolines or in the skatepark inside the Woodward Mountain Center. Check it all out at woodwardparkcity.com to make a day plan.

 

Transcript

 

Tom Kelly: |00:00:00| It's a beautiful day here in Park City. It's actually snowing, folks, we're so happy to see that it's going to be a good winter ahead. We have a great guest today, Chris Gunderson, Gunny, as he's known, and we are at the Hub at Woodward Park City, upstairs in the Grind right now. Gunny, tell us a little bit about exactly where we are here at Woodward.


Chris Gunnarson: |00:00:20| We're at Woodward, Park City. As you said. The building here at the base is called The Hub. We just kind of call it The Hub. And upstairs we've got the Grind, which is a little bit of |00:00:30| a food service facility. It's got coffees and grab-and-go breakfasts in the morning. It's got everything from beer and wine and mixed drinks to pretzels and charcuterie in the afternoon. It's the upstairs perfect viewing spot to see what's going on with all the indoor activity.


Tom Kelly: |00:00:46| I love coming here. I brought my wife here. She was here for the first time on Friday night for the pray for snow party. That ski worked. Good job. It totally worked. But she'd never been here and she's in awe. We're sitting up here looking over from the mezzanine down |00:01:00| to the floor. We're looking at the little kids playing in the foam pits and on the trampolines, and we're thinking to ourselves, we got to bring our little three-year-old great granddaughter over here. But this is just an amazing facility.


Chris Gunnarson: |00:01:10| Well, you know, just because of where we're sitting right now. And your comment, I will tell you, we encourage all ages, all levels of ability to participate. So that means even you jumping in the foam pit or on the trampoline, Tom, or your grandkids or your kids. But I will admit, there's a lot of parents |00:01:30| and grandparents that love to hang right here because the viewing is great. You know, we've got awesome Wi-Fi and people can, especially during Covid. We saw a lot of this where people who were working from home would bring their kids here, and the kids are getting active, and mom or dad would be sitting there on their computer getting their work done.


Tom Kelly: |00:01:46| Nothing like good Wi-Fi and a beer.


Chris Gunnarson: |00:01:48| I mean, that's the perfect formula. Kids are active. They're off their phones and mom or dad is sitting here getting some work done and having a little rose. Maybe, maybe a charcuterie |00:02:00| plate.


Tom Kelly: |00:02:01| Beautiful. We have a lot of action here. So you'll hear a lot of background noise here today, but it's good action. It's kids having fun here at Woodward. Gunny, give us a little background on yourself. You've had a phenomenal career in action sports. I know it's been really fulfilling for you, but talk a little bit about how you got involved in sport going back some years.


Chris Gunnarson: |00:02:20| Oh man, how I got involved in sport. I mean, I think I was around five when I got on a surfboard. I know I was seven when I got on a skateboard and I had my, |00:02:30| you know, of course, I had a bike like every other kid in the neighborhood. And I heard about snowboarding when I was 13. In fact, for my 13th birthday, my dad took us up. I lived in San Diego, so I grew up, you know, in the Southern California kind of hotbed of board sports. And it was funny. And you can relate to this a little bit, Tom, just sort of given the timeframe, you know, my mom and dad were like, oh, snowboarding. You know, we used to ski before you were born and I didn't even know what |00:03:00| skiing was, really. Love that. And so we get up to the local mountain and they were like, no snowboarding allowed. We rented some boards from the local surf shop. I rented a Chuck Barfoot board and they were like, no snowboards allowed. My dad got so angry and he's like, I used to ski here all the time. And what do you mean no snowboards allowed? And so we ended up just … we had rented a cabin and me and a couple of my buddies from my 13th birthday were snowboarding, trying to figure it out, you know, falling a lot just on this back |00:03:30| hill. And I knew right then and there, like, I have got to figure out a way to do this for the rest of my life. And somehow I lucked out.


Tom Kelly: |00:03:39| Let's go to skateboarding …  talk a little bit about the influence there. I mean, you lived in San Diego and not far from Carlsbad, and there was a real hotbed of skateboarding. What influence did that have on you as a young boy?


Chris Gunnarson: |00:03:53| Well, it's kind of all I knew. And, you know, later years in life, sort of my high school teen years, I was |00:04:00| living up in the outskirts of LA, and so I was skating, swimming pools. There was a big earthquake in Northridge, and there were lots of empty swimming pools. We had maps of pools from condemned buildings and houses. And so there was, you know, we'd show up with mock, you know, buckets, mops, and we would just like, skate all these different pools. I think we skated Tom Petty's pool at one point. It was like a condemned house that he'd owned or something like that. But that was my whole life and culture was skating and a little |00:04:30| bit of surfing, but mostly skateboarding and trying to find as many pathways to get up to the mountains as possible.


Tom Kelly: |00:04:36| How did you get a hold of these maps or directions to make them? You'd make them hear about them.


Chris Gunnarson: |00:04:42| Word of mouth. This is long before smartphones and the internet or anything like that, so you'd hear word of mouth from some other crew of skateboarders that there's a, you know, there's a condominium complex that's been condemned and there's a really good pool there. And so, yeah, we started having these little homemade maps of where the best pools were to skate.


Tom Kelly: |00:05:00| Were |00:05:00| your business wheels turning yet in your mind?


Chris Gunnarson: |00:05:03| Honestly, not even a little bit. At that point. It was just, you know, living life and having fun and trying to skate as much as possible.


Tom Kelly: |00:05:10| What was your first job in the industry?


Chris Gunnarson: |00:05:12| Oh, in the industry, yeah, because I had a lot of jobs. I've had a lot of jobs in my lifetime, but my first job in the industry was at Snow Summit in Big Bear Lake. I was fresh out of high school, and I was going to try and make it as a pro snowboarder, get whatever job I could on the mountain, and |00:05:30| funny enough, I got a job with Patrol Snow Summit at the time, you know, living you know, being based right in Southern California obviously was right in the middle of what I'll call Boardsport Mecca, except they weren't quite there yet. And so I get this job as a snowboarder, but on patrol thinking, oh, I'm just going to, you know, snowboard a lot. But I actually ended up really loving patrol and really loving resort operations. I wanted to sort |00:06:00| of becoming a sponge and learn everything I could. And like I said, they were a very progressive thinking resort ski resort, and they were just starting to launch terrain parks, and none of the other patrol guys wanted to deal with the terrain parks.


Chris Gunnarson: |00:06:16| And so and I had, by my second or third year, become a full cert ski patroller. I was the first soft boot freestyle snowboard patroller. In existence. |00:06:30| And so they're like, we'll make that guy go deal with the terrain park. You know, and so which was called a snowboard park back then, I was actually kind of instrumental in changing it to terrain parks. I felt like this should be for everybody, even though at the time we were just trying to replicate skate parks, but on snow. And that was mainly to address a market need, because in Southern California, you know, even back then, we're talking early 90s it was 50, 60% snowboarders at Snow Summit. It grew to the point of being almost 80%. |00:07:00| And so, unlike the rest of the ski resort industry, where snowboarding was a very, very small percentage, those mountains were a high percentage. And so they were addressing a market need. And I was just a guy that was really interested in whatever role I could play to make the experience as good as possible for snowboarders and emerging freestyle skiers.


Tom Kelly: |00:07:18| Did you get many skiers dropping in.


Chris Gunnarson: |00:07:21| Originally? Not very many, no. But over time, you know, that was a real paradigm shift. And, you know, honestly, I'd say the terrain park |00:07:30| movement, which really was born out of Big Bear, um, I think also was a paradigm shift in the entire world of winter sports in the sense that, you know, again, right there in Southern California, it was meeting a market need. But as it became a broader national interest of how do we deal with these rowdy snowboarders and contain them? And now there's freestyle skiers that want to do the same kind of stuff, like we should just give them their own venue to do that kind of stuff and keep |00:08:00| them in a little contained area so they don't screw with the rest of the mountain operations. But who knows how to do this kind of stuff? And that is actually when I saw a business opportunity.


Tom Kelly: |00:08:08| So you raised your hand.


Chris Gunnarson: |00:08:10| I sort of raised my hand. It was a collision of two things happening at once. One, you know, I was starting to think about how to constantly evolve and elevate the experience on the mountain better grooming, better design, better layouts. And then the second |00:08:30| thing that happened, which was a huge milestone, was the Winter X Games was born. So in 1997, the very first Winter X games happened at Snow Summit and by default, because by now I'd left patrol. I was now running the terrain parks and running what was called snowboard marketing at the time. Um, and here comes this X. Of course, we've heard of the X games, because the first X games that happened in Rhode Island had happened a year prior, and now they're bringing it to snow. And |00:09:00| it was kind of a crazy event that first year. But I ended up, you know, my team and I, we led the design process and the build for the halfpipe, the slopestyle, the boardercross, the big air. We even had a wacky downhill in the snow mountain bike race. There was an ice climbing wall that was melting like crazy the whole time. Um, and from there, as the X games decided to expand and do more winter events, and then it became a, you know, an annual, you know, Super Bowl of freestyle |00:09:30| winter sports. Um, I became the lead designer and builder of all the courses. And then over time, that role grew to well beyond that.


Tom Kelly: |00:09:41| Let's go back to that very first X games. There was no template really for this. As you were designing the features to be used in that big event. What was your roadmap? I mean, who was leading you or how were you guys coming up with the innovative ideas and what to build?


Chris Gunnarson: |00:10:00| Well, |00:10:00| I would actually say we had a bigger head start than even ESPN and the X games because they'd never done anything like this. They just knew they wanted to showcase, you know, these, these sports on the winter side. And so we'd already been building parks and we'd been building bigger jumps and half pipes. And so it was really just coming up with, you know, where we would put them in that would work in a competition format. And so again, that's kind of where I, by default ended up being, you know, a helpful participant in the early |00:10:30| stages there. What was really interesting was that because ESPN owned the X games, this was a property they owned, and they were launching. All of the people who worked on it from the production side were from NFL, NCAA, basketball, hockey, and most of them were sort of irritated, like, I can't believe I got to go to this, do this stupid thing with skateboards and snowboards. What is this? I do, you know, I do college football and one guy in particular who was a hockey, he was the head of ESPN hockey. He was like, hey, man, Gunny, |00:11:00| right? And I'm like, yeah.


Chris Gunnarson: |00:11:01| And he's like, all right, I don't know anything about this stuff, but I really want to shoot it, right? So you got to tell me, like, where are the best places to put the cameras, where the action is going to be? Who are the like, the best athletes that we should be doing highlights around, like what's going to be the best angle. And I really appreciated that guy. His name was Doug Holmes. I haven't talked to him in a while, but I stayed in touch with him for years because he really wanted to show he looked at his world as an art and he didn't care what sport he was showcasing, he just wanted. To shoot it really well. And |00:11:30| I'd say that moment and just sort of that philosophy that he had helped really launch the X games being a great platform for action sports as a whole. And I was lucky enough to be kind of the, the, you know, in the, in his ear and later on in all the other executives here to help really launch what became a very important property to, to the sports action sports.


Tom Kelly: |00:11:52| It's really a great story, because so much of what has gone into the success of these sports comes from how it can be showcased. |00:12:00| And that was great to get that early on. Going back to that time, who were some of the star athletes or budding star athletes? I should say, because it was all new.


Chris Gunnarson: |00:12:11| Oh, well, you had, you know, Todd Richards, who funny enough, we still work with very closely. He won that first year's X games in the halfpipe. Barrett Christie, who is one of the most talented female snowboarders of all time, and actually on Woodward's Women's Advisory Council, which is something that we |00:12:30| is very important to where we're heading into the future. And so it's really cool to go back to people I worked with almost 30 years ago and be able to still, you know, work with them. Shaun White was the forerunner in the halfpipe. He was like, gosh, maybe 7 or 8 years old, nine years old for that, for that event. And then of course, you know, his story is unbelievable. That was his home mountain. That's where he grew up with Snow Summit. So I've known Shaun and his family since he was, you know, a little little kid I |00:13:00| could go through with. Daniel Frank won the slopestyle. He's a Norwegian snowboarder. And man, there's just there's a ton of them. Shaun Palmer, you know, like I remember watching him walk the Boardercross course, you know, and you'd never seen anybody in snowboarding do something like that where he literally walked the course because he wanted to know every, every place he could make a pass or a move. And you just didn't have a lot of that race mentality in freestyle snowboarding. And yet he brought it over from motocross and his experience as a race ski racer. So yeah, I |00:13:30| mean, that's a very wistful era for me for sure.


Tom Kelly: |00:13:32| In your role at Snow Summit, did you start engaging with athletes to get their feedback on the terrain that you were building?


Chris Gunnarson: |00:13:40| Oh yeah, we tons, tons, because part of it was because I had been a competing athlete and I was even at that time still sponsored and, you know, read up in the mix with the industry seen. The other part was that outside of like Burton and Tech, every other company in surf, skate and snowboarding was |00:14:00| based in Southern California. So they or their teams were coming up for team shoots and, and industry days. And there was a lot of that going on. But we also had a roster of local riders and later skiers that we'd worked with. And I have always said at every level that it's the actual riders and participants in the sport that are really dictating where it goes next, and nobody's doing that more so, or at least at the highest level than athletes at that caliber. |00:14:30| And so I spent a lot of time then and really all the way through my career until now, working very closely with the athletes that are, you know, influencing where things go.


Tom Kelly: |00:14:39| That was innovative at the time, though, that wasn't really being done up until that point, was it?


Chris Gunnarson: |00:14:45| You know, gosh, I don't know, because I don't know. You may not go back that far to that, but yeah, maybe a little bit in skateboarding. But yeah, you're probably right. I think that was probably a time frame where it was a unique juxtaposition of athletes, designers and operators coming together |00:15:00| to make a sport that was new, you know, pop.


Tom Kelly: |00:15:05| Yeah. From there, your career took you to Booth Creek. Maybe tell folks a little bit about what Booth Creek is, the resorts that you work with and what your role was there.


Chris Gunnarson: |00:15:14| So Booth Creek, well, I guess I'll back up just a second, Tom, because, you know, I was at Snow Summit, but I'd also formed this company called Snow Park Technologies.


Tom Kelly: |00:15:24| So you had formed that already?


Chris Gunnarson: |00:15:25| I had formed that already? Yes. And I had a very |00:15:30| favorable and unique relationship with Snow Summit and its owner, Dick Kuhn, who was one of my mentors and long, long time friends right up until the day he died. His family is still good friends. And Dick, when he saw that I was starting to branch out and go to Japan and go to other resorts around the country, he was really cool with that. He was like, hey, you've got a home and a job here, but I see that you're going off and hot dogging and being entrepreneurial. And he was okay with that at |00:16:00| one point. Snow Summit and Dick had very much wanted to buy Bear Mountain, which was a competing resort right next door, and it took a little while, but he eventually bought bear. My wife and I, Genevieve, were pretty instrumental by that point. I was kind of in a senior level management role with Snow Summit, so we were pretty instrumental in the acquisition of Bear Mountain and the rebrand and all that took place there. We bought Bear Mountain from Booth Creek, who had never even really heard of. I mean, you don't hear about, you |00:16:30| know, resort conglomerate companies all that much, especially back then. But it was the president of Booth Creek. Chris Ryman, who's also another great mentor and industry legend who said, hey, I love what you're doing with Snow Summit and now what you're going to do with Bear, and could you come and do that with the Booth Creek Resorts? And although you know that it's not like that happened overnight, but I ultimately went to work in a VP role for Booth Creek, which was, which owned |00:17:00| about.


Chris Gunnarson: |00:17:01| Let's see, at the time, I think 9 or 10 resorts in the Pacific Northwest and the East Coast, and then of course Northstar and Sierra Tahoe and Tahoe. And that was when I moved up there. And probably what you're referring to, Tom, is that a few years into being, you know, a vice president of a, you know, a pretty big company and owning my own company. Booth Creek said, hey, you know what? This is super cool. How about we just run Snow Park Technologies |00:17:30| through Booth Creek? And so we found a structure to do that. And so I essentially wore two hats during that period of time until ultimately Booth Creek spun off some of its resorts and eventually sold Northstar to Vail. And that was when I took back SPT independently. And then all those resorts became clients. So it was just kind of a different way of working with them. You know, all of that will sound like I, you know, was this, I don't know, grand master |00:18:00| schemer of business. But really, for me, it was always about, how do we make awesome experiences? And figuring out the business end was more like the back, like the back of house piece. What I really wanted to do was make awesome experiences for people in skiing and snowboarding and later on, you know, skateboarding, BMX, motorsports, motocross, you know, and beyond.


Tom Kelly: |00:18:22| You caught that wave at a really opportune time. I mean, I would imagine that resorts are really looking for someone to give them that roadmap |00:18:30| to how do we create better experiences, new experiences for our guests?


Chris Gunnarson: |00:18:35| Well, you know what I always say you make your own luck, but there's a lot of luck and timing involved, for sure. And there's a lot of, you know, personal experience and perseverance. And when you marry those things together, sometimes all, all the stars align. So yeah, I got lucky from a timing perspective, but I went out hard and earned it.


Tom Kelly: |00:18:54| Did you find a pretty receptive audience where resorts starting to figure out that these |00:19:00| terrain parks that hadn't even really been heard of a few years earlier, that these were going to become essential components of the guest experience.


Chris Gunnarson: |00:19:09| You know, it was a mixed bag of reaction. I think some places really felt that way. Some resorts I went to were just like, hey, we got to be on the forefront of this. This is like the next big move for the industry. And other places were sort of reluctantly thinking, well, if we don't go here, we're going to be at a competitive disadvantage. But, you know, I guess it's a necessary evil. And |00:19:30| that was unfortunate. But sometimes that's, you know, change is hard. And we're in an industry that sometimes hasn't been great at adopting change. That's part of why, you know, I've loved my time with Powdr is that it's a very progressive thinking company. And obviously with the whole Woodward component of what we're doing with Powdr, which is, you know, the area I focus on the most says it, all right. It's all about progression and young families and how you get into sports early and, and then |00:20:00| carry that all the way through to a top level. So yeah, back to your question. I think it was different responses and reactions. But I think that along with other factors that I've already mentioned, you know, I always sort of took this underdog approach of you got a lot of you got a lot of headwinds going against you and you just got to fight through and make it happen. And I was lucky to have, you know, pretty good results.


Tom Kelly: |00:20:24| In addition to working on guest experience at resorts around the country, you also |00:20:30| became the predominant company to work with major events during that time. How was that experience? I mean, you continued working with X-Games and quite a few others, right?


Chris Gunnarson: |00:20:41| Yeah. So with SPT, we divided up our services into a resort division and what we called Special projects division, because, you know, to your point, there was the X-Games, the US open, all the Red Bull events, vans, Triple Crowns, dew tours, events over in Japan and |00:21:00| and Europe. But then there was also a lot of what I'll just call unique projects … Shaun White's, you know, Private Project X halfpipe out in Silverton, and special shoots that got set up training camps by companies like Red Bull that wanted to be in the space. And so, you know, all those fell kind of under a category of special projects. None were bigger than the X games. I mean, the logistics alone and our role with. The X games was |00:21:30| big to begin with and then grew over time.


Tom Kelly: |00:21:33| Just a quick note on the X games. One of the just from having watched events over the years and having been involved in producing them, it just seems like the real key component and the X games was the engagement of athletes, the the VIP treatment of athletes, really involving them in the process. What are your thoughts on that and what role did athletes play in really helping to build that incredible series that's gone on for decades now?


Chris Gunnarson: |00:21:59| Yeah. So I'm |00:22:00| really glad you asked that because not that I want to take all the credit, but I was the one who insisted. The second year of the X games, it moved to Crested Butte, went there for two years and then later to Mount Snow. And in that second year I said, hey, I want to bring a few key athletes out to be part of what we're calling site visits, you know, pre-production meetings and, you know, bringing like Peter Line or Barrett Christie. I mentioned her earlier. We'd bring these athletes out so they could see they could hear what we were thinking about |00:22:30| in terms of planning for the event, where the courses were going to go, how they would be designed, and then keeping them involved in the process. That was as early as year two of the X Games. So we're talking 1998, and that only expanded over time. And we would bring even as the sports expanded, we'd bring freestyle skiers out, we'd bring motocross guys out, we'd bring skate athletes, men and women out. And that always became a huge, huge focus. And later, you know, we'd have athlete roundtables. Yeah. Integral |00:23:00| integral part. I mean, they're the stars of the show. I learned early on that the two most important things, and these weren't my words. These were Jack Wienert, who was the executive director of the X Games. The two things that matter above everything else are courses and athletes, because that's what we're covering. We're covering these athletes and the athleticism that the show they're going to put on, and they can only do their best if they're on courses that are good enough to showcase their talent. So that was always that always has been and continues to be a philosophy I |00:23:30| deeply believe in.


Tom Kelly: |00:23:31| Gunnyt, what was your evolution or maybe your progression to come over to Woodward as president and run not just the facility here in Park City, but running the Woodward efforts nationwide. What was the motivation there?


Chris Gunnarson: |00:23:45| Well, of course, I've known of Woodward virtually my entire career. I mean, you can't be in this in the action sports universe without knowing what Woodward is. You know, it's got a 52, 53 year now legacy. I |00:24:00| was super intrigued when I learned that Powdr, a ski resort company, had bought Woodward because, you know, everybody knew Woodward as a camp out in Pennsylvania. And it was the Holy Land. Like, if you were going to be a competing skateboarder, BMX athlete, that's where you went. And so when Powdr bought Woodward, I was certainly paying attention from afar. And of course, I wasn't here then. But yeah, I guess to answer your question, you know, there I was. Life was good. I owned my own company. And, you know, |00:24:30| I had my own TV show and the folks at Powdr came and said, hey, we want to talk to you about you coming in and helping us figure out how to best propel Woodward from where it currently is. And I left it all. Tom. I moved to Park City, Utah from Truckee.


Tom Kelly: |00:24:49| Not bad though.


Chris Gunnarson: |00:24:50| No, from one great place to another. And because I really believed in what Woodward could mean to action sports, you know, it was a sort of an inflection |00:25:00| point for me personally where I'd been in this industry 25, almost 30 years. And I thought, you know, I feel like I've kind of done it all as far as what I can do on my own, with a lot of help from others and a great team behind me. But what Powdr is doing with Woodward could be, you know, like the next year, maybe 2 or 3 years in terms of how to honor and steward action sports in a real leading way. And so, yeah, took, took, rolled the dice and moved out here with my family and |00:25:30| loved living in Park City, but really, really love what the opportunity is at Woodward currently and where it continues to go.


Tom Kelly: |00:25:39| I want to get into the philosophy and talk more about the programs. But just from an operational perspective, can you give us a little rundown on Woodward and its different locations around the country?


Chris Gunnarson: |00:25:50| The best way to sort of break up Woodward starts with its kind of global ambition, which is, you know, to be the leader of action sports |00:26:00| experiences. And that means a whole bunch of things and a whole bunch of places to lots of different kinds of people. Because we're in summer sports, we're in winter sports, and they all have their own unique culture and their own process and their own paths of progression. And so finding the right way to do that across the board is, is, is a big focus. We've kind of broken down Woodward into what I'll call four different categories. We have the original overnight camp category. That's our Woodward, Pennsylvania. Woodward |00:26:30| West out in Southern California. We now have mountain centers. We're sitting in one right here, Woodward Park City. We classify that as a mountain center. It's not quite a ski resort, even though it's got elements of a ski resort. But it has this whole indoor facility. There's outdoor facilities, and of course, there's lift served mountain facilities. And Woodward Tahoe out in Truckee is the other one. And then we have what we call Woodward |00:27:00| Mountain Experiences, which is where we've integrated Woodward into a broader ski resort business. Take copper as a perfect example, where it's got a hub facility like this.


Chris Gunnarson: |00:27:11| It's got the on mountain Woodward Mountain Park and all the programming that comes with it. And we've done that at multiple locations. And then finally and it's and it's still, it's still in its what I'll call development stages would be Woodward Urban where we're bringing the Woodward action sports ecosystem |00:27:30| and culture and programmatic awesomeness to more metropolitan environments. And you may have seen we announced Woodward Sydney this time last year, which is in development currently, and we have plans to to keep going and looking for currently are in the process of looking for where we think the best locations are to do just that. All of that. Tom is completely wrapped up in how we program. It all comes down to programming and progression. And when I say that, what I mean is, yes, |00:28:00| Shaun White, even to this day, still loves to come here to Woodward Park City and train in the halfpipe. He is at the highest level of the sport. So is Danny Davis and Red Gerard. So are Ryan Sheckler and Ryan Nyquist and all these other athletes we work with. But it has to start somewhere. And so we put equal emphasis onto how you get into skateboarding or BMX or mountain biking or snowboarding for the first time.


Chris Gunnarson: |00:28:23| And we've created this, these environments and the programming that goes along with these environments and the coaches who will allow |00:28:30| people from a completely entry level, regardless of what your age or gender or background is, to figure out how to get into these sports from an athletic standpoint, but also from a cultural standpoint, because that is really one of the things that pulls all action sports together, and that is what we're really focused on doing across Woodward. That's the kind of the common denominator is how we take action sports and make amazing programming to support those sports. And I'll say one more thing on that is that each |00:29:00| one of these sports has its own unique culture, the industry, the athletes. I mean, you're familiar with that in alpine ski racing. It's got its own unique identity, you know, so does snowboarding, so does skateboarding, so does BMX, so does mountain biking. So to be culturally relevant and to be aligned with the right athletes that are driving the sport forward, the coaches who are passionate like we you know, like all of us are about these things. That's kind of our sweet spot. And then wrapping it all up together in one umbrella, that's Woodward.


Tom Kelly: |00:29:29| I |00:29:30| want to go back and touch again on the coaching program that you talked about. And one of the things that has really struck me, just coming out and watching the kids, watching the kids right now down on the floor is it's not just a free-for-all all where the kids are just out doing whatever they want. You have people not so much to supervise them, although I know that's probably a part of it, but to help them, to assist them, to figure out, hey, what do you want to do next? And how can I help you progress?


Chris Gunnarson: |00:29:53| Humans want to fly. They want to move. They want to move their bodies. They want to challenge themselves. And all the way from the youngest |00:30:00| ages. And you can hear the kid right behind me. He's jumping on the trampoline. You know, he's figuring out how to move his body in the air, whether he's doing a backflip or just monkeying around. And yeah, we have zone coaches. We have all kinds of an entire array of different types of programming, from casual, easy, fun all the way to, you know, very focused clinics and training so that people can get better. It's human nature to want to get better, whether you're a golfer or a swimmer or whatever your thing is. |00:30:30| And our thing is action sports. And this is where you can do it. And we've got the right people and the right tools and environments to do it.


Tom Kelly: |00:30:38| So just to talk a little bit more about Utah last winter, you introduced, I think it was Woodward Mountain Center at Snowbird. And I just loved where you put that talk a little bit about that program and what your learnings were from that first year experience here at Snowbird, Utah.


Chris Gunnarson: |00:30:55| Oh my gosh, what a great project. It was so fraught with challenges because as you know, we had so much |00:31:00| snow over there this last year. And that led to operational challenges with avalanches and, and, you know, avalanche control. So it was a very conscious effort myself, Dave Fields, who's our president and general manager over at Snowbird, and his team of like, how could we bring Woodward to life over there in a really meaningful way? And we picked that location you're talking about at Mineral Basin to, to build out a full Woodward Mountain Park experience for. Spring. And then of course, we added the Peace |00:31:30| Park Championship event, which is a big activation we do annually. And it was just awesome. I mean, it wasn't easy. And getting back there, you know, the logistics sometimes getting snow cats and people and personnel and equipment and rails and whatnot. But man, was it cool. And here in the state of Utah, it was so awesome to see how many people came out and checked that whole thing out in spite of challenging weather. And, you know, the road closed a few times because of the mudslide and whatnot. But that is |00:32:00| something that let's just say we're thinking real hard about.


Tom Kelly: |00:32:03| Again, I can only imagine what those initial meetings were like. When you start talking about, no, not putting this on the front face, but going all the way up to Mineral Basin and not necessarily the most accessible place in Mineral Basin. But it was a home run, wasn't it?


Chris Gunnarson: |00:32:18| I mean, the backdrop right there is so cool. We knew it was going to be super snow loaded at that area. Typically gets a lot of snow. And of course, to build a Woodward Mountain Park, you need a lot of snow. And I think more than anything, |00:32:30| I think just the stunning backdrop just sort of set it all. A funny backstory to that. Tom, I celebrated my 50th birthday last year and a group of guys, we went, we went up, we spent a day heli boarding. We went on Powderbirds and then we did a couple of days at Snowbird and we were standing there. Right. You know, at the top of that at that spot. And I said to my buddies, I'm like, this would be the perfect place to build a Woodward Park someday. And then, lo and behold, like two weeks later, you know, we were having a roundtable |00:33:00| meeting with a bunch of the different leaders around Powdr and, and Dave Fields comes up to me and he says, hey, what would you think about doing something this, this spring? I mean, we got all this snow. And I said, well, I know, I know, just the spot … a true story.


Tom Kelly: |00:33:15| Was he speechless when you told him the spot?


Chris Gunnarson: |00:33:18| Well, he loved it because truly, like that time of year, it can be a little bit of an underutilized spot and then the lift doesn't get a lot of traffic on it. So to see it go from, you know, a relatively empty lift line |00:33:30| to being, you know, a long wait, like the mineral chair. They were like, okay, we've clearly done something that people like, so we should talk about doing more of that.


Tom Kelly: |00:33:39| You could do it again this year.


Chris Gunnarson: |00:33:40| You know, Tom, I'm not here to confirm or deny that.


Tom Kelly: |00:33:43| Let's just.


Chris Gunnarson: |00:33:43| Say that you might be hearing something about that before, but that.


Tom Kelly: |00:33:46| Would be great. Tell me a little bit more about the Peace Parks.


Chris Gunnarson: |00:33:50| So I you know, I talked earlier about there's cultural relevance in all these different sports. And you talked about |00:34:00| and I agreed with you that the athletes provide such a movement around that some get more engaged than others, but there's probably nobody more in love with their sport that I can think of than Danny Davis. And Danny and I started. It's a great testament to who he is as a person and sort of the culture and mentality of snowboarding. Danny had a big sponsor who wanted to give him money to basically go do his own private photo shoot. And he was like, |00:34:30| well, I don't want to go be by myself. I want my friends there. Like, I want to do something really cool and I want it to be non-traditional. Now, remember, he's an Olympic snowboard competitor. He's an X-Games winning halfpipe rider, and he didn't want to do a halfpipe. He wanted to break the mold. He wanted to do something different and more creative. And so the very first Peace Park we did back in, oh my gosh, now I'm going to have to think 2002 and we didn't really know what we were doing other than, you know, basically chopping up a halfpipe and making it more creative. |00:35:00|


Chris Gunnarson: |00:35:00| But what has happened is we've we've what we've kept consistent, even though that project has changed from year to year, is it's a celebration of the sport of snowboarding, the community of people that are in it, and the creativity involved in how you go about looking at the canvas of a mountain and at whatever your skill level is interpreting your own line. And that is something that's been fundamental to Peace Park since day one. Now it's starting to do a competition. It's turned into |00:35:30| a sort of a rallying cry. It's the event every athlete wants to go to. It doesn't have to go to. And we've, you know, we've got new plans on where we go as we've opened up. It started with, you know, maybe I think it was 12 original people that got invited. And man, if you were on the invite list, you were stoked. And if you weren't, you were a little bit upset. And it grew and grew and grew. And I mean, last year, virtually every major snowboarder here in the state of Utah and from Japan. And it's men and women. It's equal prize money, |00:36:00| but it's still a celebration of the sport and the creativity in it.


Tom Kelly: |00:36:04| I hit a box last year.


Chris Gunnarson: |00:36:06| I remember we talked about it.


Tom Kelly: |00:36:08| We did. And I saw Luke today who was with me that day, and I think he did the video. I made this great little video. So now though, the challenge is Luke challenged me today, what's your progression going to be like this year? So I got to start thinking about that. I want to go into the philosophy of Woodward, and you've touched on a lot of this stuff, but talk about the philosophy, the vision. That you have and what Woodward represents.


Chris Gunnarson: |00:36:31| Well, |00:36:30| I think Woodward represents a lot of different things to different people. If you were a little kid that went to one of our camps, it means it's probably a lifetime memory. If you're a local here in Utah, that's a member at Woodward Park City. It's where you connect with your peer group or you hang with your family. You know, sometimes it makes it hard to define in a sentence or less, but it also makes it so cool because it can have a lot of meaning to a lot of different people. For me, it's about being the right steward for |00:37:00| where action sports goes and a safe, cool place where people want to engage together. That is as culturally interesting as it is interesting from a sport standpoint. And so, you know, progression is a key part of everything that we do. And what I mean by that is how you progress from you went out and did one day on a box and you've already had, you know, Luke or whoever it is asking you what's your next progressive move? And you know that people can do at their own pace.


Chris Gunnarson: |00:37:29| And, you |00:37:30| know, I aspire to have Woodward be the place where people can feel like they're progressing at their own pace, doing it with the best tools and coaches possible and doing it with their like-minded friends or family in a really, you know, wholesome way. And, you know, I'll just, you know, go on a little rant here for a second and say that we are living in a strange time, right? We're in the post Covid era. There's a lot of divisive nature out there. There's I got two teenage daughters, you know, kids that are on their cell phones, adults |00:38:00| that are on their cell phones all day long. What makes me happy is you can wash all that away in the background and come here and do something physically active, mentally stimulating, and makes you feel like you're part of a tribe. Like, I feel like I'm part of a tribe of action sports enthusiasts. And you know, I get stoked and I look around and see, you know, the people that I consider kind of my people hanging at Woodward. That's what it's about.


Tom Kelly: |00:38:25| If I'm a family coming out to Utah for a winter holiday, |00:38:30| can I just come over for a few days and access the facilities?


Chris Gunnarson: |00:38:34| Yeah. And I think I'm so glad you asked, because especially with our mountain centers and Woodward Park City specifically, we have a membership here. You can be a member if you live in the area, you're in Salt Lake, you're in Park City. You can come join as a member or family member and you get access to the facility, but you also get access to all this different programming we offer. But if you're coming from out of town like you asked, yes, you can drop in and have a one day ticket, |00:39:00| a tubing session. You can take lessons, you can do an indoor session. So we're open to all takers. And that's, you know, kind of part of our inclusivity mentality of … we want … I want everybody to come here. I wanted you to come and try that box for the first time. I hope you keep coming back.


Tom Kelly: |00:39:16| Tom. I'm going to be back. We're with Chris Gunny Gunnison. We're at Woodward Park City today with Last Chair. We'll be right back. 


Tom Kelly: We're |00:39:30| back on Last Chair from Woodward Park City this week with Chris ‘Gunny’ Gunnarson. Gunny, you've had amazing experiences with athletes, hundreds and hundreds of them and some of the greatest champions in the sport. But I wanted to just maybe look at three athletes that you've got some fun background or fun stories with. And I'm going to throw out a few. But first one, Jamie Anderson, Olympic champion. |00:40:00|


Chris Gunnarson: |00:40:00| Oh yeah, multiple time Olympic champion in multiple disciplines and too many X Games medals to even count. I'm sure there's a stat out there, but I bet it's definitely I think she's the winningest. Well, at one point she was the winningest X Games medalist ever of any sport and either gender. Um, I've known Jamie since I think she was 13. You know, she's a Tahoe born and bred snowboarder. She comes from a big family. She's got |00:40:30| a bunch of sisters. Her older sister, Joanie also competed, but she was competing in the X Games. At age 13. She was in boardercross and then later switched to halfpipe and then later to slopestyle. And she has since dominated slopestyle like nobody ever has in women's snowboarding and the big air as well. And then went to the Olympics and and won slopestyle big twice.


Tom Kelly: |00:40:54| So as you've watched her progress you've watched her win her Olympic medals. Is there a I'm |00:41:00| sure there's a lot of personal satisfaction with the role that you played in helping provide opportunities with the courses that you built and whatever mentorship that you provided to her over the years?


Chris Gunnarson: |00:41:11| Yeah, I mean, I'm so lucky because I've just been around so many just phenomenal athletes my whole career. And, you know, they all have their own unique story. With Jamie Anderson in particular. She's a phenom, like so many of the other ones, but probably in a different way. I mean, she's super chill. |00:41:30| Like if you know her as a person, she's so sweet, she's so accessible and thoughtful and down to earth, even though she's a mega star and makes a ton of money and has won all this stuff and been on all the talk shows, she's just still exactly who she was. Which, you know, as long as I've known her, she's not changed in the slightest. But I'd say her, you know, with her, and it's a commonality amongst a lot of the other really big athletes that I've gotten to work with is |00:42:00| just sheer dedication, perseverance. And I know you've seen that in a lot of the sports you've been involved in, too. Tom and Jamie is just, like, as chill as she comes across and as unassuming and easygoing as soon as she gets into a competitive mindset. I mean, she just puts it down. She's a groundbreaker. She just had her first baby, by the way, about a little less than a little over a year ago. So now she's a new mom and she's tackling that challenge the same way she tackles everything else. Like she's going to win, she's |00:42:30| going to do her best and she's going to do it with a lot of style and class.


Tom Kelly: |00:42:35| Cool. Who's a skateboarder you'd pick out to talk about?


Chris Gunnarson: |00:42:39| Well, there's a lot of them. You know, I can't not talk about Ryan Sheckler because in the sport of skateboarding, he has been a very polarised individual. You know, at like, I think he won his first X games at around like 12 or 13 years old, maybe even younger actually. And all the older skateboarders were like, who the heck |00:43:00| is this little kid? And then of course, he had his TV show on MTV, and, and people called him a sellout. And he's, he's, you know, he's been through the ringer. He's got a great new documentary, Red Bull documentary. That's basically his story. And it talks a lot about that kind of polarizing nature. But here's what I would say about Ryan. Very driven, very driven to give back to the sport. He knows where he stands now. He also, like Jamie, just had his first daughter about a year ago, around the same time. Um, he's |00:43:30| a guy who is just super naturally gifted on a skateboard, but also really business savvy and also really aware. You know, skateboarding as a culture can be closed off, can be a little bit hardcore.


Chris Gunnarson: |00:43:43| It can buck the system, if you will. Um, Ryan has a little bit of that edge, but he also knows how to play the game. Right. And it served him really well in his career. Um, you know, now he's in his 30s. He's still I |00:44:00| think any skateboarder would would they would no one would deny how talented he is. But you know, he's part of our Woodward program. He's our signature athlete in skateboarding. And that's not just a name and a face and a contract. He gets out. He is involved in how we build our programs, how we coach, how kids stretch, the food they eat. He's big on hydration and he shows up to our camps and he's like, out there stretching with the kids. He's coaching |00:44:30| with the kids. And you don't see a lot of that in action sports, but especially not in skateboarding to the degree that he does it. So, you know, driven guy. Extremely talented, but really, really about giving back to the sport of skateboarding.


Tom Kelly: |00:44:46| Cool story. And then one I particularly enjoyed following. And you go back much further. You mentioned Shaun White earlier and his for running the first X Games. But you grew up in Southern California. I'm sure you watched Shaun as a young skateboarder |00:45:00| and then as a young snowboarder, and watch the career that he had. The element though, that you were involved with that just still amazes me. Is what you built in Silverton, Colorado, as a training center for Shaun leading up to the games.


Chris Gunnarson: |00:45:13| Silverton Project X, one of the best projects of my career. And it's funny to say that because it was less about the magnitude of the project, which we would only realize later when he went and won the Olympics afterwards again, but |00:45:30| more so because we were in this private location with all of our equipment, nobody watching. The pressure wasn't super high. And Silverton, you know, has some incredible terrain. We had a Red bull helicopter, we had a fleet of snowmobiles, and if Shaun didn't feel like training or he hurt his ankle or he went home for a few days, we had full access to, you know, that whole zone and all that stuff. So we did a lot of really good, you know, power riding during that time frame. But yeah, the project itself was really challenging and |00:46:00| really, really pretty groundbreaking because in our sports, in these winter sports, nobody had ever done anything like that. Totally private, hidden, private, hidden from the public with a foam pit training facility for Shaun to just focus. And I think he got a lot of grief for that from other people, because that sort of is the antithesis of what snowboard culture is about. And yet I don't know that anybody could put themselves in his shoes because it would be like Tiger Woods going to your local municipal |00:46:30| driving range to, you know, warm up before the US open or before the Masters. He can't do that. And I've been with Shaun, even when he's got a mask on and you go to a normal resort and he gets mobbed, there's never been anyone else like him in our sport that has that level of international fame and celebrity. And so to do that project and give him a venue where he didn't have to think about any distractions or get mobbed or paparazzi or whatever, which seems crazy in our little silly sport, but |00:47:00| that's the world he lives in. And so that project allowed him to, you know, get the best out of himself.


Tom Kelly: |00:47:04| Folks, if you don't know about that project, go and Google it. Look on YouTube. It was quite remarkable. And this is the epitome of a remote location.


Chris Gunnarson: |00:47:14| So remote, in fact, Tom, that we, you know, there was no snowmaking there. And, you know, a halfpipe takes a tremendous volume of snow. And so we purposely built it on a pitch that had a slope out of the right pitch. But it was, it was, it was |00:47:30| below the Na couloir, which was, which was actually two couloirs. And so for months in the early season, it was helicopters bombing to deposit, you know, release enough avalanche snow to deposit and get really loaded up. So we had enough snow to build that halfpipe. So I mean, the fact that we were using helicopters and bombs to build a halfpipe like that was a first for sure.


Tom Kelly: |00:47:52| What what an amazing technique. I want to close out with one other athlete, and I know this is a tough topic for you, but Ken Block was |00:48:00| a snowboarder, an action sports star, professional rally car driver. Just a real icon in action sports. Close friend of yours? I know you're close to the entire block. Family who was killed in a snowmobile accident earlier this year. Talk about the influence about your friendship with Ken and the influence that he's had on Action Sport.


Chris Gunnarson: |00:48:21| Yeah, I can't really think of any one person that maybe has had a bigger single influence on the whole of action sports because Ken. |00:48:30| So Ken and I got to be buddies in the mid 90s I think. So that's a long time. Um, and he was already a huge icon in skateboarding. He had started DC shoes and it was one of the coolest companies. It was very athlete forward with Danny Way and Colin McKay. And Ken was the mastermind behind the brand marketing of DC, which put a huge emphasis on their athletes. I learned a lot from him on that side of sports brand marketing, but |00:49:00| who knew that? You know, after he sold Quiksilver for a ton of money and or. Excuse me, excuse me, who knew that after he sold DC to Quiksilver for a ton of money and it was, you know, sitting here at his house in Park City, Utah, that the old DC mountain lab, when he decided he was going to get into rally car driving and and then the rest is history there.


Chris Gunnarson: |00:49:20| He made a second career that some might argue was even bigger, certainly bigger for him as a persona, but he was already big in my mind, you know? Ken. Block |00:49:30| to action sports. To the state of Utah, to Park city locally too. Snowboarding too. Motorsports world. He was an icon in just so many different ways for me. You know, he was one of my best friends. He was like both a big brother, a mentor, a guy that was never afraid to call me out if he thought something was, you know, not legit. And, you know, all, all sort of always honor his |00:50:00| strong, fierce desire to preserve the integrity of action sports. And so I'll carry that with me. And, you know, do my best to try and try and do exactly that, because that's what was most important for him was like, you know, maintaining truth to, to the world that we lived in, right? Even if it seems silly to outsiders. But yeah, phenomenal guy. Greatly missed. And I think about him every day.


Tom Kelly: |00:50:29| Was he influential |00:50:30| on your decision to come here to Park City?


Chris Gunnarson: |00:50:33| Well, funny enough, a little bit, you know, he was so excited. And by the way, he was not a guy that anyone would describe as excited about anything. His mom was the one who told me, she's like, you don't know how excited Ken is to have one of his best friends moving out here to Park City. When we first moved here, it was funny because it was less about two guys talking about action sports, but we were talking about our kids and where they would go to school together. And, you know, and our wives are good friends and the kids grew up together. And so |00:51:00| it was cool because Ken has a huge network of friends, acquaintances and people he's worked with. And I do too. But he didn't have a ton of them that lived here in Park City, so he didn't really influence me moving out here, but it was more like, great. I already have a built in, super close friend that lives here. And then, of course, you know, we spent a lot of time together once I moved out here six years ago, and so he didn't directly influence it. But let's just say he made the decision a lot better. Yeah.


Tom Kelly: |00:51:29| His daughter, Leah, |00:51:30| who is just a teenager, won a big rally title this year as she, you know, action sports star in the budding.


Chris Gunnarson: |00:51:39| I'm just going to say to anyone and everyone listening to this podcast to watch out for Lia Block. She will be a force of nature. I don't want to put any pressure on her, but she loves what she's doing. She learned from the best guy and she is out there killing it right now, and I think she is going to be a |00:52:00| force to be reckoned with in the motor sports world.


Tom Kelly: |00:52:03| It'll be fun to watch. Just want to close out with one other thing on Woodward, and then we'll hit you with a few Q&A questions to end. To me, Woodward is about kids. I mean, just talk about as we look over the floor right now and see these kids, this little kid you were talking about earlier, man, he is figuring out his progression over there. I know you've got your back to him, but it's so fun to watch. What does it mean to be involved with a program like this? That just means so much for kids?


Chris Gunnarson: |00:52:30| Well, |00:52:30| it means so much because we were all kids at one point and some of us are still kids at heart. I'm looking at you, Tom. I consider you one. I'd like to believe I'm one. And to go back to that sort of joy that you had as a kid when, you know, life was sort of carefree and innocent. We all want that, right? And so here at Woodward, yes, there's a huge focus on kids, but there's also a big focus on kids and families and, you know, just sort of what it's like growing up in today's era. |00:53:00| I'm glad we can be a bright spot in that way. I mentioned it earlier. It's nice to have a spot where you're feeling a part of something, you're learning skills and you're doing something besides sitting on your couch, looking at your phone or looking at the TV. And so as a parent, that means a lot to me for my kids, but also in my role with Woodward means a lot to know that. We're the kind of place that can really help shape lives. And I'll tell you that. And these aren't my words. I have so many parents come to me and |00:53:30| tell me how Woodward literally changed their kids' lives just last week. I won't mention his name, but it's a prominent figure here in the community. Told me that Woodward literally changed the way his daughter approached college, how she got into college, how she's developed a career path, and that she's gunning for my job someday, which I'm like, bring it on. I hope she gets it someday.


Tom Kelly: |00:53:54| I love that. What I especially like about that is I worked much as you did. I've worked much |00:54:00| of my career with top elite athletes, and that's awesome to see people progress to the top. But what gives me the most satisfaction today is just seeing kids having fun, learning life skills and putting themselves on a positive path.


Chris Gunnarson: |00:54:14| I couldn't agree more, I couldn't agree more. And like I said, it all starts. It all starts somewhere and we would love it no matter what your age, but especially for kids, if it starts here at Woodward.


Tom Kelly: |00:54:23| We're going to close it out with our fresh track section. A few Q&A questions. Simple one to start. You've been living |00:54:30| here in Utah for a couple of years. Do you have a favorite ski run or a snowboard run? I'll say, oh.


Chris Gunnarson: |00:54:35| Gosh, well, I'm going to have to. It's probably over at Snowbird. It's probably in the backcountry on Powder Burn, to be honest.


Tom Kelly: |00:54:44| Okay.


Chris Gunnarson: |00:54:44| You know, it's got to be here at Woodward, Woodward, Park City man taking the Peace Park run. You know, trying to see if I still got it.


Tom Kelly: |00:54:52| Love it. I know music has been a big part of your life, and you've had an opportunity to get close to a lot of musicians. I was wondering how many |00:55:00| times you've been backstage for Metallica?


Chris Gunnarson: |00:55:02| For Metallica? Um, probably 5 or 6. 5 or 6 this year.


Tom Kelly: |00:55:09| This year? That's awesome. Any others you want to put into that category?


Chris Gunnarson: |00:55:13| Oh, man. Just two, three weeks ago, I was backstage with Foo Fighters in Austin, Texas at Austin City Limits and a great friend and mentor of mine who I'd love to give a shout out to John Silva. He manages the foods, you know, he's got a connection to Utah because he also manages Beastie Boys |00:55:30| and Adam Yauch, you know, lived here in Utah for a while, drops you actually says Utah on a Beastie Boys song. Talks about flying out to Utah to hit the slopes. So John Silva manages Foo Fighters and it was his birthday. And so we were on stage with him and his wife and a couple of our other friends and, and looking at a sea of 100,000 people, you know, and then backstage afterwards. So, yeah, that was pretty special.


Tom Kelly: |00:55:54| Love it. Did you have an athlete hero when you were growing up in San Diego?


Chris Gunnarson: |00:56:00| Oh |00:56:00| man, I had so many athlete heroes growing up and I'd say they changed over time. But if there was one sort of one that remained true. And the earliest one I can think of is Stacy Peralta, actually skateboarder Dogtown, you know, now he's a famous movie producer and director, but he was part of the original Bones Brigade. He was the one who incorporated the team concept of the Bones Brigade concept with Powell-Peralta, which included Tony Hawk and Steve Caballero, Mike McGill and so many others. I'd |00:56:30| say Steve Caballero is another one too, but it really all goes back to Stacy Peralta, who also is very much about keeping it real and keeping it true to the sport of skateboarding.


Tom Kelly: |00:56:39| How about your favorite apres spot in Utah?


Chris Gunnarson: |00:56:43| Favorite apres spot? Oh my gosh, I'd have to think about that. I mean, it's usually at one of my buddies houses that lives in The Colony. But you know what I'll say. The Cabin. My friend John Oswald owns the Cabin on Main Street. I love going there. Little apres.


Tom Kelly: |00:56:58| Beautiful. How about your favorite |00:57:00| Utah desert adventure?


Chris Gunnarson: |00:57:03| Well, I've got a few of them. I'm going on one. I'm actually taking the Block kids down to Sand Hollow, you know, just slightly north of St. George. And we're going to go rip around the sand dunes, which is one of my favorite things to do when I'm not snowboarding or skateboarding.


Tom Kelly: |00:57:19| Side by side.


Chris Gunnarson: |00:57:19| Side by sides. And I still get after it on the dirt bike, I got to paddle tire on my 450. And they say with age comes the cage. So I'll be in both. But |00:57:30| yeah, we're going to take some side by side, some can-am's out and, and then my 450.


Tom Kelly: |00:57:35| You could get in a Jeep too.


Chris Gunnarson: |00:57:37| I could. They don't go fast enough, Tom. I like to go really fast. If I'm in the dunes, I'm going really fast.


Tom Kelly: |00:57:42| I each year I would take the grandkids down. We've got a couple, a couple of Jeep Wranglers and we would go to Moab Easter Jeep Safari. It's got a little bit too busy down there. So we kind of find our own path. This year we went down to the San Rafael Swell and grandson brought his dad's Can-Am. And |00:58:00| those are the jeeps. No match for the Can-Am. So it was impossible to keep up with him.


Chris Gunnarson: |00:58:07| Yeah. I've got one that Ken gave me that was his like fully souped up Hoonigan Can-Am. And then I got another one and I got some dirt bikes. But yeah, we're going to go do a little Can-Am trip. But you know who else is really good. It's a little closer is Little Sahara. Yeah, that's pretty fun to go to. So I mean Utah is so full of amazing adventurous spots for whatever you want to do, whether winter side |00:58:30| or summer side. It's kind of an incredible state. You know what? I'm going to go back to one of your Ken Block questions. Did he influence my decision to move here? I'm not going to lie to you. Many, many years ago, when Ken first moved to Park City from San Diego, I was like, dude, money's no object. You could live anywhere in the world you want to live. Like, how did you pick Park City? And he was like, Gunny, it has everything within a three, three, two, four, five hour drive that I would ever want to do on a snowboard, a snowmobile, a dirt bike, a mountain |00:59:00| bike. And he was right. And so now I know why he lived there.


Tom Kelly: |00:59:05| It's spot on. I mean, it is just an amazing place to live. Last question. I love doing these and these are the hardest ones. And just one word. What does Woodward represent to you and to the kids today?


Chris Gunnarson: |00:59:16| Progression.


Tom Kelly: |00:59:18| It's all about progression. And I'm going to progress this year.


Chris Gunnarson: |00:59:21| Okay. You're going to go past that box. We're going to go do a rail this time or maybe a little jump.


Tom Kelly: |00:59:25| Oh man I'm scared now. But that's better than the backflip. Chris. Gunny Gunnarson, |00:59:30| thanks so much for joining us on Last Chair.


Chris Gunnarson: |00:59:32| Tom, thank you so much for having me.

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