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Stories with Stone: Gabe and Brandon Hit Up Grizzly Gulch, Utah

On the @girosnow Instagram account, we share a lot of gorgeous imagery of jaw-dropping mountains, perfectly styled tricks, and of course next season’s Giro helmet and goggle releases with fancy new technologies and colorways … But there’s so much more that goes into these shots that you would never know about with a milli-second view, quick double thumb tap, and a swipe. That’s why we teamed up with Ethan Stone Fortier (a.k.a E-Stone, a.k.a. Stone), to get a deeper sense of what actually happened at the time he captured his rich photos last season. And although it’s true that a picture can tell a thousand words, it’s also true that a thousand words can let your imagination take you to places you’ve never ridden, make you feel like you were right there making conversation with the pro athletes who are progressing the sport as we know it today, and give you a sense that the camera is right on you, too, waiting for you to drop in. So, drop in …

Words: Ethan Stone
Photos: Ethan Stone

Last winter was one of the latest and worst snow years I had seen since I moved to Utah in 1998. With no good storms hitting us until mid-February, I had pretty much given up on any chance of shooting at home, which meant I would have to travel most of the season.

This sounds like it would be fun, but it cost lots of money, and all the time away from home can really bum out my wife and dogs. It’s easy to take for granted how lucky I am to live in a place where I can stack cool photos in-between trips, which really adds to my year-end photo stack. If I was not going to be able to shoot in Utah, it was going to be a huge let down of a season.

After the whole city prayed to the snow gods, winter finally came. The snow started to come consistently, which spurred some hope of being able to do some work in Utah.

“After the whole city
prayed to the snow gods,
winter finally came.”

When I found out Gabe Ferguson and Brandon Davis were coming to town in April, I had to quickly come up with some ideas as to where we might be able to have some luck getting them some jump shots for their upcoming video parts in “BETA”.

The interesting thing about a low snow year is when you go out to your go-to spots, everything looks different because the normal snow base is so much lower than you’re used to.

My first thought was Grizzly Gulch. There has not been a winter since I moved to Utah that I have not gone to the Gulch to either hit jumps myself in the late ‘90s/early 2000s or shoot riders once I became a photographer. On a low tide year, things might look a little different than normal, but the insane terrain in the area always has something to offer. It’s also one of the easiest backcountry hikes you can do and has the lowest chance of avi danger. It was perfect for the crew.

We had just got about a foot of fresh pow too, so my thought was that we could hike to the top of Flagstaff and check out a famous jump called the Hip of Love.

We got up early with a very excited crew—they had never been to the area. The Grizz is kind of a legendary spot holding some of the largest Jumps in Utah, like Chads Gap and The Pyramid Jump, as well as countless others that have graced pros’ video parts and snowboard magazines dating back to the early ‘90s. So, for any young pros that study video parts and photos as they come up, it’s kind of a nostalgic place to check out.

As we pulled up to the parking lot, I started pointing out some of the spots, doing my best to give the crew a bit of a history lesson to hopefully stoke them out. The history this area holds is amazing, almost every big pro over the last 20 years had done something amazing in this zone, helping to push the progression of the sport, which makes for some great storytelling when taking new riders up little Cottonwood Canyon and then to Grizzly Gulch for the first time.

“…almost every big pro over the last
20 years had done something amazing
in this zone, helping to push the
progression of the sport…”

We all hiked up to the zone with our oversized Tuffy shovels that we normally used for the streets, but thanks to the easy hike, it was mellow to bring them. Wow, do they make a difference compared to the normal backcountry shovel, which is pretty much like building with an oversized spoon.

As we made our way, I started to get a little nervous because the fresh snow kind of felt like dust on crust, and the area was looking way different than I had ever seen it due to the low snow levels. When we got to the Hip of Love, there was a huge bush in the landing, and what should look like a natural hip looked nothing like it normally did.

The guys did not know what the Hip of Love was, so I just casually kept hiking past it, telling them the zone was not much further. I started to panic a little bit, worried that the day could be a wash, but I also remembered there was one more option above the Hip of Love.

We got to the zone, and thankfully we saw a cornice that looked like we could dig a hip into. The landing was not as steep as we would have liked, but there was a sweet spot if you went large enough. We quickly went to work with all-hands-on-deck shoveling.

These types of builds can be time-consuming. The kicker always goes up pretty fast. The worst part is always cutting the run way into the cornice.

It’s got to be just right, so it sends you to the sweet spot and not on top of the cornice—or worse tosses you far out and you miss the landing completely, missing the pitch of the cornice, putting you into the gully below. In most cases, you spend all day building your jump and then hit it the next day. Thanks to the longer days of spring, and the crew’s hard work, we made the call to hit it the same day.

We also had a rather large crew that day. These types of jumps have a landing that stays good after riders’ hit it, so I figured a large crew was the way to go so we could build it as fast as possible. In addition to Gabe and Brandon, we also had Kix Camp, Nik Baden, Hailey Langland, Brock Crouch, Jed Sky, and filmers Mia Lambson and Leland McNamara.

With these many people digging, anything is possible. I think it was Kix who hit it first, and we all let out a sigh of relief as he went quite large with perfect pop, landing right in the sweet spot. But when he landed, he bounced and did a huge tomahawk. The next rider went, and bam! another pretty brutal tomahawk.

“The next rider went, and bam!
another pretty brutal tomahawk.”

The airtime was just too much for the not-so-perfect-landing and lack of fresh pow. I mentioned maybe we should just side slip the landing, turning it into more of a park landing, and they all thought I was crazy. The session continued for a couple hours, and the bails just kept coming. I think at the end of the day we only had one landed trick, a massive method from Kix.
I had tons of sick photos of them looking sick in the air, but had no landings, making the photos un-useable. I finally said, look it's going to be warmer tomorrow and the snow will get soft, let’s slip this thing and come back. The crew quickly side slipped the whole landing, erasing all the horrible bail marks, and then we made our way down the mountain.

As we got close to the bottom, we bumped into Brock who had been sick of eating shit on the upper hip and decided to build something different. We all quickly helped him finish the second hip and then called it a day.

The next day was full bluebird and much warmer. We got back to the hip at the top of flagstaff and the landing looked perfect. The crew got right to work hitting it, and it was like night and day compared to yesterday.

Gabe started doing these sick back-one Japans, and after a few go’s landed one perfectly. Brandon also put down an air with a perfect landing.

I could see the whole vibe of the crew change. They were all having a fun time hitting the hip and were now putting down landed clips, stoking the filmers out. The best thing about springtime jumps is you can always side slip a beat-up landing, making it brand new again.

After an awesome session with the clips in the bag, we worked our way down to the second feature. This one had a bit more mellow pop and a hip that riders could throw down some tech tricks on. Everyone on the crew got a shot on this one, and every rider was putting down insane tricks.

Casual tweaked out 360’s soon became 7’s and then 9’s as they got more comfortable. It was also easy to get upside down as they rotated, so it quickly became an insane session. Brandon landing something like three different tricks and Gabe got a few of his own as well.

As the sun went down, I was able to mess around with some really cool silhouette shots and asked the riders to toss some classic straight air tweaks for the cool lighting conditions.

The day was insane, and the crew was all feeling what we call “clip high”. This is the amazing rush you get when you know you just landed something perfect, and you’re definitely getting a new clip for your video part’s timeline. Who needs drugs when you can just go out and get clip high?

“The day was insane, and the
crew was all feeling what we
call ‘clip high’.”

It was such a good day that I think I got something like six shots published from the one day in Snowboarder Mag. It does not get much better than that, even I was feeling clip high at this point.

It was the type of day I had hoped the crew would have in the Grizz. I wanted them all to see what a sick area it was and experience one of Utah’s most classic spots for stacking shots. We only hit one small section of the area so hopefully next season Gabe and Brandon will want to come back to Utah to see what else a couple days in Grizzly Gulch will have in store for them!

Read more Stories with Stone:

A Day at Brighton with Brandon Davis and Gabe Ferguson

Boat Jib in Finland with Brandon Davis

Nils Mindnich – Valley of the Cornices